I am going to start this post by making this bold statement: I believe we are currently standing on the verge of an exciting moment in history in the realm of peace and conflict. Recent events have left me with a sneaking suspicion that the women of the world have the opportunity right now to redefine how we as an international community understand peace and conflict. They are beginning to step up and take charge in conflict situations, inspiring what might be considered a revolution in the peacekeeping community. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “every generation needs a new revolution.” Women in peacekeeping might be just the sort of thing he was talking about.
While watching the protests in Bukavu this past weekend, I found myself incredibly moved by the passion and power of the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thousands of women took to the streets in the capitol city of the Southern Kivu province, led by Congolese First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila. They were there to let the world know it is time to bring an end to the horrendous practice of using rape as a weapon of war. This use of rape has become an epidemic in conflicts worldwide, but has been incredibly rampant in Africa in particular. Last year alone, more than 15,000 rapes were reported in the Congo. With that many reported, I can only imagine how many went unreported.
With the international community floundering to find a way to deal with this problem, the women of the Congo took it upon themselves to let the world know enough is enough. After watching the video numerous times, each of which left me with goose bumps, I began to think back to the lectures I have attended and articles I have read which spoke to the unique role women can and do play in peacekeeping. They seem to bring a different perspective to the table, often focused on a grassroots level, and have had great success in finding new solutions in the midst of ongoing conflicts.
So, why have women had such success in peace where men have failed? Superficially you could talk about the tendency of women to be more caring and less violent then men, but I would argue this to be a gross misrepresentation of the actuality of the situation. In reality, there is much to be said for bringing fresh eyes to a situation. Women have long been outside the international discourse on peace and conflict, which has been historically dominated by men. In this way, it is not a matter of women having a superior ability to forge peace, but rather the opportunity to set forth a new perspective.
In her article on women in peacekeeping, Prue A. Bates suggests that women are not necessarily morally superior in the case of peacemaking, but rather it is a matter of having a unique opportunity to work outside of traditional gender roles, allowing for the emergence of new innovations in peacemaking. The tendency of women to work in a grassroots manner is an expression of this sense of innovation, and a new conceptualization of what it means to fight for peace and justice. While those who have been working in peacekeeping for years get locked into traditional processes, those new to peacekeeping are not committed to the same rules of action. They are able to discover new paths to peace.
Another powerful example of this innovation is the case of the women of Liberia. This past year I was introduced to the film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which documented the story of the women of Liberia as they rose up to bring peace to their war-torn country. A task those in power were failing to complete. The film illustrated the new perspective these women brought to the table. That, like Bates asserted, women are able to bring a new approach not because they are superior but because they have had the opportunity to watch from the outside for so long creating not only a different way of doing things, but a completely different ideological concept of what peace, peace talks and peacemaking ought to be and look like.
With that said, I am hoping this post can be the first of many on women in peacekeeping. I have already heard rumor of a group of women in the Sudan calling for the rebel groups to take notice and talk peace. I am hopeful and excited to see where this new revolution will lead.Women's Rights, Congo