Men and gender in the peace process: Are they worlds apart?

This blog was co-authored with Cate Buchanan and originally published in The Myanmar Times on 25 November 2015.

Men are on the front lines of war. They are fighters, negotiators and peacebuilders. They are victims and survivors of violence and intimidation, aid givers, media and by-standers.

Yet in spite of their ubiquity, their own gendered identity as men – and how this affects conflict and peace – is seldom discussed in peace talks, policymaking and research.

When you hear the term “gendered” you might automatically think of women and girls. The term, however, also refers to the ways in which men and boys are expected by others, and by themselves, to act as men.

Social, political and cultural values, processes and traditions shape “gendered” relations and expectations the world over.

In times of war, it is expected that men and boys are prepared to use violence, be ready to sacrifice their bodies and minds to violence and deprivation, and maintain control and power in order to protect women, girls and “weaker” men.

The expectations about the roles of men, women, boys and girls during conflict affect the nature and possibilities of violence and conflict resolution.

If, for example, men are encouraged by society to resort to violence in order to respond to real or perceived threats, or if they feel that their worth as men is contingent upon controlling “their” women, or if any man or boy above a certain age is viewed as a potential combatant and therefore “fair game” for armed actors, then these expectations inevitably create vulnerabilities and risks for men and boys themselves as well as for others.

The consequences of this risk see men with heightened exposure to injury and death, outcomes consistently borne out by global assessments of armed violence. Our colleague, Gary Barker from Promundo in Brazil, has coined the phrase “dying to be men” to name this phenomenon.

“Toughness” and bravado paradoxically increase the risks and vulnerabilities for many men, and often a discussion of men’s and boys’ suffering, such as experiencing sexual violence, has been regarded as a societal taboo in many countries.

In Myanmar, greater understanding of men’s and women’s experiences of violence and insecurity is an essential investment in strengthening evidence-informed services and policies.

For example, how can trauma and mental-health services be designed so they are accessible and relevant to men and women? What gendered realities will inhibit or increase effective employment schemes for young men and women in communities recovering from war?

Gendered analysis of power provides nuanced insights and data relevant to the peace process as well as inclusive public policymaking.

The newly formed Myanmar Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP) will be generating exactly this kind of analysis.

Focusing on masculinities is not only about gaining a better understanding of male victimisation and risk. It also requires examining men’s over-representation in public life and ways to enable women to fully participate, be it in the peace process, parliaments, local government, the army and police service, or elsewhere.

Men sharing political space with women is not a zero-sum game.

Rather, both men and women stand to gain from more gender-equitable relations. This transformation, importantly, does require men to relinquish certain privileges and positions of power.

The Myanmar peace process is at a critical juncture. An agenda of core concerns and grievances will be at the heart of the forthcoming political dialogue.

How will the needs, perspectives and realities of men, women, girls and boys be understood across complex policy challenges such as the evolution of the security sector, power-sharing and more?

To date in the nationwide ceasefire process, gender perspectives and women’s participation have been marginal.

The ongoing political dialogue represents an opportunity to have a more inclusive process: a gender-inclusive peace process.

Find out more about Alert's work on gender and peacebuilding.