Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding: An interview with Henri Myrttinen

Here, we talk to our Senior Research Officer Henri Myrttinen about our latest report, Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding.

What’s different about Alert’s new report compared to other research?

The report is going back to what gender analysis has tried to do from the outset: to look at the different roles that men and women play in society, and how gender is part of identity and power dynamics.

Over the past few decades in peacebuilding, gender has come to be seen as something that’s merely technical – an add-on: looking at increasing 20% women in the police force, for example, or 30% women in some kind of political participation fora.

What we’re calling for is the peacebuilding sector to look at gender in its relational way: how men and women jointly co-produce gender roles and identities; how society and social norms are gendered and interlinked with different forms of identity, such as age, class, urban-rural background. So, we are bringing it back to the original way in which gender analysis can help us make peacebuilding much more effective, much more sustainable, and look at those power dynamics and identity issues that are at the heart of peacebuilding.

In practical terms, what can this report achieve in changing approaches to gender in peacebuilding?

We are trying to bring in more complexity and nuance into the way we look at gender in peacebuilding. At first, the idea of bringing in age, social and class dynamics in addition to gender might sound daunting and extremely unwieldy. We’re arguing that by taking time to do a more in-depth analysis of gender issues, looking at how age and social class plays in, makes the analysis more complicated at the beginning, but you have a much better sense of the kinds of issues you’re dealing with in a given society and in a given time.

That allows you to better focus peacebuilding interventions, look much closer at where you might have leverage and where, as a peacebuilding organisation, you can make much more of a difference in promoting peace and gender equality.

This report consists of four case studies from very different contexts (Burundi, Colombia, Nepal and Uganda). What were the challenges you faced when conducting this research?

One of the challenges is that there is so much rich material coming out of the field research, so many complex and powerful stories that need telling, that it’s difficult to narrow that down to a 20 or 30-page report. As you mention, the four countries are very different contexts. Initially, we were a bit sceptical about whether we could pull off this kind of comparative study.

But I think, in the end, the difference between these contexts also adds to the richness of this report. It was also surprising to find a lot of commonalities between the four case studies.

(The case study on Uganda has already been published and the remaining case studies will be published in June.)

How has this report been received so far?

We’re at the beginning of our outreach work. So far, we’ve had a workshop with civil society organisations in the UK that work on similar issues. We’ve had some very productive discussions there about how our work on gender and peacebuilding in different contexts and using different kinds of approaches can be complementary. We’ve also had a presentation in parliament with Lynne Featherstone [UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development]. That went quite well too. I think there’s been some very fruitful and constructive discussion so far.

What do you think is the next step forward on from this research?

In addition to outreach, we’re developing gender training modules for peacebuilding. We’re also taking some of the findings from this research, and some of the discussions and processes that it has encouraged, and using them in practical gender and peacebuilding projects

You can read the report in full here and find out more about our work on gender here.