Bringing masculinities into the picture

Alert’s Head of Gender Henri Myrttinen speaking at the WILPF conferenceInternational Alert’s gender team emphasised the importance of masculinities in furthering the women, peace and security agenda at two recent events.

Speaking at a special conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which this year celebrated its 100th anniversary with an event in the Hague, Alert’s Head of Gender Henri Myrttinen emphasised that “both men and women need to work together for gender equality”.

Featuring on the panel on engaging men and boys, Henri argued that, while many actors realise the need to engage with men and with masculinities in order to achieve gender equality, the next challenge will be to turn this goodwill into concrete actions. He presented Alert’s ‘relational approach’ to gender and argued that engaging men and boys in meaningful ways requires local answers rather than top-down initiatives. “The focus should thus be on cooperation and on using funding most effectively to achieve gender equality in societies.”

Alert congratulated WILPF on their centenary by joining the celebrations and conference. WILPF has been a strong advocate for peace and women’s rights since 1915, founded by 1,300 women in protest at the First World War. For nearly 30 years, Alert has been working to address the same issues in the countries we work in, calling for gender equality as well as women’s inclusion and participation in all aspects of social life in conflict and peace.

The three-day conference was attended by around 1,000 participants from over 80 countries, with discussions spanning a wide range of topics, including security sector reform, the women, peace and security agenda, and women’s roles in peace processes, as well as engaging men and boys for gender equality. (You can listen to sessions and podcasts from the event here.)

Opening the event, WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees emphasised the failure of the current multilateral system in bringing about peace. She also stressed the role of the military-industrial complex in furthering conflict and war, an opinion echoed by other panellists, including Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, who observed that: “If books had been thrown at the Taliban instead of bombs … we would not have ISIS.”

Moreover, with the presence and active involvement of women peacemakers from countries around the world such as Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, among others, the need to acknowledge post-colonial power dynamics when working on gender was also underlined.

Taking the challenge of engaging more deeply with masculinities further, Alert’s gender team recently took part in an academic workshop at Newcastle University entitled, ‘Masculinities at the margins: Conceptualising war beyond hypermasculinity’. This two-day workshop aimed at thinking beyond narrow understandings of the gendered dimensions of war and military masculinity, and instead on engaging with the less visible and marginalised masculinities of war and conflict. The presentations analysed the gender dimensions of a wide range of topics, including queer masculinities, peacekeeping, transnational mining, veterans and civilian support of combat troops.

Alert’s Lana Khattab and Jana Naujoks presented a paper entitled, ‘Rethinking masculinities in peacebuilding contexts’, which argued the importance of going beyond the more traditionally researched roles and actors of masculinity in conflict and peacebuilding contexts. The paper primarily drew on our recent research in Colombia, Lebanon, Nepal and Uganda, and focused on understudied areas including male vulnerabilities and sexual and gender minorities.

You can find out more about our work on this topic here.

Photo © Rowan Farrell