What do we mean by gender?

Read the report, Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding, hereInternational Alert’s new report, Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding, calls for a more nuanced understanding of the role gender plays in peacebuilding.

Gender has long been recognised as a key factor in both violent conflict and peacebuilding, and is a common subject in academic and policy discussions. The importance of tackling sexual and gender-based violence is now widely acknowledged, as is the fact that men, women and sexual and gender minorities have different roles, experiences and vulnerabilities in conflict.

So why is ‘gender’ still so often used as shorthand for just ‘women and girls’? And why are women and girls so commonly treated as one homogenous group, with identical experiences? This kind of over-simplification not only excludes women from decision-making processes, but disregards their role in peacebuilding and violence. It is also not possible to truly understand the role played by gender in conflict and peace without bringing men – as men – into the analysis, and in particular examining men’s relationships to different forms of violence, both as perpetrators and as victims. The same goes for sexual and gender minorities, for whom conflict and post-conflict periods can be highly precarious but may also offer new spaces and opportunities in society.

Re-thinking gender in peacebuilding highlights the need for a ‘gender-relational’ approach. This means not just moving away from equating gender with only women and girls, but also examining the complex relationships between gender and other aspects of people’s identities, such as age, social class, sexuality, disability, ethnic or religious background, marital status and where they live. We show numerous possibilities of what a gender-relational approach can mean in practice and highlight the complexities of addressing gender identities and dynamics and peacebuilding – at the personal, local, national and international level.

The report is part of a three-year research project by International Alert aimed at deepening and expanding understanding on gender and peacebuilding, and is based on field research in Burundi, Colombia, Nepal and Uganda. Our research on Uganda, Renegotiating the 'ideal' society, was published last month, while our research on Burundi, Colombia and Nepal will follow in the coming months.

The report was launched yesterday at an event in parliament on ‘Gender in peacebuilding: Is it having an impact?’, organised in partnership with the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security and Saferworld. Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, reiterated the importance of gender issues in foreign policy to a mixed audience, including the Department for International Development, Ministry of Defence and civil society organisations. This followed a more in-depth discussion of the work of Alert and other key civil society organisations on gender in peacebuilding, which was hosted by the UK Gender Action for Peace and Security network last week.

You can find out more about this project here and read the research in full here.