Geneva Peace Week Coverage

Militarised Masculinities: Identifying Causes, Manifestations, and Strategies for Change

by Chiara Valenti

On this episode of the Geneva Peace Week Podcast, the research team explore the ways in which militarised masculinities are an intrinsic factor of peacebuilding processes and military recruitment. The team consisted of four IHEID master students- Clara Palmisano, Conrad Otto Lude, Gaya Raddadi, and Margherita Dacquino- and Dean Peacock, director of a multi-country initiative of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) and the MenEngage Alliance. Dean Peacock’s work over the past 25 years has focused on issues of gender equality, men and constructions of masculinities, HIV & AIDS, and social justice. Originally from South Africa, his work in this field began in 1985 when he joined the End Conscription Campaign to oppose Apartheid army violence. The team of IHEID master students engaged with Dean and his expertise in the field to explore how and to what extent militarised masculinities are replicated and instrumentalized across different cultural contexts, and the violent effects the perpetration of these male stereotypes produce.


The field of gender and peacebuilding is one that is constantly growing and evolving. It is a continuous exploration of how gender and peace interface both conceptually and practically, leading to the reconceptualization of gender binaries within the fields of peace, conflict, and international relations. This podcast episode in specific looks at the notion of militarized masculinities. Born out of feminist international relations scholarships, militarized masculinities explore the link between masculinity and the military, and the ways in which this link is exploited for the purpose of waging war. As Dean explains, militarized masculinity in practice is the claim that stereotypically masculine traits – or hegemonic masculinities – can be acquired and proven through military action or service, particularly through the perpetuation of violence.


Throughout the podcast, Dean presents examples from the multi-country initiative directed by WILPF and MenEngage Alliance to demonstrate these concepts in action. In the case of South Africa, the Apartheid Defence Force exploited rigid ideas of manhood and femininity to mobilize white South Africans to support the repression of Black South Africans. Thus, the very gender roles that lay ground for these military mechanisms must be dismantled to achieve inclusive constructions of peace at the local, national and international level. As Dean makes clear, while the formula to achieve this at the more local level has been worked on and developed, ways to address this at a more global level are much more difficult to formulate and achieve. Nevertheless, he also stipulates the importance of acknowledging the power of individual agency when it comes to resisting oppressive structures. We see this in the case of Cameroon, where traditional community leaders, the very epicentre of community conservatism, continue to challenge men’s monopoly over land resources as they acknowledge the importance of equally distributing this resource amongst all genders. In Colombia, for instance, there is a rich tradition of peace activism and many of the armed groups have promoted equitable gender practices during conflict, which however, have at times fallen apart after conflict.


The relationship between transnational capital, conflict, and distorted gender roles is clear, but, as Dean states, it is much easier to run a workshop on gender norms than to challenge these corporations. True feminist peace cannot be achieved without including the corporate sector in these processes. Dean eloquently illuminates how many of the failures in achieving sustainable and equitable peace have been tied to peacebuilding initiative’s ahistorical and apolitical understandings of social norms, as well as their reliance on neoliberal strategies to change structural problems. This is where the corporate sector comes in as an enabler of violence for its profit. When transnational arm companies can move weapons into conflict zones with impunity, violence inevitably increases. These weapons then go into private military and paramilitary groups leading to more conflict.


Another aspect to consider is the political economy that surrounds peacekeeping mechanisms, and the ways in which it facilitates sexual exploitation. A lot of the work on men and peacekeeping has focused on training men who have been socialized into militarised masculinities. In Haiti the UN established a UN Peacekeeping Mission (MINUSTAH), first in 1993 and re-establishing it in 2004, and invested millions. Today, many ask themselves where has that money gone? As Dean clarifies, the funding of these peacekeeping missions led to a restructuring of the local economy in Haiti in ways that catered to the needs of the UN personnel present at the time, marginalizing locals and pushing them to employ unconventional means of survival, such as that of transactional sex. Consequently, the shift in power dynamics this restructuring led to facilitated sexual exploitation and abuse. What WILPF has proposed as an alternative is that funding for peacekeeping operations in post-conflict settings be bestowed upon locally led, and especially women-led, organizations to advance people’s socioeconomic rights and build women’s leadership in post-conflict reconstruction.


Geneva Peace Week 2021 was held between November 1st and 5th covering four thematic tracks: Creating a Climate for Collaboration, Moving beyond Securitization, Harnessing the Digital Sphere for Peace, and Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16. Find more information and registration links here.

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