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  • Writer's pictureKaushiki Ishwar

Feminist Peace and Conflict Theory : An overview

Naturally, the genealogy of feminist peace and conflict theory is a composite phenomena. A variety of disciplines and approaches support feminist peace and conflict theory (FPCT). As is typical and will be referred throughout the research article.

The questioning of normative standards is rooted in women's epistemology in feminist studies. All Feminist Peace and Conflict Theories (FPCTs) address the silencing of women's experience and expertise. However, the repercussions of this silence, as well as potential remedies for change, are generally divided between an understanding of essentialist 'female nature' and a construction-based understanding of gender as a discursive practice.


The understanding of war and conflict is fundamental for a feminist theory of peace.

The approaches range from historical narratives of women in battle to psychological examinations of gendered child rearing. Critical essays by women in liberation movements in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, as well as working-class, Black, and lesbian researchers' critiques of Western feminism, have affected the debate.

Feminist Peace and Conflict Theory concentrates on the importance of women's visibility in conflicts and has led to a more comprehensive understanding of security challenges. FPCT established the interconnectivity of all forms of violence, including interpersonal, societal, state-based, and inter-state violence, as well as its gendered dimension. It critically examined the 'Beautiful Soul' (Jean Bethke Elshtain, 1987)'s participation in the mechanism of violence. The phrase of the Western women's movement in the 1960s, 'The personal is political,' can still be understood as a common basis for FPCT to shift normative legitimization of violence use.

Theories Of Feminist Peace And Conflict Genealogy

The early twentieth-century historical references to pacifist movements and feminist claims on gender issues are mostly related to the two world wars. Nonetheless, feminists have previously questioned the gender dynamics of the French Revolution (Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792) and the exclusion of women from the celebrated new status of citizenship. Pacifists like Bertha von Suttner and revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman made specific reference to the hardship of women in war and the persistence of private and public tyranny; men's dominance in the family and in the public realm. The continuum of violence, from domestic violence to war, is thus a necessary paradigm for FPCT.

For the first time, the reality of women in battles were brought to the surface, written about, and taken into account. The visibility of people who suffered innocently was a moral mobilizing factor against war for the pacifist movement; for patriotic suffragists, images of women in war encouraged them to mobilize more capacities for a just war or revolution. Both movements, however, campaigned for the predicament of the innocent, those suffering at the hands of the enemy, or the conflict in general. FPCT had a huge influence because of the paradigm shift from architects to war victims.

In the early twentieth century, the suffragist movement - such as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), whose forerunner the Woman's Peace Party (WPP) was founded in 1915 - was divided along a line of argument that still exists in feminist peace and conflict theory in the early twenty-first century: the divide between patriotism and pacifism.

The argument for the patriotic faction was centered on participation and decision making, similar to the one advanced by liberal feminists on the issue of women in the army. Women, according to feminist pacifists, had a critical role to play in promoting peace. Women, rather than gender, became the decisive group in both camps for both analysis and presenting a viable solution. Until the late 1980s, the moral argument of males as warmakers and women as victims of war was the prevalent explanation in FPCT.

'Her-story,' a feminist term coined in the early 1970s, emphasized the exclusion of women from 'His-story' in conventional historiography. In one component of FPCT, the biological vs socially produced concept of gender is still relevant. For essentialist feminists who argue on the basis of women's intrinsic peacefulness as enacted by parenting and caring, war is not just disproportionately hurting women, but it is the ultimate assault on 'feminine' nonviolent principles.

The limiting of public space by conflict is a source of worry for liberal and equality feminists. Betty Reardon (1985) and Carol Pateman (1988) define the patriarchal contract that legitimizes violence and conflict as teaching males to be aggressive and women to be submissive.

Current feminist peace and conflict theorists argue, in a similar framework, that war is exclusion from decision-making, which disproportionately impacts women. Women are implicitly prohibited from a fundamental institution that helps codify and establish citizenship if they are not allowed to serve in the military. However, both theories agree that women play an important role in sustaining peace.

FPCT places a premium on patriarchal structures. Male hostility, according to essentialist feminists, is the primary cause of conflict. Feminists such as Mary Daly (1978) and Ecofeminist (Vandana Shiva, 1993) campaigners also argue along this line of thought. However, unlike conventional IR theory, essentialist feminists see a possibility for change by emphasizing the nonviolent potential of 'feminine values' in creating a peaceful world. According to structuralist feminists, militarized masculinity, inscribed as the founding myth of nation states, necessitates and reinforces the formation of a gender dichotomy.

Simon de Beauvoir (1949) pioneered a more constructed understanding of gender. As an existentialist, Beauvoir believed that existence came before essence, hence gender was manufactured. Women are made to be the "Other." Women were trapped in the cycle of life and nature by assigning femininity to nature, and they were prohibited access to public space and political decision making.

In the late 1990s, postmodernist or deconstructivist feminists such as Judith Butler (1990) maintained that gender, like any other identity, is formed via discursive practices. Since then, a wide range of liberal, post-structural, and anti-essentialist feminists (Linda Nicholson, 1995) have maintained that if gender is created, it can be deconstructed and has no prior relationship to a person's sex.

Earlier, in the mid-1980s, African-American women and Non-Western Feminists challenged the women's movement, as well as feminist peace theory and practice, in two significant ways. Bell Hooks (1984), Chandra Talpade Mohanty (1991), Valentine Moghadam (1994), and others, for example, contended that 'White feminism' promotes a homogeneous, monolithic picture of 'third country women' as victims. As a result, white middle-class western feminism was chastised for just duplicating the normative setting of the Anglo Christian man by silencing anyone perceived as the "Other." In addition to challenging the discourse of feminist peace and conflict theory by questioning the homogeneous identification of women as victims and designating western, white women as perpetrators, another ground-breaking influence questioned the discourse of feminist peace and conflict theory: the narration and testimonies of women.

Discussion about peace. Following the recognition of women's experiences in war, both as active fighters and as victims, the question of intrinsic peace and maternal mentality was shattered. Aggression and submission were re-examined as gendered adjectives conditioning men and women. Barbara Ehrenreich (1997) describes bloodthirsty deities, warrior queens (Fatma Mernissi, 1993), ancient goddesses, and female fighters.

However, even in feminist peace and conflict theory, female warriors are portrayed as exceptions, as transgressors on a temporary basis. In the western culture, one of the most prominent examples of male institutions of power embellished with a female icon is the myth of Jeanne d'Arc.

Treatment Strategy

The "Duluth Model" is the leading therapeutic technique that is consistent with feminist thought. This strategy was developed in response to a significant domestic violence homicide in Duluth, Minnesota (Pence & Paymar, 1993). Domestic abuse was a problem that community and government authorities wanted to solve, but they didn't know where to start. They aimed to develop a treatment strategy that included the courts, police, and "human services." The following questions guided the model's development: It can be used in developing countries like India to study its impact and reduce its severity on vulnerable stakeholders.

Why is she the object of his rage? How does his aggression affect the power dynamic in their relationship? What did he think beating her would accomplish? Why does he believe he has a right to power in the relationship? What is the community's reaction to his use of violence towards her?

Much of the Duluth model relies around the power dynamics inherent in opposite-sex relationships, which is a reflection of how men and women are socialized on power and equality issues. The purpose of treatment is to educate males about gender roles and how cultural messages and attitudes that promote patriarchal privilege and unhealthy ways of connecting to women have shaped'masculine' behavior and values. This also deconstructs the ideal that all women are responsible for the success or the downfall of men.

The Justice Ethic vs. the Peace Ethic

Another main theme that has emerged in feminist peace and conflict theory is equal access to active service in the armed forces. For egalitarian feminists, this meant granting women the right to hold any position historically reserved for men. However, in the sphere of peace and conflict theory, equality feminist theory presents at least two paths of the: 'Bringing women in' approach.

Scholars such as Judith Hicks-Stiehm (1988) have advocated for equal access for men and women in the military in order to debunk the military's founding myth: masculinity and the role of the protector. Others, such as Sheila Tobias (1990), have argued that since first-class citizenship is obtained by access to military jobs, women must have equal access in order to gain full citizenship. The alteration of the military institution as a result of the number of women joining is contested in light of the notion that the institution is a patriarchal gender dichotomy and a patriarchal institution.

However, for many feminist conflict theorists, women's active participation in the military was not the solution to a less militarized-masculine and dichotomous society.However, the majority feminist discussions on the military were based on the idea that the military can only function via the creation of masculinized-militarized troops and hence cannot be the center for a concept of citizenship outside of the soldier-citizen domain. Hicks-Stiehm argued for a different point of view, claiming that military expertise would provide better access to high-level politics.

Women's military experiences, as well as critical comments of female combatants in liberation campaigns, assert women's entitlement to equal access to all sectors. These testimonies, however, also demonstrate the deeply internalized and militarized masculinity of military realms. Female combatants encountered the widespread implications of a strongly gendered soldier and warrior identity not only during the battle, but also throughout the postconflict change, which drove them to identify with gender roles typically given to women.

Cynthia Enloe (1983, 1989, 1999) wrote extensively on western armies' militarized masculinity as a foundation for nation state construction and national identity reassurance. The interconnectedness of nation-state development, masculine initiation into the military body, the myth of the protector and the innocent, civilian victim of war was the general assumption on which feminist peace and conflict theories were built from the late 1980s onward. Jean Bethke-Elshtain (1987) presented the concepts of the 'Beautiful Soul' and the 'Just Warrior' as gendered conceptions mutually reinforcing the reassurance of a national security rhetoric as well as the mobilization of soldiers for protection.

FPCT researchers questioned the concept of maternal thinking, which is central to pacifist essentialist feminists. Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1996) and Laura Kaplan (1994), for example, deconstructed the notion of intrinsic peacefulness in the mother figure, suggesting that the legitimation of violence performed by men could not work without the involvement of the mother-character. Mothering and caring were questioned, as was the carers' cooperation with the military cause. Children and husbands are sacrificed to fight in war to protect women (and mothers), moms accept death, and mothers actively participate in mobilizing their society through the construction of enemy images. Feminist essentialists were also chastised for adopting maternal thought as a hazardous moral superiority without questioning the enshrined military logic in the Constitution.

According to Dietz (1985), the unequal relationship between mother and child cannot be a prerequisite for democratic governance. By asserting the moral Critics (Jodi York, 1996) raised concerns about the exclusive new norm setting, which could only intervene in policy making through moral appeal due to women's biological, universal female innate peacefulness. When providing unconditional care of individuals who perpetuate violence, the carer loses its vital space, notably the pacifist non-violence space, by making the ones to be taken care of the subject of need and master of decision.

According to Seyla Benhabib (1992), the caretaker's reclusion to the private sphere is related to the Enlightenment's notion of reason and rationality, emphasizing that by perpetuating the private/public divide, men are encouraged to pass from nature to culture, while women remain in a "timeless universe, condemned to repeat the cycle of life." Militarised motherhood is considered as crucial for state construction and gendered citizenship distribution, with power viewed as a discursive praxis rather than a predetermined context.

The war in former Yugoslavia (Rada Ivekovic', 1997), as well as research on nationalist movements around the world, demonstrated how motherhood and caring can be used as an intrinsic part of nationalist mobilization and recruitment, and how women were forced to become the archive of nationalist identity construction. But it also has victims.

Citizenship Based on Gender

The issue of gendered citizenship as the enactment of agency in the political realm gained weight in FPCT, influenced by Hannah Arendt's writings on public space and citizenship (1958) and further elaborated by feminists rereading political theory from Plato to Marx (Mary Shanley, Carole Pateman 1991). Citizenship was always a source of worry and critical analysis for feminists, who questioned the inherent relationship between citizenship and combat participation.

Virginia Woolf's 1936 novel 'The Three Guineas' weaved a line between militarism and women's enforced invisibility. They both maintained, as Mary Wollstonecraft did regarding the French Revolution, that private and public violence are intertwined and that male dominance over women is legitimized from personal ties to battle. Many scholars were encouraged to investigate the complex hegemonic structures of societies, nation-states, and gender relations in family and personal matters due to a lack of political power, the silencing of women's critical voices opposing war, and the almighty force of a militaristic discourse.

Institutions such as the military, the state, public space, and international relations were deemed unacceptable in political theory throughout the 1980s due to its underlying patriarchal construction of exclusion and silencing. Since the 1990s, the argument has evolved and now focuses on transformational technique, the epistemology of women's experience, and the contextualization of ideas and their agents.

To transcend the essentialist notion of gender and identity in general, feminists such as Gayatri Spivak (1999) believe that strategic essentialism is required. Questioning, contextualizing, and historicizing big narratives, as well as engaging in public speech, would result in a less abstract, contextualized, relational reading and analysis of realities and methods.

Gender in International Relations Theory

Not only the relationship between individual and state, but also the reasoning of International Relations, became fundamental for another discipline of feminist theorists. In the early 1990s, scholars in the field of International Relations theory examined the gendered assumptions and founding myths of IR theory and its relationship to war and peace. Christine Sylvester (1993) questioned the concept of security in IR theory. Tickner (1991) reconstructed Hans Morgenthaus' ideas of political realism, questioning security as military strength, power as abstract and absolute rather than relational, and the political realm as objective, logical, and separate from the domestic sector.

This leads Tickner and other female IR theorists to believe that IR theory is founded on the ideal of the masculine state, which operates independently of human action. FPCT goes on to claim that the dichotomic constructions of masculinity and femininity, which are inextricably linked to the concept of citizen-warriors, are organically dependent on the devaluation of the feminine.

Unresolved Issues and Future Trends

With the conclusion of the Cold War, there has been a shift in warfare. The situation in which FPCT maneuvers has changed due to 'New Wars' (Mary Kaldor, 1999) in failed or weak regimes, terrorist attacks, and an increase in operations by private military security corporations (PMC). Despite the existence of empirical evidence of women's involvement in new wars and the activities of female suicide bombers, there has been little research in the field of FPCT on this topic.

There has been progress in the issue of women's rights as human rights. Mass rape during wartime was explicitly recognised as a crime against humanity and a war crime (Yugoslavia, Rwanda). However, the necessary legal reforms are not being implemented. The rise of militarized humanitarian intervention, including the use of Private Military Companies by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and humanitarian non-governmental organizations, necessitates greater investigation by feminist peace researchers.

Reference and Further Readings

"Feminism and Peace." Hypatia 9, no. 2 (1994). "Women and War." Peace Review 8, no. 3 (1996, September).

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. N.Y.: Random House, 1974.

Benhabib, Seyla. Situating the Self: Gender Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics.

Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992. Bennett, Olivia, Jo Bexley, and Kitty Warnock, eds. Arms to Fight - Arms to Protect. London: Panos, 1995.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. N.Y.; London: Routledge, 1990.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds.

Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991 Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds.

Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Nicholson, Linda, ed. Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange. Edited by Linda Nicholson, Thinking Gender. N.Y.; London: Routledge, 1995. ———, ed.

The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory. N.Y.; London: Routledge, 1997. Olivia Bennett, Jo Bexley, and Kitty Warnock, eds.

Arms to Fight - Arms to Protect. London: Panos, 1995. Pateman, Carol.

The Sexual Contract. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988. Peter R. Beckman, and Francine D'Amico, eds. Women, Gender, and World Politics.

Perspectives, Policies and Prospects. Westport; London: Bergin & Garvey, 1994.

Female fighters' experiences in Nicaragua (Margaret Randall 1994),

Africa (Stephanie Urdang, Meredeth Turshen, Amrit Wilson, 1989) Vietnam (Olivia Bennett 1995) had a significant impact on the feminist movement.

Kurz, D. (1997). No: Physical Assaults by male partners: A major social problem. In M. R. Walsh (Ed.), Women, men, & gender: Ongoing debates (pp. 222-246). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lawson, D. M. (2003). Incidence, explanations, and treatment of partner violence. Journal of Counselling and Development, 81, 19-32

Nolet-Bos, W. (1999). Female perpetrators and victims of domestic violence: The contribution of feminist and psychoanalytic theories. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Rutgers, New Jersey.

Pence, E., & Paymar, M. (1993). Education groups for men who batter. London: Springer

Renzetti, C. M. (1992). Violent betrayal: Partner abuse in lesbian relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.


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