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The Femininity of Peacebuilding

7 June 2011 3 Comments

Ali Mabardi

Ali Mabardi
United States

“There is no doubt that women must be included in peace processes, but why?”

One day in my Strategic Peacebuilding class, we got into a heated discussion about a book entitled Women Building Peace: What They Do, Why it Matters, by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini. In retrospect, it seems strange that a book about peace would spark debate, but nevertheless even those members of the class who rarely spoke raised their hands to share their opinions that day. The debate began because some females in the class thought this particular book supported the common stereotype of women as “caregivers” and pigeonholed us into solely a nurturing role. They were offended by this perception and some saw the book as working against women’s equality.

Personally, I chose to view this book as a way to highlight the peacebuilding work women undertake all over the world, mostly without recognition or fame, as well as a way to incorporate the crucial female perspective into peacebuilding processes when too often it is omitted. It did, however, get me thinking about gender stereotypes and whether peacebuilding practice and literature creates them, or simply accentuates existing differences.

There is no doubt that women must be included in peace processes, but why? One popular explanation is because we are natural caregivers with a higher capacity to love. However, this explanation is too one dimensional for me, because even if this were true of all women, it does not mean that all women are destined to be good at building peace. The discussion here is not necessarily if women are better at building peace than men, it’s about how we tackle building peace differently than men. It’s about how we choose to implement our unique perspective and creative voice.

Anderlini underscores this point in the book when she states, “Yet, in acknowledging women’s experiences of violence, we cannot overlook or ignore their resilience, sense of self dignity, desire for survival, and struggle to move beyond passive victimhood.”   In the words of one United Nation’s officer, “in crisis situations, the women are the best humanitarian workers.  They are also among the most committed peacebuilders. We must recognize, respect, and support their efforts.”

Another activist who agrees with Anderlini’s views on women’s voices and their capabilities to build peace is Iraqi born Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International.  Her organization helps women in war torn regions rebuild their lives and communities. She helps survivors become economically self sufficient with a direct aid program, rights education, job skills training, and small business development.  Like Anderlini, Salbi promotes the idea that women are conduits through which peace can be built.

After thinking about women, our role in peacebuilding, and whether this is a stereotypical feminine practice (consequently forcing us into a role we might not want to play), I came to the conclusion that men and women are different. Our biological, social, mental, physical, and hormonal differences cause us to behave according to our given sex/gender. Whether the ways we operate are inherent or socially constructed does not really matter in the context of peacebuilding.  Focusing on this aspect can actually detract from important work that needs to be done.

What does matter to me is that because of the variances between and among men and women, we have the opportunity to include a multitude of views and voices at the table contributing to the pertinent, challenging, and powerful conversation about building peace. Men bring certain individual capabilities, and women, as evidenced by Anderlini and Salbi, bring others, equally as valuable. Sometimes these capabilities overlap and sometimes they don’t, but the distinctions are what lead to variety and creativity in action. I say yield to our differences, maybe even celebrate them, because then we will not relegate women’s unique capabilities into a stereotype.


This piece was originally posted on Ali’s blog, Critical Peace. It is reposted here with the author’s permission.

The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.


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3 Comments to “The Femininity of Peacebuilding”
  1. irit says:

    Indeed “There is no doubt that women must be included in peace processes”.

    In Israel there is new initiation, titled : “Women’s Spring” – A New Peace Initiative -Effective practices to create a stable peace for generations.

    We all see the connection between women’s rights and their ability to take part in peace process, and hope for the change to be happened and the chance for women to act.

  2. Judith Hand says:

    I am an evolutionary biologist and peace ethologist, with areas of specialization that include conflict resolution and gender differences. Your sense that men and women differ on the issue of peace (or the lack of it) is absolutely true. If you would like to understand the underlying biology, the ultimate reason for this difference, I invite you to read my book, “Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace” (free download, table of contents, etc. at The bottom line is that evolution shaped women, more than men, to prefer social stability. In an essay, “To Abolish War,” I go on to explain why and how we could end war, AND THE ESSENTIAL ROLE WOMEN WOULD HAVE TO PLAY IN ORDER TO SUCCEED ( These same built-in tendencies also explain why women are absorbed with peacebuilding and make great negotiators.

  3. [...] too long ago, I was fortunate enough to have a previous post, “The Femininity of Peacebuilding” published on the website Peace X Peace. As I was perusing through other contributors, I came [...]

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