Ethical concerns such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights, gender, and equality are often built into the EU’s relationships with third countries and international organisations. This is also true of its approach to conflict prevention and peacebuilding, where gender issues in particular may become very salient owning to prevailing assumptions about the roles of males and females in conflict zones, whether as perpetrators of violence, victims of violence, or rescuers/protectors of vulnerable populations. Academic work on gender and conflict also clearly demonstrates that these assumptions are not always correct; men have been victimised in some cases while women have played roles as perpetrators of violence and as protectors in other cases. Gender also plays a more general role in the social/political fabric of host countries in a conflict situation, in terms of how societies cope with the various side-effects of violence-related stress, involving for example public health, burying the dead, food acquisition/preparation, the care of children and the elderly, demobilisation/deradicalisation, reintegration of combatants, education/training, and so on. In a conflict zone, the demand for these kinds of tasks can challenge traditional gender roles and therefore provide risks and opportunities for re-thinking how the EU approaches its conflict prevention and peacebuilding-related goals.
These considerations are the central focus of DL 3.4, which generated several important findings summarised in this Lesson Identified. The most important conclusion is that despite its concern with gender as reflected in certain EU policy statements, this factor does not play a role in the EU’s general approach to conflict prevention. This limitation, in turn, can help reinforce gender inequality in host countries, as well as contribute to the maintenance of broader stereotypes about gender roles that may inhibit the prospects for resolution of a conflict. Although the EU has paid some attention to this problem in the context of its Women, Peace, and Security agenda, it needs to do more to improve its overall effectiveness in the realm of conflict prevention and peacebuilding in general and gender equality in particular. This is especially critical in light of certain very broad EU foreign/security policy statements (e.g. the EU Global Strategy) that mention gender-related issues such as equality and countering terrorism/violent extremism as core goals; other EU documents with a geographic focus (e.g. the Africa-EU Partnership) also make questionable assumptions or claims about the role of women (and children) as objects of EU foreign policy. All of these considerations strongly suggest a need for the EU to think, plan, and act more carefully to avoid replicating the gender-related problems that could contribute to violent conflict or social instability/inequality more generally.
EU conflict analysis should pay closer attention to gender-related issues in conflict prevention and peacebuilding, which would include reaching out to a wider range of stakeholders, such as activists and scholars, who could enhance the EU’s efforts in particular host countries. The EU could also undertake a process to revise and update its comprehensive approach to UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. Finally, EU efforts regarding conflict prevention and peacebuilding should pay closer attention to the role of gender in the power dynamics in specific host countries, and develop more sophisticated measures of success or effectiveness rather than, for example, simply counting the number of women present in various institutions.
Published: 21 May 2018
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