Gender and Statebuilding: “Building States That Work For Women”?

I now turn to substantiate my claim through an exemplary illustration: postconflict statebuilding. As a major global development aid and security project, its influence as a global governance paradigm is considerable. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, statebuilding established itself among international organizations and donor states of the Global North as the primary paradigm for intervention in conflict-affected countries (see for instance World Bank 1997: 3). Among these agencies, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) acted as a “primary coordination body” (Paducel and Salahub 2011: 2). It defined statebuilding as the process

Post conflict statebuilding 151 of “building the relationship between state and society” through international engagement aimed at increasing, first of all, the accountability and legitimacy of the state; and second of all, its capacity to fulfil “core functions,” defined primarily around the provision of security (OECD-DAC 2007). This definition became cited by the UN and the World Bank (2011: 6-7) as well as by NGOs and think tanks (see for instance Castillejo 2011: 1) who adopted statebuilding as a paradigm (Chandler 2008: 6). In the UN as elsewhere, statebuilding became tightly tied to the notion of “good governance” (Chandler 2008: 6), and increasingly became synonymous with peacebuilding (Shepherd 2017: 37).

From a governmentality perspective, statebuilding entails patterned efforts, on the part of the globe’s major donor states and international organizations, at producing “responsible” state institutions in the Global South, in the hope that these states can eventually self-govern without international intervention (Baaz and Stern 2017: 213). Such regulatory attempts have historical precedents. Many colonial enterprises sought the reorganization of colonial social spaces into modern state institutions. This is what gave the Western idea of a modern state “a global significance” in the contemporary world (Mitchell 2000, viii). Following decolonization, similar attempts remained part of the policies of imperial powers, as in the case of the American effort at nationbuilding in Vietnam (Latham 2006). In the 1990s and 2000s, UN peacekeeping operations engaged in creating “orderly, predictable, disciplinary and disciplined administrations,” or more generally states that would be “legible and manageable” from the perspective of the UN and its principal funders (Zanotti 2006: 152). Considering this history, governmentality scholars correctly observe that statebuilding is the latest iteration of “various and sometimes cross-cutting projects of disciplinary, regulatory and liberal rule and values beyond ‘the West’” (Gabay and Death 2014: 2).

Political support and funding for statebuilding originate overwhelmingly in the Global North. Headquartered in the stately Château de la Muette in Paris, France, the OECD, and its influential Development Assistance Committee (DAC) presided over early discussions of statebuilding among large funders of foreign aid. The OECD understands itself as “the venue and voice of the world’s major bilateral donors” (OECD 2006: 3), most of whom are from the political West. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the construction of statebuilding as a concept was heavily influenced by Western understandings of the liberal state. Others have rightly argued that the critical reception of these policies in the South should be understood with attention to “experiences of racism and memories of colonialism” (Baaz and Stern 2017: 208). With similar attention to global histories of conquest, I suggest here that formulations of statebuilding by donor states should be read in relation to the state’s development as a form of political organization in Europe.

This historical and philosophical heritage came with gendered implications. An important set of feminist critiques applies to the liberal stateas it developed in Europe and its settler colonies (MacKinnon 1989: chap. 8; Connell 1987: 129-130, in Kantola 2006: 125). Carole Pateman developed a version of this critique in her canonical book The Sexual Contract (1988), which examines theories of the state developed by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in England, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the city-state of Geneva. She exposes how these influential authors imagined the social contract as one between men that excluded women from political affairs (Pateman 1988: 1, 5). They posited that men’s presumed superior capacity for reasoning allowed them, and not or less so women, to enter the contract by which they agreed for the state to regulate interactions in the public sphere. These theories informed law and custom in Europe and the colonies, thus leading to the prolonged exclusion of women from formal politics in these contexts. Prevalent understandings of the state continue to privilege a masculinized construction of the political subject as independent, competitive, profit maximizing, and self-interested, as opposed to cooperative, caring, connected, and shaped by family relations (Di Stefano 1990: 77; Carver 1996: 678). Men remain more likely to successfully perform forms of personhood coded as masculine and therefore remain more numerous in decision-making positions in the public sphere.

In contrast to such a historically situated account of the liberal state, most commitments to mainstreaming gender in statebuilding are ahistorical and future-oriented. The OECD does recognize that statebuilding “intervention in fragile states should consistently promote gender equity” (OECD-DAC, 2007, para. 6). In articulating this, the OECD draws on expertise on women. Statebuilding initiatives should “ensure the protection and participation of women” (OECD 2008b: 19; see also OECD/DAC 2008: 32). First, with respect to protection, the OECD committed to greater attentiveness to women’s security needs. It discussed women as a vulnerable group who are more susceptible to human rights violations, particularly those of a sexual nature, and therefore in need of special protection (OECD-DAC 2007: para. 6: OECD, 2008a: para. 2, 2010a: 7, 2010b: 25). Such commitments led to the deployment of disciplinary techniques such as military justice trials, vetting for human rights abuses, and training workshops that would instruct armed forces personnel on “gender awareness and the ills of sexual violence” in contexts like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Baaz and Stern 2017: 214). Second, with regard to participation, the OECD identifies women in fragile states as needing increased inclusion in public life and greater access to state power (OECD 2008a, sec. 2). It notably recommends “measures to promote the voices and participation of women” (OECD-DAC 2007, para. 6). The OECD’s position in support of women’s political rights was echoed in the statebuilding policy of important donor states and other globally oriented development agencies. For instance, the UK Department for Foreign Development committed to statebuilding initiatives that would increase women’s access to key state functions in order to compensate for their existing “political, social and economic exclusion” in contexts of state fragility

(UK.AID. DFID 2010: 42). The emphasis that national and international aid agencies have put on women’s participation in state legislatures in postconflict environments was so important that it may partly explain women’s remarkably high presence in legislative bodies in countries recovering from civil war, such as Rwanda (Hughes 2009: 189).

Influential think tanks intervened in the development of such policy through the deployment of expertise on women. In a representative document, the North-South Institute explained that in contexts of state failure women suffer from “weak legal protections” and discriminatory state policies (Baranyi and Powell 2005: 2). Offering remedies to such problems, the Foundation for International Relations and Foreign Dialogue (FRIDE) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) encouraged donor agencies to facilitate women’s participation in the negotiation of political settlements at the end of a conflict, in political parties and elected positions, in the executive branch of the government and in legal, justice, and security structures (Ali 2011; Castillejo 2011). Similarly, the Netherlands Institute for International Relations Clingendael advocated security sector reforms in postconflict states that would address “obstacles to female participation” in security forces, and “the gender-specific needs of intended beneficiaries,” such as women’s greater risk of experiencing rape and sexual assault (Schoofs and Smits 2010: 2).

These interventions almost uniformly emphasized the protection and participation of individual women, and thus primarily provided expertise on women as opposed to feminist critique of statebuilding itself. Their advocacy draws on the important liberal insight that women have a right to be protected from violations of their bodily integrity and deserve equal access to participation in public affairs and government. These think tanks, and the policies that came out of their recommendations, certainly filled a significant gap in mainstream approaches to postconflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. The latter have long neglected problems of human trafficking and rape in both wartime and ostensibly postconflict contexts (Cockburn 2004:43; Giles and Hyndman 2004). Similarly, mainstream efforts most often excluded women from peace processes and negotiations (de Alwis et al. 2013: 169). Gender experts in the aforementioned think tanks eloquently argued for the protection and inclusion of women as participants and stakeholders in statebuilding processes. Thanks to their advocacy, statebuilding policy repositioned women’s gendered vulnerability to physical violence and exclusion from formal political processes as social ills to address through statebuilding programs.

The gender champions in the aid and development policy community who informed these changes adopted a pragmatic approach, accepting statebuilding as the best available policy vehicle for fighting gender inequality in postconflict contexts. USIP argued that “with political will, resources, and a clear gendered strategy, the process of state building can open up opportunities for stronger support of women’s human rights and gender equality in the long run” (Ali 2011). Among a number of gender experts, statebuilding became “widely regarded as an opportunity for securing greater gender equity and equality” in fragile states, provided that stated commitments translate into well-resourced activities on the ground (O’Connell 2011: 455; see also Tryggestad 2010: 169). These stated beliefs suggest an attachment to an image of the liberal state as gender-neutral; as “the location that settles [gender] differences, rather than the form that gives rise to them” (Stevens 1999: 4). On this question, the pragmatic gender champions diverge from feminist critics of the liberal state such as Anne Phillips, who argued that “no feminist in her right mind would have thought liberal democracy could deliver the goods” of gender equality (Phillips 1991: 61; see also Pateman 2011 [1983]). It therefore seems that in the development of statebuilding policy, such feminist critiques were not recognized as a relevant form of gender expertise. The next section shows why they should be.

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