Intergenerational feminist peace: Global research and a case study from Aceh, Indonesia

Zubaidah Djohar and Lesley Pruitt


Audre Lorde’s work compellingly argues that accounting for age is crucial to feminist efforts at social and political change. For Lorde, ageism is a way of keeping societies repressed, clouding our vision, and leaving us apt to repeat mistakes of the past when generations cannot share lessons and visions and work together (Lorde, 1984 [2007], p. 116—117). Inspired by Lorde’s (1984 [2007]) work, this chapter follows her proposition that “We are making the future as well as bonding to survive the enormous pressure of the present, and that is what it means to be a part of history'” (p. 144). These premises offer important justifications for addressing ageism in peacebuilding, including accounting for youth peacebuilding and intergenerational peacebuilding efforts involving young people.

We explore these prospects through attention to creative writing. Lorde’s work challenges the presumed conflict between theory and poetry, noting that art has been “subjective” while scholarship has been seen as “objective”, and the two have been typically deemed inherently oppositional. Yet this reflects not an objective reality, but rather a patriarchal, white, western way of understanding the world (Lorde, 1984 [2007]). Lorde argues that poetry is “a vital necessity of our existence”, as it offers the space for creating language, which becomes ideas and leads into more concrete action; in short, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (Lorde, 1984 [2007], p. 37). Reflecting on these insights, this chapter engages with feminist peace scholarship and practice through considering a case study engaging youth in creative writing as part of a peacebuilding initiative in Aceh, Indonesia.

While much feminist peace research and feminist IR work more broadly pay little attention to age, including the need for intergenerational leadership on pressing issues, feminist work on youth peacebuilding draws from a body of feminist scholarship that has widened the lens through which peace and conflict can be understood (e.g. Enloe, 2004; Sylvester, 1993) and paved the way for more creative approaches to ways of knowing, being, and doing. This opening, including investigations of the everyday in relation to peace and security (see Choi, this volume), has made space not only for concerns relating to women and gender analysis but also for other actors and approaches typically excluded front formal global politics, including youth and creative peacebuilding endeavours.

Building on our existing feminist research and practice agendas, this chapter offers much-needed further attention to youth peacebuilding efforts, including whether and how they might intersect with creating a gender-just peace. We focus on youth in seeking to “account for the politics of considering aesthetic, emotional, embodied approaches to peacebuilding” (Pruitt and Jeffrey, 2020).

The chapter proceeds as follows. First, we outline why youth matter for peace, and why attention needs to be paid to gender when considering young people’s lives in relation to peace and conflict. Next, arts-based approaches to peacebuilding are discussed, including how they relate to youth. Then, we provide some background on the Aceh conflict before offering a case study from there of a creative writing workshop series aimed at contributing to intergenera-tional, gender-just peace. Reflections from youth participants are also considered. Finally, we close with a summary of main points and possible questions for future research.

Youth matter for peace

“Youth” is not a universal term; it reflects context and complexity. Even different parts of the United Nations use different age ranges to signify “youth” or “young people”. United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security defines “youth” as people aged 18—29. However, Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to use the range of 15—35 years old for the First ASEAN Youth Development Index (2017, p. 3), so this range may be more applicable in the Indonesian context we have considered.

In 2015 the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed UNSCR 2250, which recognises youth-led organisations for their advocacy and the range of roles they can play in peacebuilding. UNSCR 2250 includes five pillars: prevention, protection, participation, partnerships, and disengagement and reintegration. Regarding participation, the UN says states should include youth representation at all levels of decision-making related to preventing and resolving conflict; moreover, relevant actors are expected to account for youth participation in peace agreements. Regarding protection, all measures required to protect young people from sexual and gender-based violence should be implemented by parties to armed conflict, and states should respect young people’s individual human rights. In terms of prevention, a culture of peace, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, and tolerance involving youth should be promoted by all relevant actors, and states should aid enabling environments wherein youth are supported and recognised in supporting social cohesion and implementing violence prevention initiatives. As for partnerships, Member States are called on to counter violent extremist narratives through relevant non-governmental actors and relevant local community engagement and to increase support politically, financially, technically, and logistically in accounting for youth needs and participation in peace efforts. Finally, all relevant actors are encouraged to invest in skill development and capacity building with youth through peace education; activities for disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration should consider needs of conflict-affected young people, and this should include an evidence-based accounting for inclusive labour policies and gender sensitive employment prospects.

Throughout the twenty-first century researchers have worked to document and develop understandings of young people in a range of contexts in relation to peace and security (e.g. Borer et al., 2006; Berents, 2018; Huynh et al., 2015; Mcevoy-Levy, 2001; Mcintyre and Thusi, 2003; Pruitt, 2013; Pruitt and Jeffrey, 2020; Schwartz, 2010). This research critically engages with the dominant ways youth historically have been understood in relation to peace and conflict, opening space for better supporting youth peacebuilding.

Of course, age is not the only factor relevant to whether or how young people will get involved in violence or peacebuilding. It is worth noting many other intersecting factors, such as class, ethnicity, and gender, as these can all affect young people’s ability to participate politically and have their voices heard on matters of peace and security (Pruitt, 2013).

Gender matters significantly when it comes to youth, peace, and conflict. From childhood, notions of gender significantly influence everyday experiences and status variations (Brocklehurst, 2006). Considering these gendered dimensions is critical when engaging young people in peacebuilding, not least because research has suggested that girls tend to be the most excluded group when it comes to peace initiatives (Sommers, 2006). Despite this, little scholarly attention has focused on the ways young people’s participation and experiences are influenced by gender norms, how they take part in peacebuilding, and how they are affected by conflict (Pruitt, 2013). Yet where young people are accounted for and gendered analysis is applied, it appears clear “that gender impacts young people’s experiences of violence and peacebuilding in varied contexts with diverse histories of conflict and approaches to peace”. Hence, attention needs to be paid to gender when designing, implementing, and evaluating youth peacebuilding initiatives; furthermore, critically challenging existing gender norms that can support violence and hinder peacebuilding is crucial (Pruitt, 2015).

Ignoring or failing to critically engage with gender in considerations of youth contributes to young women and girls’ disproportionate exclusion from considerations of peace and security (Pruitt, 2013, 2014). Nordstrom (1999) highlighted that beyond experiences on the frontlines, girls in war zones have also faced violence, including sexual violence, in other settings, including in homes and factories, and that these forms of violence against girls have historically received inadequate attention. Girls and young women have often been sidelined from efforts to draw attention to challenges faced by child soldiers, who are usually envisioned to be young men and boys (Lee-Koo, 2011). Girls and young women also have been marginalised in programming aimed at supporting child soldiers, and where they are incorporated such programs may serve to reinforce gendered narratives of victimhood (Mckenzie, 2012). Based on research with Liberian former girl soldiers, Vastapuu (2019) noted several challenges that could arise for girl soldiers years later, including explaining how a research participant expressed concern for herself and her child considering an image of her with a gun being on a news website nearly a decade after the conflict ended.

Efforts focused on engaging women should not be assumed to include or account for young women’s meaningful participation. After all, research in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has found that cultural, educational, and expectational divisions between older and younger women can at times hamper trust (Eves and Koredong, 2015). Spark et al. (2020) have also documented that while inter-generational leadership is needed in PNG, young women often find that established women’s organisations are dominated by older women, who can refuse to share power and instead create barriers excluding younger women from having a say, instead assuming they should be happy to receive wisdom in one-way mentoring from their elders. Moreover, analysis suggests young women are often marginalised or focused on predominantly as victims in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda and efforts at implementing it (Brown, 2020; Pruitt, 2014).

Gender should not be conflated with young women when it comes to youth, peace, and security research, however. Failures to account for gender or to reflect critically on gendered stereotypes also harm young men. For example, when applied to migration law, gendered stereotypes that situate young men as inevitably violent may limit their ability to flee war and find safe refuge in other more peaceful countries (Pruitt et al., 2018). On the other hand, young men in post-conflict settings may be deemed the target audience for music aimed at upholding militarised masculinities (Baker, 2019), which can hinder prospects for peace. Hence, interrogating gender in researching youth, peace, and security is essential, and attention to the arts is, therefore, worthwhile.

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