Creating peace: arts-based approaches

Researchers have documented how arts-based activities can contribute to peacebuilding by helping people develop new viewpoints and reframe situations (Jeffrey and Pruitt, 2019), including changing the way people understand themselves and see others, which is crucial for transforming conflict (Premaratna and Bleiker, 2010; see also Premaratna and Rajkohbal, this volume). Creative peacebuilding also has synergies with IR feminists using art for activism and understanding more broadly (Jauhola and Sanna, 2016; Sanna, 2016).

Considering creative prospects are important for recognising youth peacebuilding. Although young people often are excluded from high-level formal peacebuilding, they often are involved in a range of everyday peacebuilding efforts, including those using creative means to build peace (Pruitt, 2013). Indeed, young people have advocated for peace in a range of ways, such as using hip-hop to spread a message of peace to a wider audience (Shank and Schirch, 2008). While they have received little scholarly attention, the existence of youth-led peacebuilding efforts utilising creative approaches such as art, poetry, dance, and rap has been well documented around the world (Altiok, 2017; Pruitt, 2013, 2015; Pruitt & Jeffrey, 2020; Simpson, 2018).

As noted above, attention to gender is needed in designing, implementing, and evaluating youth peacebuilding programs. Research across a range of contexts has demonstrated that creative or arts-based youth peacebuilding initiatives are no exception—they too require attention to how gender-differentiated roles and understandings manifest in different ways within and across local contexts and intersect with a range of identity factors (Pruitt, 2013, 2015; Pruitt and Jeffrey, 2020).

The following case study considers the prospects for engaging youth in peacebuilding through creative writing. This reflects Rees’ (2003) call for peacemakers to deploy other knowledge forms such as poetry and literature with the aim of establishing peace; Rees further asserts that peace can only be achieved through accounting for a range of voices, coupled with efforts to enhance equality between women and men and children and adults. Indeed, “in a variety of cultural and historical settings, the poetic imagination can give us new—or at least different—insights into important political challenges and dynamics” (Bleiker, 2009, p. 84). Reflecting on these notions, next we offer background on the conflict in Aceh, Indonesia and then introduce a case study involving a workshop there that used creative writing to engage youth in intergenerational, gender-just peacebuilding.

Introducing Aceh

Conflict in Aceh reflects a long history, including Dutch colonialism in Indonesia (Kunz et al., 2018). From 1976 through 2005, independence efforts took the form of armed conflict between the separatist group Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian Government. The conflict’s origins were multifaceted, though scholars have tended to agree that the recent struggle for independence was driven by the perception that Indonesia was exploiting Aceh’s valuable natural resources of gas and oil while engaging in human rights abuses and military repression (Lee-Koo, 2012).

Throughout the conflict women played a diverse range of roles, including thousands of women serving as combatants, women advocating for peace, and women facing gender-basedviolence, such as being targeted for sexual violence and being used as human shields (Lee-Koo, 2012). Gendered analysis also illuminates the varied ways men experienced and participated in the conflict; compared to women, men were more likely to be combatants, and more likely to be beaten, taken captive, tortured, or attacked with a knife or gun (Lee-Koo, 2012).

Experiences of the conflict also cut across, and differed by, age or generation. Evidence of child soldier recruitment has been documented (Lee-Koo, 2012), and while the GAM’s female combatant group has been called the “Widows’ Corp”, most members were single women in their early twenties or late teens; and some young women were forced into the conflict (Marhaban, 2012). Overall, younger and older people and men and women participated in the Aceh conflict (Wandi, 2012).

While little international attention was paid to the conflict prior to 2004, that year a devastating tsunami brought in numerous post-tsunami recovery programs and provided an impetus for quickly advancing a formal peace process (Lee-Koo, 2012). In 2005, a formal peace agreement was signed in Helsinki, ushering in official peace to the region (Jauhola, 2016). Under the peace terms, Aceh has remained a part of Indonesia yet maintained significant political autonomy (Kunz et al., 2018).

This agreement was widely heralded as a win for peace, but critical feminist peace researchers have argued that the lack of attention to gender in the peace process and the resulting agreement and implementation can hinder efforts for sustainable peace in Aceh (Jauhola, 2016; Kunz et al., 2018; Lee-Koo, 2012). Lee-Koo (2012) observed that Aceh’s peace process had an elite masculinist agenda that excluded women and issues affecting women. Despite women’s, particularly young women’s, participation, they were not recognised in numbers of combatants during the negotiations, nor were their rights specified in the resulting laws and agreements (Marhaban, 2012).

Lee-Koo (2012) suggests that Aceh’s conservative patriarchal gender order—where women are less likely to hold office and more likely to be unemployed—was further entrenched as the peace process failed to account for women’s skills and experiences. Moreover, the process also ignored contributions of Acehnese women’s organisations, many of which formed between 1988 and 1998, and since 2000 had been reporting on violence targeting women in the conflict (Jauhola, 2016).

The focus on elite militarised men in studying the Acehnese conflict can also obscure the many Acehnese men who rejected violence during or since the conflict; yet, even when men advocate nonviolence they may do so in ways that further shore up men’s dominance (Kunz et al., 2018). This retrenching of men’s power may likewise pose challenges for peace.

Many years after the formal peace agreement, which excluded them, women and young people continue to experience the effects of the conflict. Hence, attention to efforts that engage people of various genders and generations in pursuing peace is warranted.

To that end, one of this chapter’s authors, Zubaidah Djohar, a writer, poet, and long-time activist for peace in Aceh, saw that youth were largely marginalised in post-conflict peacebuilding efforts. According to Djohar, many of today’s young people have grown up in a time of peace, yet few have learned about the context of the conflict or had opportunities to become involved in peacebuilding. Moreover, noting the threat of religious fundamentalism in Aceh, which she sees as hindering women’s safety and wellbeing, Zubaidah believes that youth can make important contributions to the ways religious customs and practices are interpreted going forward. Overall, recognising that youth participation is crucial to building a gender-just peace now and in the future, Zubaidah endeavoured to create a space for intergenerational sharing about the conflict and prospects for peace. She did so through designing and facilitating a creative writing workshop series.

 
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