Is feminist peace possible?: Constraints and opportunities in a global political economy

Sarah Hewitt and Jacqui True


Early feminist 1R scholars such as Ann Tickner (1992) and Cynthia Enloe (1989 [2014]) understood security as multidimensional and intersecting, encompassing state, economic, and ecological security (True and Hewitt, 2018, p. 99). The recent efforts to re-connect two subfields of Feminist International Relations, Feminist Political Economy (FPE) and Feminist Security Studies highlight how women’s insecurity during post-conflict transitions is affected both by the securitisation of the state and austerity in the globalised political economy (Politics and Gender, 2015, 2017). FPE analysis thus challenges our concepts of security, militarisation, war, governance, and post-conflict reconstruction. This analysis leads us to argue, in this chapter, that women’s socio-economic rights are essential for the development of a feminist peace agenda. The absence of conflict and violence, as well as the condition of positive peace, cannot be understood without investigating gendered economic inequalities and hierarchies (True, 2015).

FPE analysis is grounded in historical materialist understandings of social relations (Roberts, 2015; Tepe-Belfrage and Steans, 2016). It provides a gendered understanding of the material structures that are embedded in communities, states, and societies and globalised political and economic processes (True, 2018, pp. 187—188). FPE links gendered power relations in the family unit and households to local and global processes of production, neoliberal macro-economic policy, and resource-related conflict (True, 2018, p. 187). Vulnerabilities and insecurities to violence and poverty, particularly all forms of gender-based violence, exist and are exacerbated by globalised social and economic inequalities that are gendered (True, 2012). Women’s capacity to safely participate in and benefit from post-conflict reconstruction is closely linked to securing their economic and social rights, which is often overlooked in peacebuilding agendas (Rees and Chinkin, 2016; True, 2012; True and Hewitt, 2019). This is because women are the majority of those displaced rather than killed from conflict, often left as heads of households without a previous male breadwinner responsible for family livelihoods. Simultaneously, women are marginalised by post-conflict economies, regularly excluded from access to compensation as widows or combatants and not prioritised for employment or investment (True, 2012, pp. 138—139).

In this chapter, we ask: what does feminist peace mean and is it possible in the current global political economy? First, we explore Fl’E conceptualisations of feminist peace as the eradication of gender and other structural inequalities. We highlight core aspects of the global political economy that impact women materially and with respect to violence against women and girls. These include the globalisation of neoliberalism, the gendered household division of labour, and conflict, militarism, and war. These aspects of the global political economy are intertwined with post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding agendas. Second, we consider feminist alternatives to neoliberalism as a model for how to allocate labour and distribute economic benefits more equally. Lastly, we discuss key sites to advance feminist peace, looking towards the movement for a feminist Security Council to enable feminist peace. The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has transformative potential that considers women’s meaningful participation in peace and security as necessary for conflict protection, prevention, and postconflict relief and recovery (Davies and True, 2019, p. 4). However, to harness this potential for feminist peace, a FPE analysis is integral.

The global political economy and feminist peace

“Feminist peace” conveys a notion of peace as more than the halting of violence, aspiring toward the eradication of gender hierarchies and all oppressive structures (Hooks, 1984; WILPF, 2015). “Negative” peace, the cessation of hostilities, does not equate to peace in the “private” sphere or in societies where women are disproportionately vulnerable to violence and insecurities in conflict and post-conflict contexts (Peterson, 2005; Duncanson, 2016). Negative peace involves the absence of direct violence—bodily harm that “shows”. Whereas positive peace is attained with the absence of direct violence and structural violence, the more invisible and indirect form of violence. Johan Galtung (1969) theorised structural violence as “inequality, above all in the distribution of power”. Power, in his conception, includes the economic, social/cultural, military, and political power that prevents individuals from meeting their basic needs: “[V|iolence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances” (Galtung, 1969, pp. 171, 182).

Galtung failed to take gender relations into account, however, including how dichotomised constructs of gender as femininities and masculinities directly contribute to violence and how certain masculinities normalise it (Confortini, 2006, p. 333; Alexander, 2019, p. 31). Feminists have utilised and expanded structural violence to explain and highlight women’s experiences of violence across public and “private” spheres (True, 2012; Duncanson, 2016; Peterson, 2019). If structural violence is the unequal distribution of power and resources, then men’s near monopoly of political, economic, and societal leadership positions, and land and property across all regions of the world, indicates an entrenched structure that perpetuates violence towards women (Rees and Chinkin, 2016, p. 1216). This is illustrated by the neglect of social and economic rights that prevent women from accessing decision-making power, resources, and opportunities, particularly in post-conflict rebuilding (True and Hewitt, 2019).

Feminist scholars have shown how increasingly globalised structures perpetuate patriarchal inequalities and contribute to various forms of violence against women and girls (True, 2015, p. 556; Enloe, 2013). Feminist investigations into the political economy have illustrated how hierarchies of patriarchy and capitalism intersect and structure relations of productive and social reproductive work (Rai and Waylen, 2014, p. 8). Global and local political economic processes increase the risks of violence against women and girls as well as other feminised identities. The private/public division of labour, based on gender ideologies that primarily hold women responsible for household caring work, reduces women’s bargaining power in the private sphere, home, and broader society (True, 2012, p. 30; Kandiyoti, 1988). The work of social reproduction, which includes biological reproduction; unpaid production in the home (both goods and services); social provisioning (such as voluntary work directed at meeting community needs); the reproduction of culture and ideology; and the provision of sexual, emotional and, affective services (that are required to maintain family and intimate relationships) is largely unremunerated and unpaid, invisible to orthodox economic analysis (Hoskyns and Rai, 2007, p. 300; see also Stavrevska, this volume).

“Women’s work” is considered subjective, natural, and unskilled, a “labour of love” (Peterson, 2005, p. 501; True, 2012, pp. 30—31). Feminine tropes such as housewife, caregiver, and mother are institutionalised and naturalised where women’s “appropriate” roles are in caring professions and informal manufacturing industries (Peterson, 2003, p. 80; Tickner, 2001, p. 82). The association of women’s market labour with work women “do” in the domestic sphere legitimises women’s lower wages and economic status (Kabeer, 2014, p. 62; Enloe, 2014, pp. 271—280; Tickner, 2001, p. 84). When entering the workforce there is an expectation for women to continue unpaid domestic work imposing a double sometimes triple burden that intensifies during periods of crises such as conflict and/or natural disasters with even greater burdens for female headed households (True, 2012, p. 151).

Neoliberal economic ideology rests on economic liberalism that promotes privatisation, deregulation, and free movement of goods and services. This is characterised by economic policies that promote minimal state interference and assumes interconnectedness and fosters international stability where economic integration is positively related to peace (Hudson, 2012, p. 445). However, neoliberal restructuring for the majority of people, especially in developing countries, has resulted in declining household incomes, reduced social and labour protections, limited access to safe and secure employment, decreases in social services and social infrastructure, and an unprecedented increase in “informal” work in the home, community, and illicit economies (Peterson, 2019, p. 179). Pursuing neoliberalism has led to increasingly crises-prone global financial markets (Hozic and True, 2016). Instead of economic growth, evidence suggests expanding inequalities among individuals, states, and regions (, 2019; Oxfam, 2018; Peterson, 2019, pp. 171—172). Of the 20 richest billionaires in the world in 2018, the picture is overwhelmingly male and white, with 10 men owning as much wealth as some countries’ GDPs (, 2019). Only 2 women were in the top 20 in 2018 (Forbes, 2019). According to Oxfam (2018), in 2016, 82 per cent of the world’s wealth went to the top 1 per cent and the bottom 50 per cent saw no increase. This wealth is largely accumulated on the back of women’s low paid labour in poorer countries (Oxfam, 2018, p. 8).

Neoliberal ideas about the primacy of market governance underpin most peace initiatives, accompanied by the assumption, as Heidi Hudson (2012, p. 445) argues, that free markets address social and economic inequalities as key drivers of conflict. The political economy of resource extraction, accumulation, and distribution, therefore, is at the centre of any kind of peacebuilding activity (True et al., 2017). Post-conflict reconstruction is influenced by a liberal peacebuilding model where external actors use the ruptures caused by war to push for reformed political, legal, and economic systems in conflict-affected states. Donors, external actors, and international organisations often use sanctions and aid to pressure state and non-state actors to adopt such liberal models of democratisation, constitutions, elections, institution building, human rights, and market governance (Richmond, 2011, p. 5). However, in many peacebuilding platforms, socio-economic rights of individuals and groups, including access to social protection, justice, and economic opportunities, are sidelined. Instead, national security and electoral machinery are prioritised, and military build-up and militarised masculinities are privileged (Enloe, 2004, p. 271; True, 2012, p. 32). Militarisation is antithetical to a FPE of peace, where gendered violence may be normalised from lingering aggression from conflict and sanctioned militarised behaviour in state and non-state armed groups. Feminist scholars have shed light on how violence against women does not stop once a war is over but can increase in post-conflict settings.

International financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank or International Monetary Fund, are major funders of economic recovery and reconstruction in post-conflict and crises states (True and Sverdberg, 2019, p. 338). Most economic development strategies implemented by IFIs are underpinned by neoliberalism, often encompassing austerity’ measures, privatisation to increase efficiency in the public sector and social services, low labour costs to encourage economic development, and free, democratic elections (Peterson, 2019, pp. 171—172). However, as a FPE analysis of Bosnia in Herzegovina reveals, these kinds of economic policies have had tremendously negative effects on women and the broader society recovering from the effects of war (True et al., 2017, p. 7).

In Bosnia, the economic logic behind the donor externally-imposed Reform Agenda (2015—2018) was to revitalise and modernise the economy, with women ostensibly benefiting through greater number of jobs emerging from the flexibilisation of the labour market, foreign direct investment boosting economic opportunities, and the privatisation of health services apparently improving the quality of these services (True et al., 2017, pp. 16, 19). However, as feminists illustrate, flexibilisation entails the absence of regulatory frameworks that results in greater insecurity' of employment and income and less labour protections (Peterson, 2005). Foreign investment tends to be geared towards the private sector, with large scale infrastructure projects opening up traditional male-oriented jobs and opportunities generally monopolised by' political-military elites (True et al., 2017, p. 25). Such a programme of reform as seen in Bosnia is underwritten by' massive cuts in public spending and privatisation of public assets, in line with IF1 lending agreements and austerity conditionalities.

In preparing for the Reform Plan in Bosnia, IFIs overlooked conflict legacies on women, including thousands of cases of sexual violence and other gender specific harms and the effect of these legacies on women’s health, well-being, and livelihoods. They also ignored unpaid care economies. Reforms did not address structural inequalities but rather reinforced them, potentially fuelling some of the root causes of conflict and solidifying negative peace (True et al., 2017, p. 17). Post-conflict reconstruction plans that are “gender neutral” have deeply' gendered impacts. The lack of gender and conflict-sensitive analysis leads to increasing problems of poverty and poor labour and economic protections, both exacerbating women’s vulnerability to violence, including the violence of sexual exploitation and trafficking (True et al., 2017). Rather the Reform Plan, Jacqui True (2016) contends, “promotes the acceptance of a continuum of structural and gendered violence in an increasingly' militarised and globalised order”.

Instead of benefiting broader society, these initiatives tend to benefit existing male power holders, generally' the original major perpetrators of violence and conflict (i.e. war veterans) (True et al., 2017, pp. 19—20; see also True, 2016). IFI s insistence on privatisation benefits those in key' positions of power during the conflict who have been able to accumulate wealth, where resources allocated through liberalisation are often dominated by' armed and/or criminal groups (Bergeron et al., 2017; Duncanson, 2016). There is little recognition in policy and scholarship that beneficiaries of lucrative wartime economies are generally those who are rewarded via peace settlements and/or post-conflict neoliberal restructuring (Bergeron et al., 2017, p. 716; Duncanson, 2016, pp. 57—58; Banna, 2012).

Women’s socio-economic rights are generally overlooked in post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding processes despite these inequalities felt especially at the household level contributing to the grievances at the heart of conflict (True and Hewitt, 2019; True et al., 2017).

Economic, social, and cultural rights place a greater impetus on states to provide concrete entitlements (e.g. paid maternity leave and/or childcare) (Goetz, 2007, p. 24). However, economic development is often negotiated outside of peace processes and political settlements, and sustained by peacebuilding agendas and IFls conditionalities. This tends to focus on physical infrastructure, markets, extractive industries, and commercial agriculture, privileging productive investments, and waged labour. Correspondingly, informal labour, subsistence farming, micro enterprise, care labour, and social infrastructure, where women are primarily concentrated, tend to be devalued, overlooked, and not even counted in post-conflict economies (True and Hewitt, 2019; United Nations Secretary General, 2018). As Claire Duncanson (2016, p. 40) states, “neoliberal economic policies tend to be antithetical to feminist visions of peace.” Therefore, “challenging neoliberalism must be a central part of feminist strategies for peace”. Thus, creative feminist alternatives grounded in economic and gender justice must be developed to avoid “economic business as usual” (Bergeron et al., 2017, pp. 717—718). The achievement of feminist peace requires this dismantling of structural violence as well as the direct violence of conflict and war. We now turn to examining some of these feminist economic alternatives.

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