Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Some reflections on Conflict, Gender & Power…

As a lawyer, my international work has focused on the legal framework and institutions affecting peace and conflict.  I have had the opportunity to be involved in work that seeks to address impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over the last twenty years.  Many states have developed domestic laws and ratified international treaties.  We now have an International Criminal Court.  But are we closer to peace and if not, how do we get there?

These are some of the questions I hope to explore over the coming months.  I am also keen to fill the gap in my knowledge about conflict resolution theories and how to bridge the divide between theory and practice.

We began this week, with classes on The Concepts and Values of Peace and Conflict Studies, facilitated by Tom Woodhouse, Emeritus Professor, Peace Studies, at the University of Bradford and Irene Santiago, Lead Convener of the Women Seriously campaign and former Senior Advisor to the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in the Philippines.

Tom introduced us to the main theorists who developed the academic study of conflict resolution and are building the global data sets available to study peace.  Irene provided insights into the role of gender, particularly in protracted social conflict.  Conflicts are often about threats to fundamental interests and the failure to meet basic human needs, including the need for appreciation or autonomy.  Understanding the interests that are at the root of a conflict becomes key to finding peace.

We studied how interests are affected by gender and how gender forms our identity.  We shared our stories – from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kenya, the United States and Canada – about gender.  We considered Irene’s questions. How did we know our gender?  How was gender transmitted?  Did this change over time, from age of 2-11, from 12 -21 years and later in life?  How do our different cultural, political and social contexts shape our gender stereotypes?  As we considered these questions, I really appreciated the willingness of this group of Rotary Peace Fellows to share and consider different perspectives.

As we were studying the need to be sensitive to gender issues in planning and providing technical assistance, I also read about the work of Dr. Denis Mukwege, who recently received the Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought, the European Parliament’s human-rights award, for his work with victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Events in the DRC provide an extreme example of violence and gender stereotypes being used to destroy the fabric of a society and lead me to ask what can we do? What do we each have the power to change?

Irene defined power as  “the potency to act for what is good”.  This definition of power spoke to me.  Our power includes a conscious choice to work for peace.  I like the idea of defining peace work as choosing  “to increase the connectors and reduce the dividers in society”.   These ideas provide a concrete starting point for putting theory into practice — whether that is by working to develop rules for the importation of coltan for our cellphones from areas where efforts are being made to reduce sexual violence, convening a peace table during the Women Seriously campaign, or working on how we handle conflict in our personal relationships.

Our inspiring week ended as it began – dancing to One Love, by Bob Marley, Playing for Change.  Check it out!

Annemieke Holthuis, Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015 Session

*Blogs are the personal reflections and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Rotary International, The Rotary Foundation, any government, or governmental entity.


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