chapter  3
Women, leadership, and building peace
Pages 16

The literature on peacebuilding and women is clear. We cannot achieve peace without women’s full participation in all the varieties of peacemaking work that are essential to building sustainable peace in local communities, national polities and global landscapes. At the same time, we find ourselves in an increasingly bifurcated world, with gender narratives that seem increasingly polarized. There are loud, strong, clear voices callings for new gender norms that free women and men from highly dualistic, binary constructions of masculine and feminine – narratives that redefine roles, norms, and prescriptions for behaviors, and challenge those structures of inequality and cultures of violence that historically have constricted women and men to particular spheres of influence and rendered genderqueer bodies invisible. There are equally loud voices calling for the maintenance of the status quo, or in some cases a return to rigid, oppositionally defined narratives that posit exclusive and fixed roles and behaviors that reinforce status hierarchies that privilege majority group men and subordinate women. Women continue to be excluded from formal peacemaking structures and institutions, to be the targets of gender-based violence and to suffer disproportionality from large scale organized violence as both direct victims and from the insecurities that result from displacement, poverty, and the destruction of family and community. In this context, how do we conceptualize gender as a concept critical to understanding the causes of social conflict, and the pathways out of them? How do we as theorists and practitioners avoid the trap of gender essentialism and dualistic thinking? How do we theorize how gender constrains and enables women as actors and shapes agency, thus informing women’s leadership choices as peacemakers? The answer lies, in part, in our ability to make visible the multiple identities women inhabit and through which they inhabit space, develop agency, and exert power as peacebuilders.