Feminist Peace Research as Radical Politics

Interview with Priscyll Anctil Avoine (@priscyll_) by Bessie Du (@bessiedujia)

This post was originally published by the UN News Agency (Chinese). You can also listen to the full audio here.

Bessie As a female researcher in peace building and insecurity issues, what do you think people can do in the situation like this? Especially when it comes to academics, thinking about fieldwork on conflicts and war with a specific approach in Feminist Security Studies. What can people like you and your community do in the current situation?

Priscyll: I think that first thing we need to do is to call in our government to be accountable to those people that are suffering from war. They actually have a big role to play because we all know that feminists have been criticizing a lot the way the military is organized, and the weapon system is held by specific governments. I think that is a big critique that feminists have done to how the world is organized and how war is always kind of glorified, you know.

I think that’s one part of what we can do. And as individual, we have a lot to do. I think sometimes it feels we cannot do anything, but I think we should just be aware that we need to take the information critically and analyze really critically the situation and amplify the voice of the feminists. For example, in the case of Ukraine. The Ukrainian feminists that have been trying to make statements about the war, you know. I think this is very important, not reproducing harmful information. So that’s what we can do. We can also donate to feminists and LGBTQ+ organizations that have been fighting against war and for peace for so many years.

We tend to forget. It’s just like, oh, war is happening now and uh, we should do something. But they’ve been working on the ground for so many years.

We can also contribute by joining the protests in our own countries and put pressure. The more pressure we can put, the better it is. And I think that’s what has been particularly interesting with social media because, on the one side, you have sometimes false information, but on the other side, you have a collective mobilization that can do something to pressure, you know.

I think we have seen that the masculine kind of demonstration of power by the government of Russia has not been well received and that we see a change in the way we see leadership. I think that’s what Feminist Peace Research have been saying for so long; we need to change our leadership models.

Bessie: Let’s elaborate a bit about the feminist peacebuilding researchers and activists. What exactly have these groups advocated over the years?

Priscyll: I would say that there are many communities because it’s difficult to collapse in one category. The community of peace researchers, peace activists, feminist peace activist is very large, diverse, heterogeneous, and it’s many different organizations and campaigns, a constellation of communities.

What makes it really powerful to me at least, I think that is what I felt during the last ten years that I’ve been involved in those communities, it’s like they’re working across borders and beyond borders and translocally. I think that’s what makes them powerful because they have been advocating for, they’ve been engaged against militarization, against nuclear armament, against violent ways of conflict resolution. They’ve been trying to show that even if we have declared a ceasefire or peace agreement, maybe women are not feeling secure because there is a continuum of violence that affects their daily lives. And that may be being an Indigenous woman, or a racialized woman in the Global South is very different than being in a privileged position in the Global North.

It’s also how we think about those alternatives of conducting politics, engaging in peace and transforming from war to peace, but also interrogating our daily relationship to one another, right? They’ve been working in so many different fields, and they’ve been trying to show how war affects women differently. More recently, they’ve been showing them this is not just about war, that Feminist Peace Research can also be oriented to the intrafamilial violence for example.

What they tried to do is influence policy and policy making, and even in some places, they have proposed feminist foreign policy. And they’ve tried to mainstream gender in different levels of governance, from the personal to the global politics.

Bessie: Will you explain what a feminist foreign policy is?

Priscyll: Basically, a feminist foreign policy, generally speaking, would be to think about relationship between country from a feminist perspective; against militarization and for social justice. It’s really broad, and there was a lot of different ideas about what a feminist foreign policy would be, but it can be for example, to make a policy directed towards women that have been part of an armed conflict and peace negotiation, so we’re going to make sure that our government will support this peace negotiation and how gender will be included, and to support women economically or politically in this peace process. But it can be also with development policies. There’s a lot of different possibilities of thinking, different definitions foreign policy, but it’s basically changing the way we’ve been organizing the world politics.

Bessie: I see that demilitarization has been one of the focal points in the feminist research, right? Everybody has been building their military and that does not stop them from fighting. That sort of the militarization, sort of facilitated the crisis that we’re facing today. What’s your perspective on this militarization and how that works against a long-term peace building?

Priscyll: Militarization is the core problem of why the world is so violent. It’s like if you see the neighboring country getting militarized, then you militarize more, so it’s also an endless demonstration of power. It’s also linked to the way we see borders, and we see nationalism, and we see nation in general. I think the call of feminists has been like for demilitarization for so long. It just can’t go well. It’s just a glorification of violence as a mean to resolve conflicts.

Photo: @SutoriMedia

What I found interesting in thinking about that from a feminist point of view is that it’s not just about the military expenses, it’s also about the way we definitely see life through war lenses. And that’s what the feminists have been trying to say. It’s not just the military expense. It’s also how we do that in our own homes, in our schools, in our institutions, how we have a militarized view of life and how we can just change this, and it’s a very complex way.

One example of feminist peace activism against systemic oppressions is Black Lives Matter, how they’ve been saying that the whole police frame is not responding to gender justice and antiracist world. I think that demilitarization is a core of feminist peace activism and research. And it’s about radical politics.

Bessie: When you make these recommendations, do you make them to individual governments, or do you write open letters to UN? What are the specific actions the feminist peace researchers actually take in addition to their research work?

Priscyll: I think more globally, we’ve been doing a lot of letters, political activism in our respective NGOSs and collectives, we are always trying to inform people critically. what is going on… I think about the takeover of the Taliban, because we tend to forget, there is a new war, so we forget the old war. For example, with the Taliban takeover, we’ve been trying to push the voices of, Afghan female activists have been talking about that for forty years now and saying what should be done in Afghanistan… And they were just never listened.

So, I think that’s what we try to do globally, and I mean, we try also to pressure the governments to take action; in the academia, we’re trying to make research more relevant to transform society. That’s what we’re trying to make; a daily commitment to a more gender just society. Because I think that conflicts are inherent to human beings… I think it’s how we transform conflicts into nonviolent dialogue, discussion, conversation. And contestation. I think we need to see the resistance and the contestation and the active combat that Feminist Peace Research are putting forward; it has to do with radical politics, radical in the sense that we do not accept the current state of militarized violence; radical because we want to rethink the way we enter in relation with each other or build a more gender-just future and social justice, and put social justice at the core of our concern.

Maybe also radical because we refuse those systems of oppression that sustain and lead to direct and structural violence. What we’ve been doing on the local level, I think it’s just like trying to state and make visible who are the activists and who are the LGBTQ community and feminist community that have been working for a long time, so we make sure also that the money go to the people because we know the long standing engagement of those communities, organizations and collectives. And also I think that is a way to guarantee the translocal connections.

Bessie: What is the traditional view of women as victims and how, during your research, you found different aspects of women’s role in the face of violence.

Priscyll: There’ve been a lot of framing or categorization around the victims as a necessary condition to receive help funding, etc.

This traditional view is also really important to keep this category, this legal category of “victim”, and it’s also really necessary for emergency and humanitarian aid, and etc. But I think when it comes to long term change in society, it is kind of an essentialization of women only as victims. It kind of removing them their agency in the long run. I think they have powerful experiences to share and how they’ve been building so many contestations to war. I think that’s what should be also put forward.

At the core of Feminist Peace Research and activism is the link between research and civil society organizations and militancy, and activism. The feminist movement and the peace movement are not disconnected from peace research. FPR been able to make some project that are really relevant to conflict affected areas, and you have so many in the field, there are a lot of women that have been working actively to show how women have participated in peace-building processes and negotiation, even though they’ve been invisibilized.

And I think it is exactly because of that. Because we are shaking too many things, preconceived ideas. When you’re talking to people: we’re going to change the whole status quo. I think there’s a lot of fear.

Now it feels like the Second World War again [reference to the war of Russia on Ukraine – this part is cut in the audio]. Why? you have not been able to change the way we relate to each other and do politics. What we come to see and how we can imagine alternatives because I think we’ve been really bad at being imaginative and creative about another kind of world, another kind of economic system, another kind of relation in global politics, right? So, we’re stuck in something that has been invented five hundred years ago, called nations. And we’re just stuck there, and we have not been able to listen to the voices like Feminist Peace Researcher that have been criticizing those notions for so many years.

Bessie: What about nation, and nation-building?

Priscyll: Nation building, for me, is exclusionary, by essence. When you define a nation, you define us against them. There’s always someone that you will exclude. And one of the first persons that have been excluded from the nation-building were women, who have always been on the other side of history. So, we always need to prove that we are citizens first. And the whole citizenship in politics is built on this whole idea of getting a passport, of being from a state. The state is supposed to give you the possibility of living. That is what Feminist Peace Research and Feminist Security Studies have been saying; most of the insecurities for women come from the State or other forms of patriarchal control, like in their houses, in their jobs, etc. And if we push the analysis, we see that it is also a problem of deciding who is a person that deserve a nationality, and what does it mean for this person’s survival. Nation-building is a contradiction in itself and it is not leading us anywhere because the more we think about borders, the more exclusionary we are.

Feminists have been criticizing this idea of the State as a protector. I think it is the extension of patriarchy; State as the bearer of life, the one that give you the condition to survive. And I think this type is very badly the conversation for an alternative future.

There have been a lot of interesting small-scale projects of communities. We also need to question not only the State, but other systems of oppression that are nearer to us. For example, how are we conceiving the family, the violent and nonviolent setting.So this is where we need also to start working about building other forms of organization, of political organization, and I think feminists have been proving that it’s possible, with communitarian child care, and LGBQ movement have also been doing a lot of work on how we can organize community; Black Women in the United States have proven how they can organize between them to fight against oppression and try to have a community where they can be safe.

Finally, all the money we throw in arms and weapon, we should have a functional community building. I think the discussion is a bit shifting, but we still need to do a lot of work.

© Cover photo: @dassel

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