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Critical Peace and Gender: Implications for Turkey

This blog entry is part of the series "Gendered Aspects of Peace and War in Turkey" - Blog X

Published onNov 16, 2022
Critical Peace and Gender: Implications for Turkey

Nisan Alıcı

In my first blog post for this blog series, I had written about how a transformative justice lens can help address the gendered aspects of the Kurdish conflict. This last blog post focuses on critical peace literature, which draws on critiques of the liberal peace approach. The readers may notice many parallels between that first blog and this one, as the two bodies of literature have their origins in similar critiques. The notion of structural violence and the root causes of the conflict are at the centre of two approaches as foundational concepts.

What is critical peace?

Critical peace debates have represented a crucial shift from the externally driven liberal peacebuilding agenda to a bottom-up, agency-oriented understanding. Especially following the collapse of international state-building and peacebuilding projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, peace scholars began challenging the liberal peacebuilding agenda.1 The mainstream underpinnings of international peace projects are based on universally accepted western values ​​such as human rights, democratisation, “good governance”, and the open market, placing these values ​​in different conflict contexts.2 Liberal peace aims at establishing stability through the elimination of physical violence and thus incorporating the conflict zone into the global market. While doing this, changes at the institutional level and legal instruments are used, and peace processes are carried out in which the political elites are the main actors.3

Traditionally, peace agreements have been negotiated in the West or Western circles in conflict areas and based on the rationalities of the Global North. These processes have included a small number of local elites, whose claims to represent the locals were questionable.4 This is why, critical peace literature has been associated with the “local turn”, a concept that has been unpacked and challenged by several scholars. For example, Mac Ginty and Richmond state the following:

The authors are fully aware that local actors and contexts can be partisan, discriminatory, exclusive and violent (as can international actors). Local contexts also contain power relations and hierarchies that favour some above others (as do international frameworks) One of the critiques to the emphasis on local is that the local has gender ethnic and gender divides that create hierarchy and power relations.5

Critical peace literature tries to question the aggressive neoliberalism that dominates the international system and reveal the remnants of colonialism in many global initiatives that set out to bring development and peace. The critical peace approach envisages emancipatory peace processes, organised from below, where the key actors are conflict-affected communities. Therefore, for the conflict to be transformed and a liberating peace to be realised, the social power relations that are the root causes of the conflict must be transformed.6 This is one of the most important reasons why liberal peace projects fail. Focusing on institutional and legal regulations rather than addressing the relations in society and transforming them into long-term peace will only eliminate physical violence and make it impossible to achieve long-term positive peace.

It is worth noting that the transformation of the conflict and the building of peace cannot be limited to negotiations between the political elites or the armed parties of the conflict. The processes experienced in many parts of the world show that, regardless of their relation to the conflict, the strategies that do not involve the broadest possible segments of society cannot last long. Even if the physical violence ends, as structural inequalities continue, it is only a matter of time to return to the conflict conditions.7

As mentioned above, one of the essential conditions for the ownership or socialisation of peace is to consider the needs, grievances, pains and expectations of the people directly affected by the conflict and the society that will be the recipient of peace, not the interests of the international community when designing peace processes. Methods and tools to give direction and to ensure justice demands should be at the centre of peace discussions.8 As a previous blog post covered, Colombia’s peace process is a good example. In Colombia, victims' organisations could convey their demands directly to the peace talks and contribute to the mechanisms developed on issues such as victims' rights, reparations, and transitional justice. One of the most prominent aspects of the Colombian peace process is that it has produced a comprehensive and detailed program on transitional justice, while the other is the inclusion of a gender perspective in the entire peace agreement. Women and LGBT+ organisations took part in the Gender Subcommittee, expressing their desire to take part in peace negotiations and a peace agreement, and incorporated the gender perspective into the entire agreement.9

What does critical peace have to do with gender?

Most peace initiatives informed by a liberal peace approach see the conflict-affected populations as passive recipients of peacebuilding projects who do not know how to make peace.10 Organising peace from the bottom up involves prioritising the needs, demands and expectations of victims and survivors over the interests of the international community, and accordingly taking into account the local context.11 For this, the participation of victims' organisations, human rights defenders, and women's and LGBTI+ organisations in peace processes and post-conflict mechanisms is essential. Creating spaces where actors from different parts of the society can convey their demands and needs regarding the process through mechanisms to be established at the local level for the socialisation and ownership of peace is one of the primary conditions for preventing a peace process imposed from above.

It is mainly critical feminist scholars who provide us with an understanding of how gender is relevant in peacebuilding. Feminist peace scholars argue that feminist understandings are usually left out of critical discussions on peace and conflict. Feminist perspectives, however, are essential to create sustainable and meaningful peace.12 Broadly speaking, feminist approaches suggest that in order to understand the making of conflict and peace, the category of gender should be dealt with. It also tends to highlight local knowledge and adopts an intersectional gender lens.

A feminist lens, for example would enable seeing the continuum of violence, which means that gender-based violence against LGBTI+ and women does not cease with the end of the conflict. Drawing on the feminist slogan private is political, this also means that the different forms of gender-based violence should be taken into account not only during the conflict but also in the aftermath. “When examining, for example, everyday aspects of conflict and peacebuilding, attention to feminist insights into the significance of the family/private sphere could avoid the danger of reinventing the wheel.”13

Liberal approaches to peace tend to understand peacebuilding efforts as interventions from outside that concern primarily the international community.14 It therefore perceives peace as a goal that can be reached through short-term initiatives as opposed to a long, non-linear process.15 A merge of feminist peace studies with critical peace approaches makes it possible to challenge the binary understanding of violent conflict as the extreme opposite of non-violent peacetime. And if the line between war and peace is blurred, peace should also be imagined as a long-term, ongoing practice.16 In this regard, it is helpful to follow Prügl et al.’s definition of peace:

We define peacebuilding as activities, conducted by a conflict-affected community or external (national and international) actors, intended to transform conflict, prevent the re/ occurrence of violent conflict, and build non-violent relationships, including social and economic justice, within and beyond the community.17

This definition draws on an understanding of conflict, not only as the existence of physical violence, but also of structural inequalities and gender-based violence.

What are the implications for Turkey?

After establishing the links between gender and critical peace, it is now time to turn a critical eye to its implications for Turkey. Gendered relations need to be considered in an intersection with other factors enabling and perpetuated by armed conflict. Among others, this would include ethnicity, class, age, and disability. How a conflict affects women and LGBTI+ has many layers and peacebuilding efforts need to address those. This is where critical peace approaches come together with the transformative justice agenda, which I covered in my first blog in relation to addressing the conflict’s gendered impact. To reach a more emancipatory form of peace, women’s and LGBTI+ organisation’s peace activities should play a central role as they have an intersectional understanding of peace and see the gender roles’ transformation as essential to conflict transformation.

From a critical approach, any peace effort in Turkey needs to recognise the need to address structural violence and the intergenerational impact of the conflict. The lost opportunities caused by state violence and armed conflict have long-term consequences that perpetuate structural violence. An important part of the conflict-affected communities, women, LGBTI+, and children specifically, has to struggle for years without equal access to resources and basic services such as education and health. Prioritising critical peace over liberal peace may help mitigate the outcomes of decades-long violence that carry over to the next generations. Considered together with transformative justice approaches, this would pave the way for peacebuilding efforts that will challenge the power hierarchies that enabled the conflict, thus addressing gender-based violence, poverty, socio-economic injustices alongside physical violence.

* Sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication or parts of it can be used by others for free as long as they provide a proper reference to the original publication. The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of Off-University. Organisation für den Frieden e.V. and does not necessarily reflect a position of RLS.

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