Fixing Gender: The Paradoxical Politics of Peacekeeper Training (ESRC 2020-2021)
Peacekeeping involves deploying soldiers and police from impartial countries to warzones in order to create the space in which peace may be built. Despite its formidable promise of providing security to conflict-affected peoples, peacekeeping forces are not always a benevolent presence. The failures of peacekeeping have been widely documented by scholarship, activists, and the media. They range from neglecting women’s needs and priorities in conflict-affected areas, to acts of violence committed by peacekeepers against the local population. After decades of lobbying by women’s groups, in 2000, the UN Security Council established the international Women, Peace, and Security agenda, which aims to address these shortcomings of peacekeeping. In this agenda, gender training is consistently evoked as a way to remedy or ‘fix’ the gendered harms of peacekeeping. Over the last two decades, such training has become a requirement for uniformed peacekeepers, and has developed into a significant transnational practice.
Although the gendered harms of peacekeeping are undeniable, the question remains whether gender training should be unambiguously embraced. Feminist scholarship points to an inherent tension in such training: the introduction of a critical concept such as ‘gender’, developed through feminist scholarship and activism, into traditionally masculine institutions such as the military and the police. This raises crucial questions for feminist strategizing: How is gender training made to work in and for military and police organisations? Is it a normative good from the point of view of intersectional feminist politics?
Fixing Gender: The Paradoxical Politics of Peacekeeper Training, addresses the question: What epistemic and political ‘work’ does gender training come to ‘do’ in the martial institutions associated with peacekeeping? In order to address this question, I reviewed policy documents and training materials, and observed gender training in practice in East Africa, the Nordic region, West Africa, the Western Balkans, and Western Europe. I examine how gender is conceptualised, taught, and learned in peacekeeper training – what exactly are peacekeepers learning about gender? I argue that this training is a deeply ambivalent practice from the point of view of intersectional feminist political commitments. On the one hand, I demonstrate that training reinscribes the notion that military force is an appropriate solution to gendered insecurities; that gender comes to be understood through the lenses of racialised difference; and that training affirms attachments to normative heterosexuality. On the other hand, my research reveals that training also leads peacekeepers to question the appropriateness of using force, and reveals to them how existing inequalities are based on gender, race, and sexual orientation. In sum, gender training constitutes both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminist politics, amounting to a paradoxical pedagogy. In navigating the fact that gender training both has transformative potential and is likely to consolidate existing inequalities, I argue that there is political worth in developing feminist pedagogical approaches to training, and in continuing to contest what work the term gender can and cannot be made to do.
Recent grants and awards
• 2020. ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship
• 2020. Michael Nicholson Thesis Prize, British International Studies Association
• 2019. Highly Commended Graduate Student Paper, Feminist Theory and Gender Studies, International Studies Association
• 2019. Highly commended for LSE Class Teacher Award
• 2018. LSE Class Teacher Award
• 2015-2019. LSE PhD Studentship