Interview | ‘Gender and Local Approaches in Peacebuilding’, by Wening Udasmoro, Professor, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia
Wening Udasmoro, co-editor and co-author of the 13th volume of International Development Policy, presents this forthcoming publication through three questions.
Forthcoming, Autumn 2021 : Prügl, E., C. Rigual, R. Kunz, M. Achakpa, H. Myrttinen, J. Onyesoh, A. Rahmawati, W. Udasmoro (eds.) (2021) Gender in Peacebuilding: Local Practices in Indonesia and Nigeria, International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement, 13 (Geneva, Boston: Graduate Institute Publications, Brill-Nijhoff). DOI: 10.4000/poldev.4494
This volume presents results of a six-year research project built on a close collaboration between scholars from Indonesia, Nigeria and Switzerland. What are the benefits and risks of this close North-South partnership in research?
Wening Udasmoro: The way we see it, we as South-North scholars have gained many benefits from collaborative researches like this one. This kind of collaboration has allowed us to work together with scholars from different countries with different research traditions, lending us the opportunity to collect diverse inputs of valuable insight. Co-authorships with researchers from other countries of articles published in reputable international journals have also been made possible. Joint efforts between South and North scholars have proven to be crucial for explicating diverse and multi-perspective views. Moreover, we, the South-North scholars, were given the chance to hold discussions with outstanding international feminists who provided us with their feedback on our researches and articles. Prior to our involvement in this research, these feminists’ ideas were only available to us through their writings, thus to be able to hold open discussions with them and get their direct feedback on our writings have been of inestimable worth. Needless to say, for us, it has been a series of rare opportunities. We also had the opportunity to have direct discussions with active peacebuilders at local, national, and international levels. In essence, each of us has received various benefits that allow us to build our academic and professional careers through the network that we have built.
The collaborative research allowed each of us to contribute in our own way. Together we explored conflicts and peacebuilding processes that occurred at micro level in relevant conflict areas, namely neighborhoods of either high or low conflict scale scores. We strove to understand the dynamics of conflict and peacebuilding through various workshops and meetings with various stakeholders from NGO, government, and academic circles, as well as with locals from the conflict areas and those involved in the peacebuilding processes. Together the North-South researchers tried to understand how gender is closely related to collective violence. We came to see that the agency of women and men is closely related to the cycle of conflict. Actors at micro level can be drivers of conflict, but they can also be drivers of the peacebuilding process by means of their agency. To date, when we talk about peacebuilding, either at local, national or international level, many of the narrations tend to applaud the big actors as the peacebuilders. Meanwhile, at micro level, actors apply various local mechanisms to avert or stop conflict, or to preserve peace as a way to prevent conflict from re-erupting. They have strategies that are accurate enough to make peace happen. Some actors employed cultural mechanisms, which happen to be the revival of pre-existing traditions, while others created their own way of dealing with conflict situations.
Our efforts in exploring conflicts and peacebuilding processes took gender perspective as a theoretical framework to see how important gender can be as a resource for change. Those are the benefits that we have gained, along with the hope that not only have we contributed to post-conflict communities, but also expanded gender-related theoretical studies with our field findings.
Throughout the research, there were certainly risks we had to deal with. Conflict-related researches are almost always prone to negative sentiments, especially toward foreigners. The term “foreigners” do not necessarily mean people from outside our country. Even in their own country, researchers are often considered outsiders by those in conflict areas. As an example, even though we are Indonesians, when we entered Aceh or Ambon — both Indonesian territories — we became the outsiders there because we are of ethnic groups different from theirs. One concrete example comes from my experience conducting a research in Aceh’s Idi Rayeuk area. At that time, I was on my own; the other researcher was a local who had to return home because she had a small child. It was 11 p.m. when someone knocked on my hotel room door. I was the only person staying at that hotel that night. The man at the door said that he was representing his friends, former members of the Free Aceh Movement, who asked to be interviewed. A doubt arose, as it was already very late. However, as a researcher, I saw this as not a risk but an opportunity: I was to have direct discussions with about 30 former members of the Free Aceh Movement, all of whom were men, at their request. Before them, I felt very much an outsider on so many different levels. There I was, a woman of another ethnicity and, even though I am a Muslim, they were aware that the hijab I had on was merely there as a passing observance of Aceh’s Islamic Sharia law and not part of my day-to-day look.
Our Nigerian colleagues had their own unique experience when they had to do field works while a conflict was still aflame. Moreover, our colleagues from Europe, specifically from Switzerland, also experienced their fair share of “outsidering”. This was most evident when we entered Aceh, which at the time of conflict was affected by the issue of Christianization that found opposition in rural areas. In their eyes, Christianity is equated with Westerners, and therefore we had to prepare ourselves for the risks and challenges that came with having our Swiss research partners alongside us when we went there.
A majority of the other risks were field-related. In several places in both Indonesia and Nigeria, conflicts are still ongoing. In Indonesia, we even had to postpone our field visits several times due to the unaccommodating circumstances of the area. When in the field, we met with opposing groups, and we needed to be careful so as not to be seen as favoring one group over the other. Any suspicion that we are pro one group would certainly affect the other group’s trust in us, which would result in their reluctance for any interview.
Other risks were shouldered by our informants. These were groups that wished to have their voices heard. They were usually very open to us researchers in explaining things involving other groups or institutions, which could be categorized as very sensitive information at the time. Their openness was often the result of their distrust towards the State, which they thought would simply turn a deaf ear. For example, the women farmers in Banyuwangi were very open in conveying their voices to us because they did not trust the government, which they thought would cause them trouble if they trusted them with their concerns. We therefore had to protect them while trying to get their voices heard at the same time.
These risks are certainly inevitable to us as researchers. They push us to employ strategies that keep the research going while keeping our safety and that of our informants in mind. The appropriate strategies that help minimize those risks have incorporated collaborating with Universitas Gadjah Mada, a widely known, reputable Indonesian university which has established cooperation with the Geneva Graduate Institute for quite some time.
Our research outcomes vary from journal articles to this book. We have also had outcomes in the form of documentaries, such as the one by a team from Geneva about peacebuilding process, and the one about Aceh’s female combatants (inong balee) by an Indonesian team. The latter film, also called Inong Balee, is an example of how we applied the risk minimization strategy as we helped our inong balee friends relate their experiences and views. It was designed from the beginning not as a showcase of the harsh side of these combatants’ life, or the tough and heroic side of their masculinity, or to focus on those who became objects of military violence. We tried to present them as subjects in a different way. They are subjects who contribute to society in various ways, however small the contribution may be. One very important aspect of the inong balee is their criticism of the social inequalities that unfolded in Aceh after the Peace Agreement. They became subjects who tried to voice their opinions and to criticize the policies of those in power in Aceh’s government. However, as an effort to keep them safe, the film was crafted in such a way that their criticisms would not backfire on them. The film has been watched by many people in Aceh, including those in the government who actually appreciate the film’s subject as part of Aceh’s historical experience, especially the history of Acehnese women, which they hope can be a memory that helps prevent conflicts from reoccurring. It has also been viewed by hundreds of people from various universities and NGOs in Yogyakarta (a city often referred to as The City of Students). One of the important messages from the audience who shared their opinions is “Never happen again”.
What are the main objectives of the book? Why is it particularly important to do research on local actors, initiatives, and processes for peace in conflict-affected communities that are often invisible in the top-down peace-building initiatives?
Wening Udasmoro: One purpose of this book’s publication is to disseminate the research’s results to the wider public. The study’s findings are very important not only to academics but also to policy makers and those living in conflict-prone areas. Our findings highlight the important values of feminism and gender perspective in conflict management and peacebuilding. We realize that there is a lack of literature for micro-level researches on conflict and peacebuilding, as well as the lack of feminist literature on gender, war and peace. In this research, we wanted to bring a feminist approach to bear on questions posed in conflict and peacebuilding literature. Our research had two focuses, which were applied respectively in its first and second phases. In the first phase, we wanted to look at the link between gender relations and collective violence at micro level, demonstrating how gender interacts with processes of violent escalation, de-escalation and non-escalation. As the second phase’s focus, we aimed to see how gender informs peacebuilding practices in intersectionality with other identity categories, and to what effect. The two focuses can be found in this book’s articles.
It is vital to study conflicts at micro level, namely by looking at local actors and peacebuilding initiatives, because from the different conflict areas in both Indonesia and Nigeria we found out just how ingenious the local actors were in their endeavors to stop conflicts or to prevent conflicts from happening again. They had mechanisms, some of which the governments had never thought of. Indeed, there is often the opinion that the processes that they carried out were a kind of reinvention of their tradition. For example, in the context of Ambon, they made use of the Pela Gandong (friendship) mechanism to reach reconciliation. These local mechanisms are often important. The Ambonese, for example, adhere to mechanisms like Pela Gandong because these are part of their identity. This does not mean that we discount the role of other social actors such as NGOs and international institutions in their joint efforts to bring peace back to the region. We simply saw that sometimes the contributing agency of individuals could be very strong, both to conflict resolution and to preventing conflicts from re-erupting. These individuals used different mechanisms. They might use women’s organizations or acted through the youths (and their artistic creations).
We tried to see if gendered power relations were related to the community’s ability to resolve conflicts.
What are the main specificities/advantages to analyzing peacebuilding through feminist and gender lens? What were your main findings on the role of gender in building peace?
Wening Udasmoro: Conflict is always gendered, as there is always a dominant group, usually a masculine force exercising its power. Among our conceptual contributions is the finding that gender operates within both conflict cycles and peacebuilding initiatives. We saw how women were non-essentially positioned as peacebuilders. They held a multidimensional positions. Because of conflicts, they become the backbone of the family, they become peacemakers. However, there were many of them who were actively involved as combatants and even became the main supporters of their children’s jihadist thoughts. As a result of conflicts, due to their role as combatants, they became known by the public, which led to proposals by political parties to represent them in the parliament. This made us realize that in looking at gender and conflict issues, we must move beyond simply focusing on women or men, beyond the oft-repeated essentialization that women are peacebuilders and men are escalators of conflict. We need to look at the roader context of gender. We then found intersectionality to be important because those who became combatants and those who became peacebuilders have links not only in terms of gender but also other social backgrounds. For example, Acehnese women were more fortunate than elderly Acehnese men when placed in face-to-face situations with the army when the province was going through its Military Operations Area phase. Old men who could not speak proper Indonesian became the main victims of a masculine power, namely the conflict between the Indonesian army and the Free Aceh Movement, both of which had weapons and a desire for power. Their inability to properly answer questions in Indonesian when they were interrogated by the army resulted in physical violence.
From our research, we found that gender is not just a matter of different kinds of agency between women and men. In our opinion, gender is performative; it is a driving force in conflict dynamics as well as in peacebuilding initiatives. We provide very clear examples in the articles that have been or will be published. We saw, for example, how fluid femininity and masculinity were acted out in different societies. We saw how women fought against a power regime and performed as masculine subjects in different ways. We also saw how non-violent masculinities were practiced by men in different areas for the purpose of avoiding bloodshed.