19 December 2019

Peace through difference

Difference can be both a cause of violence and a resource for sustainable peace

The Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (r4d programme) supports research partnerships between Switzerland and African, Asian and Latin American countries in order to provide policy-makers with scientific and development-relevant knowledge. Within this programme, the Social Conflicts module includes three research projects focusing on Gender and Conflict, Ethnic Power Relations, and Pluralistic Memories. During a synthesis event in Jakarta, researchers from the three projects engaged in efforts to explore synergies from their research findings and provide to policy-makers with research-based insights.

Focusing specifically on South-East Asia, they reflected on complex dynamics pertaining to social conflicts: how, in Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, does inequality fuel conflict and how does difference become a resource for peace? What is the role of ethno-religious political representations in sparking conflicts or appeasing tensions? How are terminated conflicts remembered, and their victims acknowledged? How do different representations of gender fuel violence or support peace efforts?

Discussions pertaining to the role of ethnic-power relations, gender, and management of the past led to the identification of two central nexuses to consider in future sustainable development programming to achieve peaceful societies:

Identity-inequality nexus. The first nexus, steaming from the r4d projects’ research findings, emphasizes the intertwined relationship between perceived inequality and socially constructed identities. Researchers emphasised the role that unaddressed inequalities play in fuelling grievances in societies, but also the way in which these inequalities can become powerful in further crystallising identities and entrenching (gender, ethnic, religious, economic) exclusions. Conversely, recognising lived experiences of inequality, inclusively integrating minority groups in peace programming, and providing active support to mitigate inequalities were recognised as promising pathways to make peace sustainable.

Researcher, policy-makers and practitioners alike acknowledged that inequalities and diverse identities are rarely adequately addressed in conflict and post-conflict settings. They noted for instance how the ‘winning side’ often obliterates the lived experiences of the victims of the conflict and frequently monopolises conflicts narratives, generating a one-sided, masculine, heteronormative version of the conflict history. The participants emphasised the need to provide more nuanced accounts of conflict dynamics and post-conflict relationships, in particular by including the experiences of women and minority groups, and by highlighting the complex experiences of people who are both perpetrators and victims. They also acknowledged the potentially deleterious roles that governments play in shaping narratives in post-conflict settings.

Power-knowledge nexus. The second nexus identified for fostering sustainable peace centred on the relationship of power and knowledge. Participants emphasised the roles of governments in monopolising narratives and recollections of the conflicts through remembrance sites, media communications, and education curricula. These dominant narratives often hide the complex nuances of conflict experiences, the responsibilities of leaders in the conflict, and promote specific, culturally and ethno-religiously driven narratives and identities. Participants noted the importance of exploring which and whose stories are untold, how governments have a hold on official discourses, and how these narratives can be countered. For instance, where are narratives and stories of women’s combatants, women’s experience of sexual violence, experiences of discrimination by trans-gender people in Asia, of marginalised groups based on ethnic, political, or religious affiliations? How could their stories and experiences be made visible and destigmatised? Grassroots efforts and initiatives at the community level, such as peace museums, pluralistic experiences, and alternative curricula, can play a key role in this.

Participants in the r4d Social Conflict dialogue raised concerns about the roles that governments have played in actively marginalising groups on multiple (ethno-religious, class, gender, sexual orientation) grounds, leaving inequalities unaddressed. They called on governments to take responsibility in the active pursuit of SDG16+ by emphasising the vital need to ensure freedom of expression, of press, and of academic research. This would allow for the development of inclusive societies in which community members of all affiliations are recognised, acknowledged in their diversity and lived inequalities, and welcomed in the public spheres. Preventing violent conflict demands this much.

Learn more about the Gender and Conflicts project