Dealing with Differences Peacefully – Feminist Ways to Peace

The future challenge to peace-oriented policy-making lies in establishing a permanent basis for addressing differences by non-violent means, nationally and internationally. Peace-oriented policy must address three basic dilemmas: the “dilemma of equality” (equal treatment of unequal subjects perpetuates inequality), the “dilemma of difference” (unequal treatment of difference institutionalizes the difference discriminated against), and the “dilemma of identity” (group identities exclude those who are not identical). As such, we agree with Mary Kaldor’s conclusion in her book on the “New Wars”: “Exclusionist policy must be countered by alternative, future-oriented cosmopolitan strategies that bridge gaps between global and local concerns and re-establish legitimacy on the basis of democratic, inclusion-oriented values.“

Peacebuilding personnel have to be aware of these incongruities and asynchronies if they want to transform violent relationships into peaceful ones. This requires that democracy be understood in a way that allows for differences, yet without biological determination of gender roles or the exclusion of certain groups, which would violate their human rights. This in turn requires a carefully cultivated political “space between us,” as described in the conclusion to a study by Cynthia Cockburn on cooperation among women in Israel/Palestine, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland.

These women’s groups emphasize their differences as opposed to glossing over them; they directly address political differences in the group; they avoid profiling of women and men according to supposedly natural characteristics; they avoid polarization; they acknowledge injustice committed in the name
of ethic segregation; and they set themselves clearly defined goals. The group process thus becomes a locus for generating precisely this democratic space, as Cockburn writes:

“A good deal of effort therefore goes into structuring a comfortable democratic distance between us, as individuals in marriage, as collectivities in a multicultural city, as nations sharing a world. The space has to afford an optimal distance between differences, small enough for mutual knowledge, for dispelling myths, but big enough for comfort. It has to be strong enough to prevent implosion, an eruption of differences into rape, silencing or annihilation. But it also has to be flexible enough to permit differences to change their form and significance.” It is this “space between us” which is one of the most challenging but at the same time indispensable conditions for peace based on gender equality. When conflict escalates, it can only be maintained with effort, but such micro-processes form the basis for a culture of conflict that is democratic, gender-equitable, and non-violent. Resources must be devoted to promoting and maintaining it, in order to prevent the need for high-casualty, hazardous, and costly military operations as the means of conflict management in the first place.