Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues13Conclusion. Seeing Patterns, Find...

Conclusion. Seeing Patterns, Finding Diversity: Researching and Engaging with Gender and Peacebuilding in Indonesia and Nigeria

Conclusion. Voir des modèles, rencontrer la diversité : recherche et engagement sur le genre et la consolidation de la paix en Indonésie et au Nigeria
Conclusión. Ver patrones, encontrar diversidad: investigar y comprometerse con el género y la construcción de la paz en Indonesia y Nigeria
Henri Myrttinen


These concluding remarks sum up some of the key themes arising in this thematic volume’s contributions, chapters that cover a breadth of different gendered aspects of peacebuilding in Indonesia and Nigeria, including the post-conflict experiences of women ex-combatants; women and land conflicts; arts, gender and peacebuilding; the gendered dynamics of post-conflict economic development; gender, spirituality and peacebuilding; gender-based violence; and the ethics of researching these issues and ‘giving back’. Throughout this volume, we have documented a broad variety of ways in which gender interweaves with peacebuilding, but also similarities in the emerging patterns, around how gender and peacebuilding are understood, how integral gender is to identity and how gender is mobilised as a resource. These remarks also summarise some of the challenges and gaps we encountered, such as the risks of silencing and essentialising of gender identities, and the continued need to go beyond simplistic notions of ‘adding gender’ to peacebuilding process, practice and research.

Top of page

Index terms

Thematic keywords:

peacebuilding, gender, violence

Geographic keywords:

Nigeria, Indonesia
Top of page

Full text

1. Introduction

1This volume on gender and peacebuilding in Indonesia and Nigeria marks the end of a seven-year research journey for the authors, one that, at the risk of sounding clichéd, was a journey of mutual learning and support, and one that also challenged us to go beyond our boundaries, both personally and academically. It forced us to confront some of the very real dangers faced by those engaged with feminist peacebuilding in conflict-affected societies, but also taught us how rich, varied, creative and effective such peacebuilding efforts are. The resulting research contributes to the growing feminist literature on gender and peacebuilding, and to an understanding of its complexities, paradoxes, silences and possibilities. Our research perspective explicitly highlighted the local level, whilst also showing how closely and inextricably ‘the local’ is tied to national and global dynamics (Rigual, 2018; Shepherd, 2020; Tamang, 2020).

  • 1 See for example Cohn (2013), Confortini (2010) and Väyrynen et al. (2021).

2Twenty years after the passing of the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in 2000, and after many more decades of women’s peace activism and feminist peace research,1 the need to include gender perspectives in peacebuilding has been firmly established, at least on paper. Local, national and international actors engaged with peacebuilding are nowat the very leastpaying lip service to the need to integrate gender. As our research has shown, women active at the local level of peacebuilding in particular have often gone much further than such tokenistic approaches. As we show, women peacebuilders, sometimes together with male allies, have broadened the scope of what is understood as peacebuilding. Our research also underscored in how many different ways gender links with peacebuilding beyond merely bringing women’s voices to the negotiating table, and how essential gender is to engaging with conflicts and peacebuilding at all levels.

3As we note in the introduction to this thematic volume, gender in peacebuilding is not only about differential impacts on, roles of, and expectations placed on different women, girls, men, boys and those identifying as other. Gender is also present simultaneously in much broader and deeper but less obvious ways, as a logic: as a structuring logic, as an identity logic, as a resource for peacebuilding (or, for that matter, conflict escalation) and as a form of governmentality. Gender thus works as a productive force to open certain possibilities for some based on their intersectionally gendered identities, and foreclose these for others. It works to create expectations on all of us, expectations that in conflict-affected and so-called post-conflict situations are difficult to impossible to achieve, but which paradoxically thus may become even more reified. Some of the ways in which gender is productive in peacebuilding are open and explicit, for example through the mobilisation of concepts of motherhood as a peacebuilding tool. At other times gender works slightly less obviously, influencing, for example, who gets to speak, who is implicitly spoken to and whose aspirations and visions of peace are prioritised when governments and the UN announce post-conflict economic development plans.

2. The Diversity of Peacebuilding

4As reflected in the thematic areas covered by the ten UN Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) since 2000, integrating gender into peacebuilding has often been conceived of mainly in terms of increasing women’s participation in peace negotiations and peacekeeping, addressing the needs of women ex-combatants and civilian women, and preventing conflict-related sexual violence. As the contributions to this volume show, women peacebuilders in Indonesia and Nigeria are broadening this to also cover economic development and rights to land (Bulduk, Onyesoh and Achakpa; Udasmoro and Prügl; and Rigual), arts and peacebuilding (Kunz, Udasmoro and Rahmawati), and spirituality, local custom and religion (Udasmoro and Prügl; and Onyesoh), as well as the needs, hopes and frustrations of women ex-combatants (Rahmawati) and preventing all forms of gender-based violence (Rigual, Myrttinen, Rahmawati and Achakpa). We also reflect on how we as researchers, through our research design and practice, can be allies for peacebuilding and peacebuilders, helping local activists reach out to wider networks and navigate them (Myrttinen), but we also realise the risks of an inadvertent silencing of voices through our practices (Rigual, Myrttinen, Rahmawati and Achakpa, all references to this volume).

5The peacebuilding initiatives covered here relate not only to major armed conflict such as in Aceh, Maluku, the Niger delta and Jos, but also to other types of conflicts such as land grabbing, environmental conflict, or inter- and intra-community tensions. The work of the activists and communities we researched often engages simultaneously with the very local, the national and the global levels. It engages with a variety of state and non-state actors; security forces, insurgents and vigilantes; with formal and informal power structures; and with private sector actors. It also involves bringing together ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’, as diffuse as these categories are, be it in integrating local, customary imagery with contemporary art forms in Indonesia, using internet and other communications technology to allow for diasporic women to continue to engage with Umuada in Nigeria or bringing together communities and local and national government, as well as the UN system to engage with pela gandong in Maluku. Women involved in peacebuilding also weave together contemporary modes of resistance and conflict resolution with historical narratives, be they the histories of women’s leadership among the Igbo or leadership in the anti-colonial struggles in Aceh. The global and national policy frameworks that cover gender in peacebuilding, such as the WPS Agenda, often do little justice to the breadth, depth, complexity and multiplicity of gendered peacebuilding on the ground. Here, in particular external peacebuilding actors seeking to support local-level processes could do more to understand these dynamics, create spaces for the local actors, support them andimportantlylisten to them rather than seeking to prescribe how they should do peacebuilding.

3. Going beyond ‘Adding Women’?

6Our research also highlights the needso often stressed by feminist peace researchers and activiststo not see femininities and masculinities as homogenous, monolithic and unchanging (Cohn, 2013; Väyrynen et al., 2021). Rather, our research again shows the need to understand how gender identity intersects with class and social networks to create differences between former women combatants in Aceh (Rahmawati, this volume), or how it intersects with age, marital status and motherhood in both countries to create differing levels of authority (Bulduk, Onyesoh and Achakpa, this volume; Udasmoro and Prügl, this volume). Motherhood and how it is used strategically are especially pertinent to women’s engagement in both resistance and peacebuilding and, as our case studies show, defy simplistic categorisations. The case studies across each country also highlight how women are not merely passive victims of conflict or ‘naturally’ peacebuilders, but also engage actively and knowingly in conflict and resistance at all levels, be it as active participants in resistance movements or by encouraging and facilitating men’s participation in these. Nonetheless, in spite of this evidence to the contrary, policy actors such as UN agencies and national governments often still cling to essentialising and potentially harmful gender stereotypes, as highlighted by Christelle Rigual (this volume) in the case of UN Women’s approach to preventing and countering violent extremism.

7It is not, however, only national governments and UN agencies who conflated gender with women, and femininities with presumed victimhood and innate peacefulness. These notions also emerged in our interviews and discussions with respondents from conflict-affected communities as well as with local-level peacebuilders. While some of this could be classified as strategic essentialism, much of it also draws on deeply held beliefs regarding what women and men are ‘naturally’ like. This circling back to, and occasional insistence upon, innate characteristics linked to biological sex by our interlocutors posed a challenge to us as researchers. We were, for the most part, not directly part of the communities, activists, and movements, even if we engaged with them closely. The use of essentialising and homogenising notions of womanhood and manhood raised for us the question of whether, how, and to what degree we as outsiders ethically should push for a questioning of locally held gender stereotypes and of local power imbalances, especially where these are being mobilised to increase women’s participation more broadly.

  • 2 While the term ‘women’s issues’ is commonly used in the peacebuilding and development sectors, we w (...)

8Although we explicitly designed our research to take a comprehensive view of gender, we thus often found ourselves circling back to focusing on women and femininities. In part, this focus on women is intrinsic and necessary to efforts to improve gender equality, to better integrate gender into peacebuilding and to address the many unmet needs of conflict-affected women. Addressing these concerns requires, by necessity, a strong focus on women. A key challenge therefore is how to highlight women and girls as a broad category without essentialised notions of womanhood and losing sight of the different life experiences of conflict and peace that women of different ages, from different socio-economic and ethno-religious backgrounds, with different sexual orientations, and so on have (Cohn, 2013). A focus on women alone, however, also risks leaving men and masculinities largely unquestioned and unproblematised, rendering patriarchal privilege invisible (Myrttinen, 2019; Wright, 2020). It airbrushes out how patriarchal power dynamics are co-constructed by women and men alike (El-Bushra, 2012). An exclusive focus on women and girls also makes ‘women’s issues’2 exceptional, distinct and marginalised, to be governed through special agendas like WPS, while those related to men, boys and masculinities are seen as general, ungendered and the norm (Charlesworth, 1994; Puechguirbal, 2010). With the exception of East Java, diverse sexual orientations and gender identities were commonly absent from policies and programming on peacebuilding, in part due to dominant social and religious norms (Rigual, Myrttinen, Rahmawati and Achakpa, this volume; Hagen, 2016).

4. The Role of Gender in Peacebuilding—What Have We Learned?

9As stated in the introduction to this thematic volume, our overarching question for the seven-year project was: How does gender inform peacebuilding initiatives in intersection with other social dynamics and identity categories and to what effect? As might be expected, there is no one, single answer, but several broad themes emerge, which are also areas in which feminist peace research and activism are engaged.

10First, there is a need to go beyond the comparatively narrow focus of the current UN and state-focused WPS agenda, which 20 years in is still mostly focusing on, and struggling to, increase women’s participation in peace processes, peacebuilding, peacekeeping and the protection of women and girls from conflict-related gender-based violence. While work on all of these issues is important and needs to be accelerated, gender-responsive peacebuilding is a much broader, diverse, richer and complex field. Peacebuilding practice, policy and research also needs to be more cognisant of, and engage more with, what we term the productivity of gender, the ordering work it does, and how it is implicitly and explicitly mobilised as a resource, as well as the possibilities it thereby opens up and the silences and exclusions it produces.

11Second, national- and international-level actors in particular, but also policy analysts and researchers engaging with conflict and peacebuilding, need to be more attuned to the local dynamics of gender. This is by no means a call to reify ‘the local’, to romanticise it or to see it as untouched by the outside world. Quite the opposite, the local is closely and intricately intermingled with the outside world, and has its own gendered biases and power imbalances as much as structures, institutions and processes at national and global levels do. However, peacebuilding efforts still too often continue overlook how local dynamics can escalate or de-escalate conflicts, how essential concrete positive change at the local level is to ensuring sustainable positive change more broadly, and the multiple ways gender acts and is acted upon in these processes.

12Third, feminist peace research needs to continue its efforts to better understand how gender interacts with other social identity markers; how gendered power dynamics are co-constructed, maintained and challenged by people of all gender identities; and how this affects conflict and peacebuilding. Beyond intersectionality and relationality, it is perhaps this last dynamic that requires more attention from peacebuilding policy and research. Gender is not a static constant, and intersectionally gendered dynamics both shape and are shaped by peacebuilding initiatives, while at the same time some aspects of gender remain remarkably untouched by societal upheaval. As our own research showed, taking these dynamics, nuances and interconnections into account is not always easy, especially as gendered stereotypes and imaginaries are often so ingrained as to seem like natural, unchanging and unassailable ‘truths’. Nonetheless, this complexity is necessary for building peace that questions patriarchy, that moves beyond unhelpful stereotypes, and ensures that those historically marginalised by dominant notions of masculinities and femininities are not further discriminated against.

Top of page


Charlesworth, H. (1994) ‘Transforming the United Men’s Club: Feminist Futures for the United Nations’, Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, 4(2), pp. 421–454.

Cohn, C. (2013) ‘Women and Wars: Toward a Conceptual Framework’, in C. Cohn (ed.) Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures (Cambridge: Polity Press), pp. 1–35.

Confortini, C.C. (2010) ‘Feminist Contributions and Challenges to Peace Studies’, Oxford Research Encyclopedias, International Studies, DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.47

El-Bushra, J. (2012) Gender in Peacebuilding: Taking Stock (London: International Alert).

Hagen, J. (2016) ‘Queering Women, Peace and Security’, International Affairs, 92(2), pp. 313–332, DOI: 10.1111/1468-2346.12551

Myrttinen, H. (2019) ‘Locating Masculinities in WPS’, in S.E. Davies and J. True (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace, and Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 88–97.

Puechguirbal, N. (2010) ‘Discourses on Gender, Patriarchy, and Resolution 1325: A Textual Analysis of UN Documents’, International Peacekeeping, 17(2), pp. 172–187, DOI: 10.1080/13533311003625068

Rigual, C. (2018) ‘Rethinking the Ontology of Peacebuilding. Gender, Spaces and the Limits of the Local Turn’, Peacebuilding, 6(2), pp. 144–169, DOI: 10.1080/21647259.2018.1453640

Shepherd, L.J. (2020) ‘Situating Women, Peace and Security: Theorizing from “the Local”’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 22(4), pp. 456–461, DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2020.1796262

Tamang, D. (2020) ‘Rethinking “Participation” in Women, Peace and Security Discourses: Engaging with “Non-Participant” Women’s Movements in the Eastern Borderlands of India’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 22(4), pp. 485–503, DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2020.1803098

Väyrynen, T., S. Parashar, É. Féron and C.C. Confortini (2021) ‘Introduction’, in T. Väyrynen, S. Parashar, É. Féron and C.C. Confortini (eds), Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research (London/New York: Routledge).

Wright, H. (2020) ‘“Masculinities Perspectives”: Advancing a Radical Women, Peace and Security Agenda?’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 22(5), pp. 652–674, DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2019.1667849

Top of page


1 See for example Cohn (2013), Confortini (2010) and Väyrynen et al. (2021).

2 While the term ‘women’s issues’ is commonly used in the peacebuilding and development sectors, we would like to stress that all issues are women’s issues as they all have a direct or indirect bearing on women’s lives.

Top of page

Cite this article

Electronic reference

Henri Myrttinen, Conclusion. Seeing Patterns, Finding Diversity: Researching and Engaging with Gender and Peacebuilding in Indonesia and NigeriaInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 13 | 2021, Online since 11 October 2021, connection on 08 February 2023. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the author

Henri Myrttinen

Henri Myrttinen is a visiting Research Fellow with Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in Belgium. He has worked on gender and peacebuilding issues with numerous non-governmental organisations and research institutions, focusing mostly on Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. Myrttinen earned a PhD in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, with a thesis on masculinities and violence in Timor-Leste.

By this author

Top of page



Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International - CC BY-NC 4.0

Top of page
  • Logo ERIH PLUS | NSD
  • DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search