Celebrating International Women’s Day in the Elliott School

by staff contributor Cait O’Donnell

For more on the day’s events, please see full videos and photos.

On the 101st celebration of International Women’s Day, the Global Gender Program of the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs partnered with several organizations to put on an all-day event comprising two distinguished speakers (opening and closing the event) and two panels. This event was co-sponsored by GW’s Global Gender Forum, GW’s Culture in Global Affairs Seminar Series, GW’s Distinguished Women in International Affairs Series, GW’s Security Policy Forum, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute North America (SIPRI North America), the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

Barbara Miller, Director of the Elliott School’s Global Gender Program, opened the day’s events by remarking on the importance of International Women’s Day as a time to recognize both the specific needs and challenges that women and girls face around the world as well as their distinct capabilities and strengths. Continuing threads throughout the day included the need for more and better gender-specific data during peace and conflict, the importance of more complex and nuanced approaches to research on victimization and empowerment, and the importance of ensuring more research and policy attention to gender dimensions of war, post-conflict peacekeeping, and women’s empowerment and livelihoods.

Louise Olsson gave the opening talk on the subject of U.N. Peace operations with special reference to her research on Timor Leste. Olsson is a researcher at Folke Bernadotte Academy in Sweden, where she is also a project leader for UNSCR 1325. She organized her presentation around three issues: quality peace, security equality, and the effect of U.N. Peace Operations. She pointed out the connections between the first two concepts, saying that “…peace does not automatically mean equal security. Different groups can receive different degrees of protection by way of how operations and conflict resolution processes are designed.”

The first, crucial step, however, is defining peace. Is peace defined as the lack of war, of conflict and residual violence, of all forms of physical violence, or of all forms of physical and structural violence? Such negative definitions render peace as content-less. Olsson challenged us to include equality and social justice in the definition of peace. The case of Denmark, which ranks high on the Global Peace Index yet is also at war with Afghanistan, exhibits that devising a more complete definition of peace is laden with complexity.

Post-conflict peace-making is not always beneficial to women’s rights: women’s rights and equality can be compromised or sold out during peace agreements. People involved in peace operations often avoid gender issues because they are considered “too cultural.” Olsson insisted, however, that there are common, reoccurring gender issues from Namibia to Afghanistan. Continue reading “Celebrating International Women’s Day in the Elliott School”