Rethinking ‘Peace’ in International Law and Politics From a Queer Feminist Perspective’

Sunday 26 May 2024

Dianne Otto, ‘Rethinking ‘Peace’ in International Law and Politics From a Queer Feminist Perspective’, Feminist Review (2020)

In her intersectional paper on peace, Dianne Otto draws from her experience as a fellow in international human rights law to challenge conventional thinking about peace. ‘Rethinking ‘Peace’’ is thus an excellent starter resource on post-1945 thinking about peace, the UN and peacebuilding, both grassroots and top-down. By means of three case studies, (1) the stained-glass windows at the Peace Palace (The Hague, Netherlands), (2) demilitarised zones and (3) a peace community in Columbia, Otto demonstrates different approaches to peace and advocates for a demilitarised and decolonial approach.

In this work, Otto introduces us to a feminist theory of peace, that moves beyond wartime to the gendered experiences after war and discriminations in ‘peaceful’ society, to argue that peace is not just the absence of war, but also social justice. As such, she questions the “dualism of war and peace”.[1] She also invokes queer theory, which seeks to deconstruct the societal binary constructs, to call for a new way of thinking about peace outside of a hierarchical existence that privileges masculinity, militarisation, and colonial dominance. Such a theory highlights the “harms” that human bodies experience in times of so-called ‘peace’.

Otto makes some very compelling points in this work, isolating and naming different types of peace. She argues, using the windows of the Peace Palace, that many twentieth and twenty-first century ideas about peace are entrenched in the rhetoric of progress and civilisation, in what she calls “evolutionary peace”.[2] She argues that such an approach implicates “the cause of peace in Europe’s colonialisms of the past and the neo-imperialism of the present”.[3] Using demilitarised zones, she identifies an “enforced or militarised peace” which secures peace by repressing aggression and the threat of military force,[4] and questions whether we can “really call such zones, zones of peace?”.[5] Invoking the San José de Apartadó Peace Community (Columbia), Otto assesses the effectiveness of grassroots, community-constructed demilitarised zones. Unlike the earlier examples, she highlights how this peaceful zone is enforced not through weapons, but signs and pacifist encouragements. She also highlights how this area is made sustainable and environmental using traditional, indigenous methods, securing peace not only for human beings but also local flora and fauna. She then interrogates the effectiveness of the United Nations, whose primary objective is peace, and the flaws of the UN charter and Security Council, which condones violence and military force in securing peace. Then moving to American political history, she uses 9/11 and the rhetoric of Donald Trump to highlight a tension between national and international peace, arguing that in the name of ‘security’, “peace will come from patriotism and putting your own country first”.[6] She concludes by calling for a change to how we think about peace away from militaristic definitions and methods, to taking inspiration from grassroots and alternative (‘queer’) ways of thinking.

This paper pairs nicely with, ‘Gender identity: Is femininity inherently peaceful?’ (Skjelsbaek, 1998). Otto espouses a queer theory of peace for its ability to open “the possibility of ‘disruptive’ gender identities able to challenge the male/female dualism that sustains militarism and hierarchies of gender by associating peace with femininity and ‘weakness’, and conflict with manliness and ‘strength’”,[7] providing an activist response to the gendered rhetorics of war and peace that Skjelsbaek identifies.

[1] Otto, ‘Rethinking Peace’, p.19

[2] Ibid, p.22-23

[3] Ibid, p.23

[4] Ibid, p.24

[5] Ibid, p.25

[6] Ibid, p.29

[7] Ibid, p.21

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