Gender Issues are Security Issues: Canada’s Next C-NAP and the Conclusive Link Between Women’s Empowerment and Peace

By Sarah Tuckey, PhD Candidate and Management Consultant

On April 20th and 21st, Global Affairs Canada, with the support of the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada, will host a two-day consultation for the renewal of Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (the C-NAP on WPS). There are many pressing WPS issues on the upcoming consultation agenda, but the larger truth that must be emphasized in these discussions is the conclusive link between conflict, state fragility, violence, warfare, and terrorism – with gender.

The extensive academic work of Valerie Hudson has focused on rigorous empirical research to show the “realists” of security and foreign policy studies – often men, who steadfastly require empirical hard truths – that issues of gender equality and women’s rights conclusively impact security. Indeed, her research (and the research of many others who identify as Feminist Security Studies scholars) have pushed the boundaries of traditional security research to recognize that a feminist perspective, particularly one that understands gender inequality as relational (i.e. it includes men and concepts of masculinity), highlights how gender issues are security issues.

In an article for the New York Times, Dr. Hudson and Dara Kay Cohen stress that “gender equality programs are not just politically correct fluff — they deal with matters of life and death, like rape during war, genital cutting, forced marriage and access to education”. When governments directly support gender equality programs, the “work is important not just for the women and girls who directly benefit from them, but also for the security of their countries”.

A prime example of the conclusive ties between gender equality and security is found in a case study by Dr. Hudson and her colleague Hilary Matfess, a researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses. The study shows how the rapidly rising “bride prices” (money or goods given by the groom to the bride’s family) make it easier for terrorists to recruit members. They note that bride prices typically act like a regressive tax on young men, and in South Sudan, for example, a bride that once cost 12 cows a decade ago now demands over 50 cows, 50 goats and $12,000. As Dr. Hudson states, “these marriage practices not only cast women as chattel, but also create widespread resentment among young men. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in West Africa and Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan have found it easy to recruit in such a context, and in South Sudan, two-thirds of men surveyed reported they had to steal cattle to pay for brides, stoking ethnic conflict”.

Examples such as this shine a bright light on the clear connection between terrorism, insecurity and gender inequality. Defence policies going forward should take note of such gender-relational systems, woven into the social and cultural fabric of societies, as more than just consequences of war, but deeply embedded drivers of conflict.

For Canada, the renewal of the C-NAP and redevelopment of WPS policy falls in an era where it must face a distinctly Trump brand of foreign policy. For the new C-NAP to hold clout against the “realists” who may define gender equality issues as an effect of the larger problem, it is imperative that we focus on the deep connection between gender and security. In the development of the next C-NAP, we must remember the greater truth: that when women are empowered to contribute to their nation’s stability, and when we understand gender inequality as relational, peace is more easily attained.

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