Gender roles


When we talk of feminism, we generally shift all the focus onto the female gender. However, what we don’t realize is, what exactly are we referring to when we say the female gender? Here is where I think it is important to distinguish between gender and sex. One of the biggest misconceptions in the English language is that gender and sex are often used interchangeably. However, they do resort to two different concepts. Sujata Moorti, our speaker, was able to shine some light on this matter. When we say sex, we are talking about the sex a person identifies with. It could be masculine or feminine or even a little bit of each. What then is gender?

Gender is a socially constructed concept and role that is built around the sex of a person. Now, where lies the problem is, the way we deal with gender and sex is, we don’t wait for people to identify with a sex and then ascribe a gender role. We instead, identify whether a person is a boy or a girl the second they are born (using the human body as an indicator) and then start training and teaching them to fit the stereotype of their genders. Boys are trained on “masculine” traits and girls are trained on “feminine” traits, and a mix of either or is shunned.

The whole idea through ancient history of men only doing certain kinds of work and women only doing certain kinds of work was inspired originally by the idea of division of labor. A house had to be run, and so men and women would divide up the work. Stemming from that original division of labor, we now have stereotypes constructed around what women should be doing and what men should be doing. What people fail to see is both these activities are structurally dependent on each other. Without either or activity, “the house” / society would fall apart. So where then did this notion of “more important” work versus “less important” work come from?

Now to bring gender into this and constructed societal narratives. They say women are meant for certain kinds of work especially those associated with nurturing and caring and are associated with being petite, delicate, mannered, polite, etc. But men on the other hand are big and strong and they build things and are the head of the family and are the bread winner. Focusing on only these prescribed and expected qualities and characteristics leads to an immense deficit and poverty of capabilities for both men and women. Both masculine and feminine characteristics need to be embraced irrespective of the gender to have a whole all encompassing development of oneself, allowing one to liberate their potential and talent. In the peacebuilding field a wise person told us, men are appreciated for their feminine qualities and ability to empathize with populations, however, if a woman expresses these same feminine qualities, it is assumed that these qualities were already “naturally” in her, when actually these are qualities instilled in her. One the other hand, women are not appreciated for their masculine traits that they might possess and exhibit, limiting again their potential and talent.

The only way we can break this deeply constructed narrative is if we touch into the everyday life and slowly start breaking the narrative with better more enlightening narratives that have a better connection to the truth. We can use these narratives as teaching moments.

Here is the link to an Advertisement, that is a good example of how we can use teaching moments to break the stereotypical narratives and start building new better ones:

Violence, a disease?

In one of our sessions, we had the opportunity of meeting Richard Matthews in the field of Peacebuilding and his specialty was connecting the dots between violence and health. He introduced us to a very unique way of looking at violence i.e. violence as a disease. We all talk of violence and how there are so many different contributing factors to a conflict and how intricately complex it is. But when you think of violence as a disease, it makes sense. For example:

Model: Susceptibility          Infection          recovery

If you treat violence as a disease, you are made aware of the fact that most of the people who behave violently or participate in violent acts have been victims of violence themselves or have been around violence a numerous amount of times. In this sense, they were susceptible to violence. After exposure to violence again and again, they start exhibiting that same behavior or other reactive forms of behavior (in reaction to the violence they have been exposed to) that qualify as violent. In other words, you can say that they are infected. Once infected, they perpetuate this violent cycle that then makes others susceptible to it and eventually infected and so on and so forth. And then, the system is victim to a cascading effect.

Kazu Haga, “Hurt people hurt people.”

If one were to recover from a disease, you have prescriptions and medicines given by doctors or specialists in the field of medicine. In a similar sense, to recover from violence you have various prescriptions and medicines. For example, if violent behavior is being expended by a person who has had a violent traumatizing past, the diagnosis could be trauma and one of the medicines could be trauma-healing along with other forms of behavior change tools.

Where then does peacebuilding come in in the midst of all of this? It is at these junctures or middle grounds, where a person moves from one stage to another, that peacebuilders can instigate change through their area of study or expertise. However, how do we go about garnering the support for these movements and motivating investments to access the resources required for these programs? How do we attract public/ societal investment?

In my opinion, the key is in susceptibility. People, society, in today’s reality address the disease of violence with a shunning attitude. They want to be safe and keep their loved ones safe and so the action of removing the violence from the environment is equated with removing the people with the disease and putting them in “quarantine” (Jail/ prison). However, the people already infected with this disease are in the millions, locking them up (as discussed in my blog earlier) will only intensify the symptoms of this disease, making society more prone to susceptibility of violence. The only solution here as we say in peacebuilding is, getting down to the roots of it, and eradicating the disease instead of the people with the disease. Once people understand that, they will start to be more invested in this approach. Touching in a way on the concept of pragmatic pluralism, we need to understand that we all, i.e. all of us members in society have our role to play and bring different contributions to the table. We are all structurally interdependent on each other maintaining a good balance in society, facilitating sound functioning of said society. However, the second pockets of society and individuals start resorting to violence and disrupting the balance, the whole of society is affected by it. Only once we as a society can acknowledge this idea and accept it, can we move forward in effectively combating violence.

Kazu Haga, “ The challenge is to build compassion for the not beloved in community.  One’s liberation is bound to another.”

Space and liberal peacebuilding:


In the field of peacebuilding, or just in general our everyday life, I think we take for granted the spaces that we have at our disposal and the spaces we are allowed to use. In this session led by Guntram Herb, we were able to dig deep into how spaces and their arrangement or presence or even absence play a huge role in our everyday lives and are more often than not the sources of conflict or lack thereof.

The four types of space we were acquainted with in our session were:

Space as Facilitator

Spatial barriers

Formal Spaces

Everyday spaces

How do we then tie the concept of spaces in with peacebuilding to help us analyze or understand a conflict and then go about addressing it? The article by Benstead, “Saving Liberal Peacebuilding from itself,” talks about how liberal peacebuilding has manifested into a structure that goes into conflict zones, with a more or less “one size fits all” model for the situation at hand and applies it, without any extra emphasis on sustainability or context. This is where liberal peacebuilding is failing itself, but the structures are so prominent and any change to it would involve massive restructuring, that for the most part it has stayed the same throughout.

When we combine the idea of spaces we realize liberal peacebuilding as per the critique, is invested in these formal spaces and tries to eliminate spatial barriers through formal spaces when in fact formal spaces do not really impact everyday people or communities on a regular basis, enough to implement a change for behavior change. In that case, Benstead introduces the concept of the everyday life, and that’s where peacebuilding should be focusing, to impact and potentially improve the everyday of these people and this can be done through everyday spaces. Everyday spaces can serve as a “shared space” where people are not sharing these spaces consciously but more unconsciously, helping them connect with one other and reduce tensions and animosities without any conscious efforts. We should not be looking at eliminating spatial barriers specifically, but instead, creating and holding everyday spaces which in and of itself disintegrates these barriers.

Another angle to look at from the idea of the everyday life is, we interact with our environment on an everyday basis. Therefore, tying in peacebuilding in an everyday space for the everyday life can be achieved even better by tying in or making the environment and gender un removable factors from the process of peacebuilding. Addressing these factors as a complex system and not individually will lead to a better overall environment for the people, making it a sustainable ongoing process to address conflicts. In other words, a multi-pronged approach.

Another important idea I would like to touch upon is the notion of a digital space. Nowadays, with the heavy usage of social media and such platforms and dependency on technology, it is safe to contest that this is a very powerful platform. This platform can be used to build impactful spaces on a large scale and at the same time being extremely cost efficient. It could almost qualify as a fifth categorization of space.

The place of arts in peacebuilding

A picture is worth a thousand words is what they normally say. These days I’ve been coming to reflect on this sentence a lot and it has made me realize that it is very true. Across various countries, territories, islands, etc. there are millions of languages spoken. Each language has its own structure, some with their own scripts, and some with different styles of speaking. However, across this large variety, we still find words lacking to express certain emotions, to tell certain tales accurately or to even convey ideas well. The gift of the gab is what they say you have when you can play with the words in a language well, but you still find yourself limited by language and start to define everything and construct reality with the known language.

In peacebuilding activities, a substantial amount of what we deal with has to do with language and communication. Mediations, facilitations, negotiations, dialogues, all need knowledge of a common language  traditionally, and it is in this field specifically where it is extremely crucial to convey as accurate as possible certain ideas and emotions, especially when dealing with story-telling and trauma healing. How then can we convey these ideas without having language constraint us?

This is where I feel the place of arts steps in in peacebuilding. A picture, a painting, a poem,  a video, helps build an ambience around an idea that supports the words that come along with it. Now, when looking at most conflicts, they all have a sorrowful past buried at its roots. A big part of the conflict not being able to be transformed or resolved is that the past has not been resolved or even addressed, leaving it an open wound to be agitated time and time over again. In order to make peace with the past and finally start moving forward people need their stories to be heard and acknowledged. Helping reach a shared narrative of the conflict from a past lens and then putting it down in memory through either a statue or sculpture or painting or any other art form is also where I see the arts playing a huge role, that then paves the way to justice.

Some of my favorite examples are:


This (to the left) was made to remember the young Japanese girls who were attacked by the Japanese soldiers during WW2. The heels off the ground resemble instability in their life because society never accepted the, the empty chair allows you to empathize with her putting yourself in her shows, the shadow makes her look like an old woman when in fact she is very young. These are among the few intricate details of the statue that help form a better idea of the whole picture. This statue is located in many places, the most controversial one being right outside the Japanese embassy as a reminder to all of those girls and the terrible fate they suffered.






This is another example to show the way Iraqis and Iranians were able to converse with each other breaking down any misconceptions or animosities they had towards each other during the prolonged war between the two nations.






This is an image of Titus Kaphar giving a TedTalk about the history of African Americans and how through paintings their stories can either be hidden or brought to life, and in the process educating everyone.




As you can see from few of these examples, the arts really play a vital role in peace-building. To conclude, I must emphasis on the role of creativity in this field. With the complex and dynamic situations we encounter in this field, one must know for sure, that creativity is something if employed can only benefit the situation if not have no effect, and the various forms of art are the best tools to channel and vehicle such creativity.


What can I do, I’m only a kid?


“What can I do, I’m only a kid.,” is a common saying that is often used to express the hopelessness of a young one in a situation, preventing them from constructively contributing. However, in light of current situations, children and youth are getting exposed sooner and sooner to harsh realities, ones that they would have initially been sheltered from. Due to this exposure, many of the youths are influenced in the wrong places when they truly do not understand the consequences of the same. In this setting, I think Salinas Valley is a good example of how they have been able to employ preventive proactive measures instead of solely reactive measures to prevent teenagers and the broader youth population from being influenced in the wrong way. This inevitably helps keep them safe.

Children, teenagers, the growing youth, since they are still mentally developing, they need to feel safe and secure to foster a positive growth environment. This environment can be created through acts of love, belonging, kindness and other such similar acts. All these factors, though seemingly miniscule individually, play a huge role in the shaping up of a child’s personality and hence his/her resulting actions and behavior. When children and growing youth do not find these acts in their homes or even schools, they tend to employ violent behavior as a means of gaining any kind of attention, or they look for these comforting acts elsewhere. In the case of Salinas, more often than not, it is the gangs that then provide a sense of belonging, building loyalty in their newly recruited younglings.

Focusing on these root issues of youth involvement in violence, the respective organizations in Salinas were able to put forth various initiatives to counteract these occurrences. For example, the anti-bullying initiative focuses on fostering a sense of safety and belonging in school, so children do not feel isolated. Along with that, these organizations have made increasing efforts in expanding recreational activities to occupy the youths time, preventing them from engaging in violent activities or even getting influenced to do the same.

Another aspect that Salinas Valley employs considerable efforts in, is youth leadership trainings. Instead of encouraging youth to blindly follow in our footsteps, we should be molding them to lead and guiding them to  question and challenge authority. Why do we need to start encouraging the youth for leadership? Because, they have seen and grown up in the reality constructed by the elders and hence, they are the best living sources of whether the system really works or not. Tapping into this mentality, Salinas has been focusing on youth leadership trainings.

Piggybacking off of this notion, I cannot fail to emphasis the importance in education of children. We need to direct them in the right direction and invest heavily in a good education. The example of what a good education can do is illustrated in voluminous examples one of them being the case of Gulali Ismael. She and her sister though in the midst of jihadism were able to mobilize a substantial number of youth to help better their situation in their country. Gulali emphasized on how the good education her parents invested in her and her sister, played a major role in this movement. The power of youth should never be underestimated. If misused will prove catastrophic, if used well and constructively, will prove bountiful in progress in every dimension.

Does prison make the prisoners?


When we were about to start looking into gang violence in Salinas as a case study, the first speaker we had the privilege of meeting with, asked us, “What do you think came first? Prisoners or prison?” By and in itself that question sounded ridiculous to me. My understanding was that there are bad guys and they are incarcerated for what they have done. This I realized later corresponds to the idea of negative peace i.e. the mentality of “if all the bad guys are put away, there will be peace”. But looking further into it, while it is true that some people need to be put away so that they are incapable of doing no harm to others in society, we should be careful of who we are putting in with them and around them, giving them ways to influence others negatively.

Let us go ahead and dissect this further. Using the case study of Salinas Valley as an example specifically in the broader context of the United States, mass incarceration is a problem. The United States has one of the highest rates of incarceration that is flooding its prison systems now and has reached a point of crisis where laws and policies are being put into place to reduce or release prisoners.

Where the problem here lies is, people from all ranges of crime and violence, of all ages of criminals (including teenagers due to the law of trying minors as adults in courts) are all put in the same place. When we were exposed to the prison system and how it works, we realized the system is mapped out with good intentions, but, it still has a few kinks where all these age groups and a range of criminals are lodged the same place. In such confined spaces with strong personalities, teenagers and younger individuals being incarcerated for crimes of lesser consequence are then influenced and “accepted” or taken in by gang members and trained and educated on the gang life. An important thing to emphasis on is, everyone in prison is scared. There are rival gangs living all day every day in such close proximity to each other and you do what you need to, to survive. This in a way, forms recruiting mechanisms for gangs or a training / bonding mechanism for members depending on where each inmate starts out in the system.

The prison system like mentioned above does it’s best to segregate rivals and maintain order in the prisons by dissecting the population based on survival and immediate life or death danger situations. However, the “danger” of influence is not taken into account mostly cause the facility and resource is not there. Then again, like mentioned from our sources, it’s not the prison system that’s broken. The duty of the prison is to house these inmates efficiently and maintain order, the system needs to stop sending these people to prison if rehabilitation is a promising possibility.

What people don’t pay much attention to, is by how much more the participation of people in violent crimes multiplies due to these contributing factors on top of other factors. Now, once in prison, if a person does want to truly accept accountability and responsibility for one’s actions, change and do better for themselves, there are a stream of resources made available to them via self help groups and education provided. However, once their name and records are scarred in such a manner, society is not ready to accept these individuals purely out of fear for safety of their community. And now, more than ever with policies being put into place to reverse mass incarceration, individuals are being released from prison at a much faster rate than society is willing or even ready to accept them. Which inevitably makes them a victim of the cycle and they find themselves back in the same situations, participating in violent crimes and gangs.

In my opinion, if one wants to break this cycle, we need to address the flaws of the system (which yes, is happening slowly), rehabilitate inmates to help them integrate back into society (which also, yes, is happening to a great extent). However, there are no programs and mechanisms that help society accept in a safe and cautious manner, these individuals into the community. This is a very important step and is initiated as well in Boston and Chicago via an Operation Ceasefire. If we do not start addressing these problems soon enough, the prisons are going to keep flooding up and society is going to be left with individuals who cannot contribute in any way to the community, which might adversely affect other socio-economic factors perpetuating the violent crimes cycle.

Let’s talk.

I was first introduced to the idea of dialogue in my conflict resolution class. This concept was only further solidified during the peacebuilding program. Initially, when I thought of dialogue, I thought of a conversation between people. Now, when I think of dialogue, I understand that it is meant to be a conversation between people without the burden of education or judgement. David Bohem’s model of the Evolution of Dialogue introduced to us by Mara Schoeny helped in clarifying these concepts.

When looking at this model, you see the process of getting to a dialogue neatly drawn out that implies a simple procedure. However, in reality, when we do get into dialogue, especially in conflict situations, it isn’t all that systematic and clarified. More often than less, it is messy, and you see how easy it is for the conversation to fall into “debate mode”. Debate mode would be when two opposing sides stand firm on their grounds and opinions, further reinforcing their stances not allowing for any communication to get through to the other side. How then can we reach this moment of dialogue?

Bohem talks of this concept of suspension where we suspend the current situation and start brainstorming on out of the box solutions and interventions to help solve/transform/manage a conflict. For example, an envisioning tool can be used to build up hypothetical situations about the future to see what it looks like and how we can strive towards that future, putting aside our stances for the time being. Again this sounds easier in theory than it is to implement. How can we effectively make use of this tool or other such tools?

This is where Laura Burian & Jacolyn Harmer helped give me an insight into this question by acquainting us up close and personal with the field of interpretation. When first asked, what do you think an interpreter does? The answer was, well, they listen, understand, think it out in the target language and speak in the target language. However, when shown a diagram of what actually happens in this process, it is amazing how something that looks and may seem so simple is intensely dynamic and overwhelming and can either very well break or make a situation depending on how it is carried out.

This is when it struck me that when talking of interpretation, we talk of breaking the barrier between two different languages. However, even in the same language, the same words mean different things to different people and therefore interpretation doesn’t apply simply across languages but also within languages. As a way of counteracting any misunderstandings, we are constantly interpreting people’s gestures, tones of voices, facial expressions, body language to get a sense of and understanding of where exactly they are coming from and the message they are trying to convey. Understanding just the words at face value, is the very first and basic step, there is so much more going on behind those same words.

On similar lines, one concept that really stuck with me was that of appreciative inquiry where there is emphasis on positively ascribed words as opposed to negatively ascribed words, and this helps in building a better conducive communication environment. As much as I like the concept of appreciative inquiry, I feel like it only barely scratches the surface. The idea behind it is attractive, but it can be applicable to every realm of communication and not just limited to the words we speak.

I strongly believe, tying in these techniques while approaching dialogues will help us in figuring out a way to that suspended moment where we can start tapping into creativity and pushing forward towards peacebuilding.

Monitoring and Evaluation- It’s place and form in the peacebuilding world.

When we talk of monitoring and evaluation in general, the first idea that comes to mind is accountability & the easiest and most tangible form of accountability generally tends to be associated with numbers. On the other hand, when talking of peacebuilding, the first idea that comes to mind is subjectivity, something that is very intangible. One can see then how the two ideas oppose each other. How then do we involve M&E in a field that is so subjective to truly represent the reality of peacebuilding processes and their outcomes? On what middle ground do the two help each other? Is there space for quantitative measures in this field or is it only qualitative evaluations?

How I have come to think of it as inspired by Mara Schoeny is, it is not a question of qualitative vs quantitative but rather, a triangulation of various types of evaluations that reinforce and support the results of each other. We often see cases where the quantitative and qualitative evaluations clash with each other, leading to the disintegration of peacebuilding programs. The emphasis here is to strive for a quantitative evaluation in synchronization with the qualitative design convincing readers of their combined persuasive results.

Now, how do we go about carrying out a successful evaluation? What tools help us? One of the tools we were introduced to, that I think could be very helpful is the Log frame model that has outputs divided into activities and the people affected by the activities, which helps hash out specific details of the peacebuilding program, narrow focus on a target audience, resulting in a clearer framework set for evaluation. However, like the log frame, there are several other tools one can use, but given how this field is so dynamic, inter-disciplinary, complex and ever evolving, each tool manages to capture only specific aspects of a process and not the whole program in its entirety. Therefore, why draw lines between these tools? Why not erase these lines, and mix and match to show a more accurate representation of the situation? This could be a way of capturing the complexity in a program design and its equivalent evaluation. For example, in a Log Frame model you do find arrows that typically continue pointing in the same direction. However, some relationships are more representative of a causal loop instead, could we then have causal loops in a log frame to better represent relationships and theories of change?

In the end, as I have come to understand it, anything is possible as long as you have a strong underlying theory of change to explain the relationships between the different points and parts of your design and resulting evaluation. The stronger and better articulated the underlying theory of change in a program, the better the scope of evaluating it truly and effectively.

Peace. I think I know what that is…

Before we all dive into the peacebuilding field, the most important aspect we need to clarify is, what we, for ourselves, define as peace. When learning new ideas/ theories/ concepts, a common methodology we resort to, is holding onto what we know already, our founding pillars, and then adding additional information around it, to build our knowledgebase. In terms of the concept of peace, what was our first founding pillar? War. We were first acquainted with war and hence, the concept of peace followed, being the opposite of war. However, this is a very misleading approach when thinking of peace.

As Johan Galtung said, if we define peace as the opposite of war, then we are motivated to think of peace as a way of preventing war only. However, when we look at peace in this light, we get a skewed image of the bigger, whole picture. For example, looking at interventions to prevent war only would be through arms control, military recruitment laws, budgets, ammunition laws, etc, and then, it is assumed, that that conceptually would be enough to promote peace.

Another misleading understanding of peace is associating it with calmness and quietness. A huge part of the illusion of peace comes from how we use the word in the English language, or the feeling or emotion we try to convey with the word. For example, peace can be used to convey the idea of serenity, tranquility, calmness, etc. It is my opinion that calmness and quietness, as much as it is preferred by everyone, gives us the illusion of what we should define as peace. When talking of peace, or a peaceful environment, we are talking of a reality where everyones needs are being met, nobody’s human rights are being breached, there are no mechanisms of structural violence ingrained in society and justified by cultural violence, and other such injustices. However, for that to be a reality, people need to voice their opinions, they need to be able to tell their stories and ensure their needs and rights are being met. This equates to people in society making “noise” and then those who make the noise are portrayed as the disturbers of peace, when actually, they are the ones fighting to move towards peace.

On similar lines, another example inspired by Kazu Haga is the difference between non-violence and nonviolence. The former implying the negation of the concept of violence and the latter implying a concept by and of in itself. Here again, nonviolence talks about what is not to be done as defined by what violence is, whereas, nonviolence talks about what are we going to do about that violence which is where the emphasis on justice, communication, peacebuilding, conflict transformation, etc, all come in.

This in my opinion is a crucial area that needs to be conceptualized and understood before we even begin talking about peacebuilding. Why, you may ask? Because these very first steps define majorly how we approach peacebuilding and what we hope to achieve from it or what we strive for with it.

Why am I here? How did I get here?

My first formal acquaintance with the field of peacebuilding was that of chance. While pursuing my Master’s degree in International Policy and Development, I happened to take a class on Intro to Conflict Resolution and now, 2 years down the line, I find myself finishing up on my conflict resolution certification. As you can tell, yes, the field almost instantly captured me. Through the education I continued to pursue in the field, I came across various concepts, theories and ideas that got me thinking about conflicts from various perspectives. Conflict is bad, was my understanding. It causes loss and sorrow and heartbreak and trauma. But then, without conflict, what will spark about change and challenge the current? It therefore is an opportunity for change. So then, is conflict good?

This intellectual fascination caught my curiosity and ever since I have been diving further into the field to find the answers I am looking for. Along this journey it suddenly dawned upon me, conflict is not a single separate isolated entity that is looked into by a selected specialized few. It is interwoven into our everyday life, it is inescapable and hence, we deal with it on a regular basis.

It is then I realized, peacebuilding, conflict resolution, any other name you can concoct to convey the same idea is not a concept in isolation, but, in fact, an idea practiced and held sacred in various corners of the world. It is an absolute joy and pleasure to be a part of unveiling these practices, studying the theories behind these practices and building on them to see a better future. Through peacebuilding, we are better equipped to acknowledge our external environments and internal processes which makes us more capable and ready to address these conflict situations.

This field, in my opinion is the most interdisciplinary field that is still young and enthusiastic to grow. In that spirit of inter-disciplinary is where I see myself in the summer peacebuilding program, exploring ways to combine my knowledge from various other pools of thought and skills (specifically the monitoring and evaluation field, the field of economics) with the peacebuilding field. I am excited to explore peacebuilding in depth through the SPP and how peacebuilding processes can be better evaluated using quantitative and qualitative techniques hand in hand.