Reimagining peace: A feminist perspective

06 June 2024 – This blog is part of a series drawn from Peace in the Anthropocene, our latest publication at The Club of Rome. Each entry reflects one of the many viewpoints held by our diverse membership, illustrating the rich tapestry of ideas within our network. While this article represents the insights and perspectives of one member, we encourage readers to consider it within the broader context of the full publication, which contains a variety of perspectives from different Club of Rome members on the pressing issues of our time.

In the shadow of the Israel/Hamas conflict, a feminist critique is crucial, because it unveils deeper layers of human patterns of dehumanisation that are entrenched in patriarchal power structures. Examining this conflict through a feminist lens reveals not just a regional struggle, but a symptom of broader systemic pathologies. We need to take a bird’s eye perspective to understand the structural manifestations of patriarchal pathologies, if we look towards pathways to peace.

We all know the indescribable facts: on 7 October 2023, Hamas militants murderously attacked Israeli civilians, followed by Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza which are ongoing. Thousands lost their lives, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. Both the people killed in Gaza and in Israel would have been entitled to benefit from the universal human rights declaration, passed by the UN in 1948, stating that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”i. But none of them had a chance to be treated like a member of the human family.

If we could propel us 200 years into the future a feminist historic analysis would explain that, at the beginning of the 21st century, humankind still lived in a world in which the typical patriarchal pathologies were at work: individual, collective, organisational, institutional and state-led legitimisation of power abuse, in its logical culmination manifested as violence and warfare. The patterns of patriarchal power pathologies had been repeated over centuries. They were pervasive and persistent, but also known and researched. They drove the worlds development, caused climate change and military armament. They made billions of people suffer. The numerous and laudable attempts to shift the human evolutionary paradigm into collective responsibility for the future had not yet yielded the intended results.

The mechanisms of patriarchal reinforcement involve coercion, institutionalisation, gaslighting, and divide-and-rule tactics. Coercion encompasses dehumanising actions such as violence, murder, rape, enslavement, and genocide, evident in both Hamas attacks and Israel’s response in Gaza. Institutionalisation, while often used for the common good, can also perpetuate patriarchal power through undermining democracy and legitimising injustice. Gaslighting, seen in narratives like anti-Semitism, distorts perceptions and fosters insecurity. Finally, divide-and-rule strategies sow discord among oppressed groups, preventing unified resistance against patriarchal authorities. The four mechanisms are intertwined and they all played out in the past and present developments in Israel and Palestine (by far not only in this region). Patriarchal power pathologies, their maintenance, their legitimation and their continuous enforcement on all sides are at the core of a situation that dehumanises the Israeli hostages to trading objects in power pathologies and dehumanises Palestinians in Gaza to prisoners that no country in the world welcomes as refugees.

With the advent of the UN and the Declaration of Human Rights, there would have been a chance to depart from these pathological power patterns, which, if understood as inherently linked to patriarchal domination, could have helped to predict conflicts, wars and particularly dehumanising atrocities. But nobody bothered to listen to far-sighted strategic futurists. There is still no early warning system in place for patriarchal power pathologies. The so deeply ingrained forms of inequality, the non-acceptance of diversity, the lack of respect and the dominance of some people over others, need to be seen as what they are – human pathologies that require treatment. Patriarchy is a mental infrastructure of the past. Time is of the essence. If we fail to abolish patriarchy as a culture of dominance, we will not be able to tackle the pressing problems of our time – be it climate change, exploitative economic structures, social inequalities or territorial expansions and wars (Kuenkel, 2022).

What can we do to build a collective global power that contributed to peace in the Middle East and takes this as a starting point for global peace? 

  • Name all atrocities as what they are – patriarchal power pathologies in the form of acts of dehumanising people who are part of the human family, no matter which side commits them.  
  • Implement any possible diplomatic attempts that keep up and foster human rights, and base diplomacy on the feminist foreign policy principles:  collaboration and cooperation over adversarial processes, championing and strengthening democracies, multilateralism, and a rules-based international system.  
  • Use legal mechanisms of the international (and national) rules-based system to bring to existing courts all cases of atrocities and dehumanisation.  
  • Implement gender-responsive humanitarian action and acknowledge women as powerful agents of positive change. 
  • Do not become an amplifier of the conflict and take it to other regions by using verbal or physical violence.  
  • Show solidarity with dehumanised people in Gaza and in Israel, but avoid any kind of mobilising hatred, because it will inevitably lead to people being dehumanised by other people who have nothing to do with the direct conflict.  
  • Distance yourself from anti-Semitic narratives and anti-Muslim narratives.  
  • Support all initiatives towards peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  
  • Strengthen democracies everywhere in the world, prevent right-wing, militarist and authoritarian policies, and create an action plan of early warning systems for patriarchal backlash. 
Read ‘Peace in the Anthropocene’ a collection of essays by members of The Club of Rome

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