UNSW Canberra

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  • (2023) Boer-Cueva, Alba
    The concepts of empowerment and (in)security have increasingly received theoretical and programmatic attention across international studies and policy frameworks in development, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction. Their integration, however, particularly into mainstream peacebuilding discourse and practice, is leading to growing tensions that result from the assumption of a positive relationship between the achievement of women’s empowerment and security – both on a personal level for women and in general for society, through, for example, the maintenance of peace. While lacking consensus, these concepts continue to be embedded within apparently neutral documents, including peace agreements, which assume their meaning is stable and uncontested. Situating myself in feminist peace research and adopting a decolonial feminist approach, I trouble the assumed positive nature of the relationship between women’s empowerment and security, and contribute to theoretical deliberations by highlighting other locations and sources of expertise. I do this by drawing on four supporting concepts: spatio-temporality, intersectionality, identity, and knowability. Specifically, I engage with women’s stories about peace and conflict, and particularly their experiences and conceptualisations of empowerment and (in)security through a case study of Colombia’s contemporary conflict and the peacebuilding process with FARC-EP. Drawing on 43 interviews, I offer a theorisation of women’s empowerment in relation to (in)security as a co-constituted, intersectional, embodied, and spatio-temporal process. I argue that women’s intersecting identities are located and produced in structural relations of power that determine not only how they are known, but how and why they conceptualise their empowerment and (in)security in different ways. I further argue that women in peacebuilding contexts are constituted in and through different spatio-temporalities of violence, in ways that do not map onto hegemonic binaries of urban/rural or conflict/post-conflict. My analysis encourages a critical examination of the instrumentalisation of women and gender in peacebuilding processes, and the need to engage with women’s meaning-making and strategic activism by foregrounding their multiple ways of knowing otherwise in conflict and peacebuilding. Ultimately, this research and its decolonial feminist approach to knowledge cultivation in the academy draws its significance from its call to action, to bring about more meaningful, transdisciplinary, co-created analyses of peace, violence, and conflict.