Research and capacity building for communities of people on genders and sexualities, human rights, justice & peace.
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By Bernedette Muthien


This paper will critically interrogate constructions of security generically, and human security specifically, in relation to women and notions of women’s security. The constructs national security and human security will be critiqued, whose interests these serve, and how these constructs are specifically gendered (and class-based) and neglect issues relevant to women specifically, and other marginalized members of the international community.

Johan Galtung's 1996 triangular model of violence, with its antitheses peace, will be examined, in order to explicate violence generically, which will lead to an examination of gender-based violence more specifically, premised on a deconstruction of patriarchal ideology, and drawing on the feminist anthropology of Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler et al.

The final section seeks to rethink activisms, employing the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Ang San Suu Kyi.

State-centred security concerns itself with armies, guns and war, and excludes people's basic needs. This paper argues that the imperatives for peace are human security and justice.


At workshops in Cape Town, South Africa, grassroots women identified their needs for spouses or partners to be faithful and monogamous. Given the high rate of generic societal violence, they also requested more mortuary vans and ambulances. These women specifically called for an end to violence, an end to the gangsterism that plagues their communities, and critically, given the pandemic of gender-based violence in South Africa, an end to violence against women and children.

A recent study on violence against women in metropolitan South Africa found that almost 60 percent of women felt `very unsafe’ while walking in their own neighbourhoods at night, with only five percent of women feeling `very safe’ in their neighbourhoods at night [Bollen et al, 1999:78,75]. The alarming statistics on violence against women illustrates that a lack of women’s security affects the entire Southern African region. Goldblatt and Meintjes [1998:8] discuss the present effects on women of apartheid violence against communities, the condition of women in the aftermath:
The entrenchment of violence creates new daily insecurities for women - constant and overwhelming fear, exposure to abuse and obscenities, and threats of rape, kidnapping or death for themselves, their children or other relatives.

Security and Peace Studies have been dominated by men, and men's interests, particularly their emphasis on guns and war. As with most fields of study, women's interests and needs have been largely neglected and ignored.


Barry Buzan [1983] recognises security as an underdeveloped and contested concept. Buzan draws critical conceptual distinctions between defence and security, individual and national security, national and international security, violent means and peaceful ends. He applies his concept across a range of military, political, economic and social sectors. According to Buzan [1983:20] the national security problem is a systemic security problem in which individuals, states and the system all play a part. Thus Buzan [1983:187] proposes the holistic notion of systemic security so that the:
national security problem defines itself as much in economic, political and social terms as in military ones.


Security has tended to be defined in terms of the nation state. Thus the notion of national security, emanating predominantly from the field of Strategic Studies, is dominated by the neo-realist mode of thought , with its focus on power and institutions of power, especially the military. Neo-realist thought and notions of the state derive from Thomas Hobbes [1651]. His infamous postulate that life in a state of nature is `nasty, brutish and short’, epitomises the neo-realist hypothesis of an international state system of anarchy. Classical American neo-realist theorists, especially Carr [1939], Morgenthau [1948] and Waltz [1954, 1979] built on the Hobbesian notion of an anarchic state system. Reacting to this position, Maxi Schoeman [1998:7,22-3], who has extensively researched women’s security in Southern Africa, criticises Waltz in particular for ‘de-historicising’ the international state system and assuming its:
inevitability, rather than admitting that it is a human construct and a product of a specific era and context.

The British academic, Hedley Bull [1977], tried to theorise a form of anarchy characterised by at least some interdependence and co-operation in his writings on an `international society' of states. Bulls' key contention centres on his notion of ‘society’ versus that of the traditional, more anarchic system, thus arguably placing his thinking between neo-liberal and neo-realist thought. Issues about what constitutes cooperation, and whose interests it serves, can be derived from rudimentary studies of the world system's theory of Wallerstein [1979]. More recent critical theory is fundamentally concerned with historicising the status quo, and seeking structural transformation.

This traditional notion of national security, in terms of armies, guns and war, emphasises the state as both the primary actor and level of analysis. Narrow state-centrism excludes other important actors and levels of analyses, including individuals and groups (ethnicities and religious groupings, political and ideological groups, and non-state actors like corporate mercenaries), as well as other institutions (e.g. transnational corporations [TNCs] and multi-national corporations [MNCs], international financial institutions [IFIs] such as the World Bank, as well as the global arms trade - from manufacturers to marketers to purchasers). The modern move away from inter-state war to intra-state conflict, in particular, stresses the importance of group and institutional analyses, eg the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) involves regional, linguistic, economic group, state and international dimensions. It involves various political and military groups, as well as especially diamond and oil TNCs, as well as other African states, notably Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda, as well as non-African states such as the United States, Belgium and France. It includes non-state actors such as mercenaries, arms and other suppliers, locally and internationally.

This skewed focus on the state usually excludes the worst affected, women and children, especially in rural areas where women and children are the ones who have to seek fresh water and wood for fuel, which exposes them to landmines. Hence the irony of men who plant landmines to deter other men, but which largely kill and maim women and children trying to survive during and after conflicts.

The traditional definition of security also emphasises protection from harm for citizens of a country within national boundaries. National boundaries in Africa are colonial legacies, often arbitrary, and variously disputed, eg the Kasikili/Sedudu Island conflict between Namibia and Botswana. Sovereignty of borders is often bestowed, with little or no consultation, and with little regard by the international community to the impacts on the inhabitants within the borders. Eritrea, for example, is deemed a sovereign state after its secession from Ethiopia, while Somaliland, where women contributed significantly to brokering peace, is not officially recognised.

The idea of protection from harm for citizens is narrowly defined, and effectively means protection from foreign attack, but does not preclude offensive measures deemed in the interests of citizens and state. For example, South Africa and Botswana's military intervention in Lesotho during 1998, as well as Namibia's incursions into Angola against UNITA. So too, this traditional definition of harm does not include other aspects of safety, security or wellbeing, including the environment, basic needs (for example food and housing), identity and dignity. A more holistic definition of protection from harm would mean more than the traditional protection from war and invasion by foreign armies. It would mean, to name a few examples, protection from hunger, protection from poverty, protection from sexual assault for women, children and men.

The traditional national security definition of protection from harm refers to a state-level notion of harm, and does not protect citizens from homelessness, illiteracy and unemployment. Nor does it protect citizens' fundamental human rights, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, to be free of discrimination on the grounds of race, class, gender, spirituality or sexuality. Negative peace, or the absence of war, conforms to traditional definitions of security in general, and traditional protection from harm in particular. Positive peace, on the other hand, means both negative peace, as well as the realisation of even the most basic of social justice needs.

Traditional notions of security are based on conventional (though flawed) distinctions between public and private spheres. Community activist, Wenny Kusuma asserts that the state has traditionally been concerned with the male-dominated public realm. Thus issues outside of the public realm, including domestic violence, job discrimination, the status of women, have not been viewed as concerns of national security.

According to peace educator and activist, Betty Reardon, (Interview, January 1999) , the three major problems with the international security system are:
(Firstly) it is dominantly masculine rather than human in conception; (secondly) it is designed to achieve the security of the state rather than that of persons or human groups; and (thirdly), what is most readily evident, it addresses only one of four fundamental sources of human wellbeing. The condition of world-wide insecurity exists because the present state-centred security paradigm places a priority on protection against harm from others over all other sources of human wellbeing. The militarised international security system is maintained at the expense of the abuse of the natural environment. It sets limits on meeting the economic and social needs of the world's poor. It disregards and violates fundamental, universal human rights, and provides inadequate protection against the harms of ill health, poor infrastructures, and accident and disaster provision, as inordinate resources, research, human talent and human effort are squandered on the armed defence of 'national security'. The system is inadequate, indeed, dangerous because it is imbalanced. It is derived by exclusively masculine, outwardly directed standards applied by the predominantly male `national security' establishments who have not been socialised to focus on human needs.


A second approach that contests the national security model is proposed by Johan Galtung, who matured from radical analyses of (under)development since the 1960s to groundbreaking peace studies during the 1990s. Based on the work of other researchers [especially the work of Robert Johansen of the Peace Studies Programme at Notre Dame (1975 – 1996)] over two decades, Galtung [1996] took the debate into new realms of understanding the requirements for peace when he proposed what has come to be called the human security model. This model, Reardon asserts, focuses on environmental security, basic needs, issues of dignity and identity, and finally, protection from harm.

The human security paradigm is designed to provide a more holistic comprehensive definition of security and protection from all forms of harm. These include indirect or structural, cultural, and direct or personal, and their respective antitheses, as postulated in Galtung's [1996] model. Structural violence (with its antithesis structural peace) refers to, for example, discrimination based on class, race or gender, violence embedded in the very structure of society. Personal or direct violence implies a direct verbal or physical attack of one person on another. Cultural violence `serves to legitimise direct and structural violence' [Galtung, 1996:31].

Illustration 1

While violence against women is direct and personal (e.g. a man assaults a woman) it also embodies structural sexism and gynecide, as well as cultural legitimisation which seeks its continuous replication. A subtle example of structural violence in this instance would be victim blaming which is institutionalised in law and legal practice. More pronounced forms include common practices which are sometimes codified in law, such as female genital mutilation, forced child brides, and femicide/infanticide. In relation to cultural violence, this is evident for example when survivors internalise their personal and systemic brutalisation. This relates to the sexist attitudes that keep women's opportunities limited.

The antithesis of violence, of course, is peace , and the three forms of violence outlined above would also have corresponding forms of peace. If one eliminates physical assault (including physical forms of gender-based violence) one will experience personal/direct peace. If one eliminates structural violence (including sexism, racism and homophobia) and transform institutions appropriately, one will experience structural peace. And if one eradicates cultural violence (including ways of thinking and being) one will experience cultural peace.

Thus it appears that none of these forms of violence, and their respective antitheses, are entirely isolated from the other. For example, one cannot eliminate gender-based violence without transforming institutions, as well as ways of thinking and being. And if one changes cultures of violence into cultures of balance and harmony in line with a partnership model, one will necessarily eliminate gender-based violence since there will no longer be polar opposites, distrust and devaluation of Others.

The human security paradigm attempts to address critical questions about who is secure, and who not, and whose interests are served. Reactively, human security would include the absence of physical violence, or negative peace. But proactively, human security involves establishing mechanisms (policies and structures) that will ensure that individuals and communities enjoy personal, structural and cultural security, in other words positive peace.

A question that could be asked is: how is security constructed, and how does it exclude women and other marginalized groups (e.g. indigenous peoples)?

Reardon (Interview, January 1999) speaks of four sources of human security: the environment, basic needs (for example food and housing), identity and dignity, and finally, protection from harm. She asserts that human security of groups and individuals is essentially the expectation of wellbeing:
Everything that is done in the name of security is ostensibly to fulfil that expectation. Human security derives primarily from the expectation that four fundamental conditions of security will be met: one, that the environment in which we live can sustain human life; two, that our basic physical survival needs for food, clothing and shelter will be met; three, that our fundamental human dignity and personal and cultural identities will be respected; and four, that we will be protected from avoidable harm. If a society can meet these conditions for most of its population it is generally a secure society; and, as it intentionally seeks to meet them for all the population, it moves toward being a just society. By these standards there are no truly secure societies in the world and probably none that are fully committed to achieving authentic human security.

In a departure from traditional practice, the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF), with assistance from civil society, drafted its security legislation in a radically new way. They redefined security in terms of development, and acknowledged the absence of an external aggressor, and the very real threat of poverty to internal stability. As chairperson of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) , Kader Asmal [1996:33], put it:
non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security.

Galtung's model is by far the most comprehensive in terms of inclusivity, and he painstakingly demonstrates his respect for and desire to include women in his analysis. However, it is precisely the `phallogocentrism' of generic knowledge and thought which precludes complete transcendence of his own masculine and other subjectivities. The term phallogocentrism stems from the Greek words phallos (phallus) and logos (word) or logy (discourse), and thus implies that traditional (male-stream) knowledge and logic, constructed by men for men, is fundamentally imbued with male bias, and will necessarily ignore the inclusion of women, or women's perspectives. It follows that universal objectivity, constructed by male theoreticians throughout history, is neither universal nor objective, but gendered, and specifically male, and hence serves particular (male) interests. Think, for example, of the founding fathers of modern democracy and social science: Greek philosophers (male) from Plato to Aristotle, and European scholars (male) from Locke to Rousseau. An example closer to home is that of African griots (male), with Senegalese griots’ strategic extrusion of Senegal’s part in African slavery from their oral history. Confucious, Gautama, Jesus and Muhammed were all male too.


Grassroots women in Southern Africa define security as:
more than individual, and including families and communities; more than physical, and including economics and health; depending on gender justice; including the quotidian or everyday (from food to sexual assault).

In South Africa a woman is raped every 26 seconds, and a woman is murdered by her male partner every 4 days [Medical Research Council]. This can be compared with developed countries like Sweden, Belgium, Germany and the USA, where at least 30% of women are battered by their male partners.


When countries are not officially at war with one another, can it justifiably be called peace when women and children are beaten and raped every few seconds in every country in the world?

To answer this question, it is necessary to examine the origins of violence. As a starting point, the following working definition of ‘violence’ is offered: the harmful action or actions of one person or group against another person or group. Looking at this definition one can see that it speaks of one person or group, versus or against another person or group. Us and Them. Us versus Them. Polar opposites. Binary oppositions.

The construction of binary oppositions may stem from a particular identity formation, the ways in which people are taught to view themselves and the world. The conventional modern formation of identity is premised on an understanding of “I am because I am not”. So one can find statements such as, "I am female because I am not male"; "I am black because I am not white"; "I am African because I am not European or North American". This construction of Self fundamentally needs an Other against which to measure itself and its value. In an intrinsically competitive environment, if the Self is to succeed and be valued, it needs to transcend or overpower the Other, and if the Self is to be valued and triumph, the Other of necessity needs to be devalued. This process can be termed ‘Othering’.

Such identity construction premised on polarity or ‘Othering’ fosters conflict over access to and control of resources. In this way power also becomes a resource, as in 'power to' and 'power over'. This belief system, based on "I am because I have and you don't", can be juxtaposed with one in which there is a more equitable distribution of resources, i.e. a more 'diffuse' form of power. Power as a relation between people became a contest over resources because it is premised on a flawed belief system centred on Othering and the devaluation of the Other.

3.1.1. Othering and oppressions

The origins of Othering and oppressions centres on the explication of two fundamental belief systems. Riane Eisler [1995], based on the work of anthropologist Marija Gimbutas, posits two models, the partnership model and the dominator model. When Eisler refers to the dominator model, she means ‘either patriarchy or matriarchy - the ranking of one half of humanity over the other’. She describes the partnership model, on the other hand, as one in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking.
In this model - beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female - diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority. [1995:xvii]

Eisler continues to argue that the dominator model is based on domination and force and the power to take life (death, killing), rather than the power to give life (birth) as in the partnership model, where actualisation and maximisation of individuals' potentials are primordial.

Western and modern thinking and beliefs are premised on the dominator model. Societies based on this paradigm are intrinsically unequal, hierarchical and oppressive. A historical precedent is found in the shift in ancient Aztec society from partnership to dominator models. More recently, modern European imperialism, which constructed the present state system in Africa, provides further examples.

Significantly, the discourse of colonisation similarly operates on a system of binary oppositions, such as female-male, black-white, infidel-believer or barbarity-civilisation. This particular way of constructing personal and group identity fosters conflict rather than cooperation, and by its very nature leads to violence. Think, for example, of the Hutu and Tutsi in the Great Lakes .

However, while one bears in mind that colonisation of Africa engendered much violence, one must also not forget that some African forebears traded in other Africans, as the histories of slavery evince. Some Africans, who operated on the construct of “I am because I am not”, also oppressed and waged wars against their kinsfolk whom they felt threatened by and whose property they wished to confiscate, practices which were exploited and exacerbated by colonisation, and which continue to this day.

3.1.2. Partnership and ‘matriarchy’

The dominator model can be juxtaposed with the partnership model, ancient and indigenous ways of thinking that preceded colonisation, found in societies such as that of the Khoisan of Southern Africa, the Toltecs of Latin America, and almost the entire East where Buddhism was and is still widely practiced .

Anne Baring and Jules Cashford [1991:157], in their narration of the migrations and invasions into Europe by Aryans and Semites during the Bronze and Iron Ages, are effectively describing the shift from a partnership to a dominator model:
Both invading peoples introduced the idea of an opposition between the powers of light and darkness, imposing this polarity on the older view in which the whole contained both light and darkness in an ever-changing relationship.

The partnership model is premised on harmony and balance, on mutual respect for, and interdependence of, each other and the environment, on cooperation rather than conflict. It is personified in the yin/ yang symbol, which epitomises a harmonious integration of all elements into one being, all dancing fluidly together to create a dynamic organism. It perhaps embodies a different tenet like, "I am because I care; I am because I belong". This sense of caring community in ancient societies is something Carol Lee Flinders has also touched on in her forthcoming book, Reclaiming a Life of Value. In the partnership model peace and respect are fundamental organising principles, where power is cooperatively shared.

In this model matriarchy is not necessarily the opposite of patriarchy. Ancient matriarchal societies were not hierarchical, oppressive and violent (towards men). Instead, they have been shown to be cooperative and peaceful, societies in which men and women were equal and equitably shared resources , even as females were key leaders, spiritually and otherwise, of their societies . Hence the term ‘matriarchy’ to describe ancient cooperative societies as the antithesis of patriarchy is erroneous, and various scholars have posited alternative terms, agreeing in essence that prepatriarchal societies were both matrilineal and matrilocal (with patriarchal societies being patrilineal and patrilocal) .

3.1.3. The origins of gender oppression

Ancient societies were not always patriarchal or necessarily gendered. African history records the matriarchal rule of, for example, Amanitare and other ancient Nubian queens, as well as the rule of Ashanti in North Ghana. Katarina Tomasevsky refers to the civilian rule of Neber in Egypt during the Old Kingdom (c. 3100-2345 BC). She argues that indigenous Egyptian society was strongly matriarchal:

Some historians argue that women may, in fact, have 'discovered' agriculture in prehistoric times. There are even instances of matrilineal and matriarchal societies in Malaysia, Java, the Philippines, and India. [1993:1,2].

In the context of gender, the dominator model presupposes a rigid distinction between the two genders. There are countless examples of modern colonisers imposing and maintaining this separation to the expense of the partnership model of thought.

In Burma, for example, British colonisers noted how ‘barbaric’ the native Burmese were because their genders were not rigidly separated and hierarchised. So too the Khoisan of Southern Africa. In both cases the colonisers, aided by the requirements of capitalism, worked immensely hard at inculcating gender distinctions in these societies and communities, with horrific results. Heike Becker has shown in her studies of gender-based violence and the San that both colonisation and capitalism (as well as apartheid in Southern Africa) caused and exacerbated gender-based violence in the Khoisan communities in Southern Africa, through the introduction and fostering of rigid and controlled gender distinctions.

Especially in Africa, the impact of colonialism, grounded in monotheistic and patriarchal religious systems , extended beyond the imposition of rigid gender polarities to also subvert traditional constructions of family and partnerships. The Judeo-Christian and colonial model of heterosexual, male-dominated families can be contrasted with indigenous African family practices such as woman-to-woman ‘marriage’.

While studies about marriages between women have always been limited, Anthonia Uzuegbunam [2001] documents this phenomenon amongst the Igbo in Nigeria, and traces documents relating cases from the 1930s. She asserts that marriages between women are common in East, Southern and West Africa, as well as Sudan [2001:3]. She argues that these marriages are initiated by women who are not able to bear children, who join in a (traditional) union with a younger woman who bears the family children after insemination by a carefully selected man. According to Uzuegbunam -
… woman–woman marriage in Igboland is portrayed as a flexible option available to women to pursue any number of interests, political, social, economic and personal. The guiding principles therefore are flexibility, heterogeneity and ambiguity. [2001:11]

She asserts that these relationships are more egalitarian than conventional heterosexual ones, and that the childbearing partner enters entirely freely into the union, and continues to explain that -
… woman–woman marriage in Igboland is not like lesbianism where love and sexual relations are exchanged by same male sex [sic]. Rather, woman–woman marriage has stories of love, children, companionship, commitment, sexual freedom, vulnerability and empowerment. The woman initiator invites a male with the arrangement for procreation and for pleasure. [2001:11]

This centuries-old practice of woman-woman marriage, with its intrinsic mutuality and egalitarianism, has been steadily eroded by the colonisation of indigenous African societies.

Things are not as clear-cut as they seem. They are neither circumscribed nor separated from each other by lines. Lines are drawn in the mind. There are no lines in nature… [Everything emerges] from a matrix of conditions and in turn becomes part of another matrix of conditions from which something else emerges.
Stephen Batchelor [1997:76]

Man’s fear of penetration and/or violation by the ‘impure' (bisexual) Other, does seem to cast some light on the reason(s) for his rejection of her. A useful analogy can be drawn between black and white, or colonised and coloniser. The need to increase and maintain the distance between these opposites stems from the fear of the (strangeness/difference of the) Other. China Galland [1998:117] recalls an ancient Indian story:
Ramakrishna explained [Kali's] darkness as the result of distance. When we are far away from an object, it appears dark to us. "Go near and you will find her devoid of all color," he said. "The water of a lake appears black from a distance. Go near and take the water in your hand, and you will see it has no color at all. Similarly, the sky looks blue from a distance. But look at the atmosphere near you; it has no color.
Galland's story serves to illustrate that something only looks alien when it is not examined closely enough. Galland [1998:80] cites a wise Tibetan: "'Our confusion lies in believing something to be separate from ourselves'," he begins, explaining the Buddhist view that sees mind and matter as one continuum, continually arising and falling back into itself, like waves into water." Dynamic and fluid, inseparable and one.

What is the origin of this fear of the Other? The answer could be found in dominant ideology itself. Ideology is advanced by (a group of) individuals (whether they are autonomous or form classes and/or genders) and those individuals would wish to perpetuate their own (positions of) power and privileged access to resources. If they create a new market (or dumping ground) for commodities through colonisation, they would need to subjugate the colonised Other, and the ideology of fear (and hierarchical oppositions) lends itself well to this form of exploitation. So too with the oppression of woman.

Galland [1998:50] recounts the words of Wisdom Moon, the Mother of all Buddhas - known as Drolma or Mother in Tibet, Kwan Yin in Chinese, Tara (Liberator or Saviour) in Sanskrit, Wisdom or Sophia in the Old Testament, and the Goddess of Compassion everywhere:
Nowhere can I find what is male, nowhere can I find what is female. These are simply forms, no more separate from one another than a wave is from water. But since most buddhas have chosen to come [to earth] as a man, perhaps it would be more helpful if I became enlightened in a woman's body.


This understanding of violence and peace now allows a more in-depth examination of the concept of ‘gender-based violence’. According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (General Recommendation No 12), gender-based violence is defined as:
violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, and threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women notes three key spheres in which gender-based violence may occur or which may perpetrate and/or condone such violence: the family, the community and the state . December Green adds one further site of gender-based violence, i.e. the economy. The concept of gender-based violence should accordingly be broadened to also include the notion of economic abuse, which has been defined in the South African Domestic Violence Act [1998] to include ‘the unreasonable deprivation of economic or financial resources or the unreasonable disposal of household effects in which the victim / survivor has an interest’ .

Gender-based violence therefore occurs through the act of being gendered. Through the kinds of identity construction where the Self cannot exist without the Other, and where the Self cannot be valued without devaluing the Other, women are valued as less than men. (It may be useful to note that men too get raped, especially during times of conflict. This is because these more vulnerable men are made into the Other, and so feminised or turned into surrogate women. This happens in prisons throughout the world, in gangs and in other areas of conflict.)

The CEDAW definition above focuses on women as the subjects of gender-based violence; however, it should be recognized that such violence also affects men, not only as potential victims, but also when they act as perpetrators.

It is ironic that the dominator model, and the ways in which it articulates itself in the construction of contemporary societies, brutalises everyone, even the dominant or oppressor. If one is taught violence, control and domination as a way of life, one becomes brutalised by it, on all sides of the equation. In this way even oppressors are victimised by the system and their own violent behaviours (whether physical, institutional and/or cultural), since they cannot perceive of a more harmonious and compassionate existence. This is most readily evident in cases of family violence, especially in intensely patriarchal contexts where the role of father and provider turns on itself when the patriarch murders the entire family he is meant to protect . So too when fathers rape daughters as an expression of their right of ownership over female offspring. It is also commonly known that a large proportion of perpetrators of incest are themselves survivors of such violence. The same can be said about war, where no party involved in the conflict is left unscathed by the violence, murder and carnage .

Violence, murder and rape exact a toll on the psyche of both perpetrator and survivor/victim, and everyone is (re-)brutalised in the process, even spectators through vicarious trauma, as those working to combat gender-based violence will attest. As Jane Bennett puts it:
Both women and men are vulnerable to the way dominant norms of gender relation, within their contexts, are working. Within South Africa, men are as likely to become blunt assailants of women (and often, of men), as women are to become victims of sexual abuse, domestic battery, economic abuse, and incest. Clearly, those who actively assault retain responsibility for their violence - that is a matter of principle and law. But the challenge for South Africans committed to the transformation of oppressive social norms is to untangle both 'victim' and 'perpetrator' from their terrible interlock of violence, no matter how shocking the 'perpetration' or how resonant the 'victimhood/survivorship'. [2000:4]

Gender-based violence, as is commonly known, is not about sex or about conflict. It is about control and about power, in keeping with the dominator model. Vicky Randall asserts that "if woman is associated with nature as opposed to culture, and culture is compelled to maintain itself, it follows that culture will devalue the nature it seeks to transcend, and hence man will subordinate woman" [1982:23].

Gender-based violence is fundamentally premised on the ideology of male control over women’s productive and reproductive powers, of male control over women’s skills and resources, and especially of control over our power to produce future generations of producers. It is also about male control over women’s sexuality, which is the key aspect of reproductive powers.

Women’s productive powers include agricultural labour, wage labour in domestic service and other industries, as well as the informal sector (e.g. selling goods for small profits). Women’s reproductive powers centre on our abilities to give birth and raise children, children who constitute the next generation of producers. And hence this particular function is of critical importance to patriarchy, and control of not only the present productive capacity, but that of future generations too, is very important.

As consumers, women buy and use commodities in the home. Hence women are also caught up in the endlessly repetitive task of using (if not producing) and reproducing (by baking, cooking, etc.) the commodity, and are at least equally alienated from the product. Women also support the production process, apart from their ‘invaluable’ roles as consumers, through their domestic work, thus freeing men for labour in the production process and the public sphere. So too women reproduce the labour force by bearing the next generation of workers (and consumers or surplus accumulators).

A critical psychological dimension of the control of women’s sexuality is male insecurity about the origins of their children. Women become impregnated, and without complex and expensive medical tests, a man will never know certainly whether he is the actual father of his female partner’s children. This is prominent in male anxiety over and control of female sexuality. But far more fundamental in this dominator model is the need to limit women’s mobility and choice to ensure their consistent producing and reproducing (of future generations of producers, reproducers and surplus accumulators).

So too, with the kind of identity formation discussed earlier of Self-Other, with women devalued as lesser beings than men, women’s sexuality is also devalued and of less consequence than that of men.

According to some writers, there are four clear indicators of gender-based violence. In societies where these circumstances prevail, gender-based violence is more likely to occur and/or to occur in more severe forms. The indicators are:
Economic inequality;
Existing patterns of using physical violence to resolve conflicts;
Male authority and control over decision-making (and excluding women from this process);
Restrictions on women’s ability to leave the family setting.

All four indicators fit in with the dominator model, from inequality (economic and other forms); employing violence (physical, structural and cultural) as conflict resolution methods; male control over women and others; as well as restrictions on women's (and others') mobility and freedom. In this sense, since violence generically, and gender-based violence specifically, function on the three axes of Galtung's triangle of violence / peace (personal / direct / physical, structural / institutional, and cultural), it is imperative that attention be paid to factors that exacerbate and contribute to violence, from issues of development and poverty, to HIV/AIDS. And hence even the International Monetary Fund's Structural Adjustment Programmes or SAPs (with decreased state spending on social security) contribute to gender-based violence, as Heidi Hudson [1998:70] has shown in Zimbabwe, where the first two years of the introduction of SAPs led to health spending being cut by a third and the maternal mortality rate (a form of gender-based violence) doubled.


Existing ways of thinking are too often premised on polarity, the kind of thinking and activism that engenders conflict rather than cooperation, and which prohibits or inhibits efforts to seek true transformative solutions for social change.

Activism can be viewed as inherently adversarial, where two sets of 'enemies' square off in battle, with neither side able to claim victory without defeat of the other, in other words a perpetuation of the dominator model, which by its very nature perpetuates violence in a continuous cycle, as evinced by the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi's concept of satyagraha (truth-force ), in which a non-violent mass campaign of non-compliance is waged, was originally conceptualised as an alternative to the idea of 'passive resistance', which implies passivity and victimhood over agency and action. Instead, satyagraha is designed as not merely an alternative to violence or force, but as superior to it . In the words of Geoffrey Ashe:
The Satyagrahi - in theory - not only consents to suffer at the wrongdoer's hands, but conquers through suffering… Yet his [sic] victory is not the opponent's defeat. It is the opponent's conversion…Victory does not mean that one side triumphs at the other's expense, but that both sides are reconciled in a new harmony, with the Wrong cancelled… Gandhi, British-conditioned, believed in the reign of law as a moral concept. But - he insisted - some laws can and should be broken, in the name of a higher law with which they conflict. [1968:101]

This expression of Gandhi's satyagraha is certainly in keeping with a partnership model. Nelson Mandela, first President of a democratic South Africa since 1994, transitioned from an adversarial position during the 1960s, with the formation of the African National Congress' (ANC) military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), to a philosophical and political perspective perfectly typical of the partnership model more latterly during his 27 years of imprisonment by the apartheid regime. Since the 1980s Mandela consistently sought reconciliation through dialogue and negotiation with his erstwhile oppressors, eventually leading to a government of national unity, based on proportional representation, including the former apartheid leader as one of two Deputy Presidents, and senior cabinet positions for leaders of opposition parties, in the first democratic government of 1994.

Mandela's selfless desire to seek alternatives to apartheid without wreaking vengeance on perpetrators of brutality led him to a search for common ground, reconciliation and nation building across ethnicities. Thus both Gandhi and Mandela embody the principles of partnership, and both have proven to be formidable activists in the struggles for equity, justice and peace. Both viewed human rights through the prism of the partnership model, which allows for more creative ways of including human rights in activisms.

A key activist who embodies the principles of the partnership model in her struggle for justice and peace is Aung San Suu Kyi, who quoted her father during a speech to a mass rally during 1988: "Democracy is the only ideology which is consistent with freedom. It is also an ideology that promotes and strengthens peace. It is therefore the only ideology we should aim for" [1991:200].

Aung San Suu Kyi's methods of resistance included several hunger strikes while unlawfully imprisoned for several years by the military dictatorship in Burma. Her struggle for human rights is firmly located in the principles of democracy, non-violence and collective discipline, as Philip Kreager summarises in Aung San Suu Kyi's book:
These principles reflect the inspiration which Aung San Suu Kyi derived from her study and reflection on Gandhi's philosophy and practice of non-violent civil disobedience… Under such severe pressures [imprisoned, killed or driven into hiding], and against tremendous odds, Aung San Suu Kyi's reasoned insistence on the sole legitimacy of non-violent means and the priority of human rights has proven the only enduring answer: by her example, and her prevention of bloodshed, she was able to establish a real alternative for the people, who otherwise face only submission. [1991:287,288]

Aung San Suu Kyi also modelled her activism on the ideas espoused by Martin Luther King. Firmly rooted in the intrinsic egalitarianism of Buddhism, she noted the absence of hierarchical structures in precolonial Burmese society. She is a Nobel Peace Laureate (1991) along with other notable activists such as South Africa's Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

These examples of non-violent strategies illustrate that activism does not need to be violent in order to be effective. To achieve reconciliation between conflicting parties, one needs a redistribution of power, i.e. one party has to voluntarily relinquish some of its power and resources. The dominant party often needs to be forced to agree to redistributive justice. However, that force does not need to be violent, as argued above.


The construction of identities based on polar opposites, and creation of Self versus Other, engenders oppression, inequality and violence. To get away from this, to get to the root of the violence in all societies, one needs to begin thinking of more harmonious ways of thought and living and being. And move away from domination towards partnership .

While patriarchy, and the dominator model, has been around for thousands of years, evidence of societies modelled on the partnership model clearly shows that patriarchal rule is not inevitable, and that other more cooperative possibilities do exist. Historical reflections of non-patriarchal societies and periods of rule help support a belief in, and conception of, forms of existence and societies that transcend patriarchal rule.

One should remind oneself that change is possible. Think, for example, of Chinese foot binding, which is now extinct. The practice of facial scarring of indigenous women in Sudan and some parts of South Africa, traditionally used as a form of adornment like modern day cosmetics or makeup, is now almost extinct. As are other practices from some ethnic groups in South Africa, like the severing of a finger or part of a finger.

The key to success is to move away from the adversarial nature of the prevailing dominator system, with its inherent violence and oppression, and to move towards partnership by embracing the timeless values of satyagraha. In the words of Ang Suu Kyi:

If a people or a nation can reach their objectives by disciplined and peaceful means, it would be a most honourable and admirable achievement… Those who have the greater strength should show restraint and tolerance towards those who have less strength… Democracy is an ideology that allows everyone to stand up according to his beliefs. They should not be threatened or endangered… Do not because of your greater strength be vengeful towards those who are of weaker strength. [1991:201,204]


God has chosen what the world regards as foolish to shame the wise, and what the world regards as weak, God has chosen to shame the strong, and what the world regards as low, contemptible, mere nothing, God has chosen…
First Lesson, I Corinthians I:27-28


Ethical integrity originates in empathy, for then we take the well-being of others to heart and are moved to be generous and caring. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are based on a sense of what we have in common rather than what divides us… Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage with it as the arena for the creation of what is to come. It empowers us to embrace the ambiguity of a present that is simultaneously tied to an irrevocable past and free for an undetermined future. Ethical integrity is not moral certainty. A priori certainty about right and wrong is at odds with a changing and unreliable world, where the future lies open, waiting to be born from choices and acts. Such certainty may be consoling and strengthening, but it can blunt awareness of the uniqueness of each ethical moment. When we are faced with the unprecedented and unrepeatable complexities of this moment, the question is not 'What is the right thing to do?‘, but 'What is the compassionate thing to do?'
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs


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