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Special Collection

Gender and New Wars

Collection launched: 09 Jan 2019

War like other social conditions is a gendered phenomenon. While gender differential impacts of war have been widely studied, there is still a gap in our understanding of how gender is constructed in the context of ‘new wars’ (an analytic approach to understanding present-day conflicts: Kaldor, 1999, 3rd ed. 2012). This special issue draws both on new war theory and the UN Security Council Women, Peace and Security agenda but pushes the boundaries of both.

New wars are distinguished from old wars in conceptual rather than empirical terms. We tend to think of old wars as deep-seated political contests between two (or more) organised sides, either states or, in the case of civil war, a state and a rebel group. New wars are better described as a social condition in which numerous armed groups gain more from violence than from winning or losing. They gain more in political terms because exclusivist identities, in whose name the wars are fought, are constructed through violence. And they gain more in economic terms because war finance (loot, pillage, smuggling of various kinds) is intrinsically linked to violence. In contrast to old wars, which tend to the extreme as each sides tries to win, new wars tend to persistence and spread.

New wars involve a range of actors, including the protagonists – armed groups, criminal gangs – and many others - civil society activists, peace-keepers, international NGOs, private security contractors or humanitarian workers – associated with a multiplicity of gender relations. A range of masculinities and feminities are constructed associated with different types of gender relations in new wars. For example, a specific type of hyper masculinity is associated with the armed actors – one that can only be reproduced through violence and that contributes therefore to the persistence of new wars.

An analysis of the complex different constructions of gender and forms of gender relations in new wars could greatly enrich the WPS agenda. The Women, Peace and Security Agenda lacks an underlying conceptualisation of gender relations in new wars. Although it emphasises the importance of women’s participation, this is not explained and is easily understood in essentialist terms where women are victims and peace-makers. The papers in this special issue discuss more varied forms of participation of women in new wars, as gang members, as jihadists or as recruiters, as well as peace-makers and humanitarian workers, and the associated masculinities and feminities associated with these different forms of participation.

This Special Issue came out of a two-day workshop co-convened by Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor Mary Kaldor and Dr Punam Yadav at the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, London School of Economics and Political Science on 9 and 10th March 2017.