I recently finished a Masters degree in peace studies. Throughout the course, a lot of emphasis was placed on Johan Galtung’s idea that peace is commonly defined negatively- that is, that peace is often referred to as the absence of war, rather than the presence of something else. That “something else,” peace, has to include more than just not being at war- things like access to healthcare, adequate housing and food, education, and basic personal security. Another important thing is gender equality.
It seems that for people who are studying peace, people would doubtless want careers in peace, women- that is, the people who make up 50 per cent of the population- should not be considered a fringe group. Yet, when I told one of my classmates, a self-identified feminist, about some research I was doing on human rights, specifically how culture is used to justify oppression of women, she wanted to know how I made such a “huge leap” to human rights.
The only reason that someone would think women’s rights is such a “huge leap” to human rights is if you don’t believe that women are human. What else would women’s rights be other than human rights?
Another classmate made a presentation about Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. He spoke about security concerns, and when I asked him how what his research had found about how uprising had affected men and women’s security differently, he said people were more concerned with basic security than things like sexual assault.
For people who are receiving advanced degrees in peace studies to dismiss women’s concerns as secondary is extremely problematic. Women are half of the world’s population. Our concerns are basic concerns. A woman living under threat of sexual attack for leaving the house is a basic personal security concern. People who study peace supposedly want to achieve a state of actual, true peace, which includes addressing the gendered ways in which social, political, and cultural norms affect people, yet these two of my classmates, not to mention others, demonstrated that they believed that men are human, and women are not.
Women are not “gender.” Women are human.