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GMJ – Guest Editor’s Introduction to the Special Issue on
Intersections between Performance Studies, Media, Gender,
Leadership, and Peace Studies

 

Faith Wambura Ngunjiri

Ph.D. Program in Organizational Leadership,

Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies, Eastern University

 

and

 

Lara Lengel

Department of Communication, School of Media and Communication

Bowling Green State University

 

October 2009

[We must] ask how we might contribute to making the world a more just place. A world not organized around strategic military and economic demands; a place where certain kinds of forces and values that we may still consider important could have an appeal and where there is the peace necessary for discussions, debates, and transformations to occur within communities...Where we seek to be active in the affairs of distant places, can we do so in the spirit of support for those within those communities whose goals are to make women’s (and men’s) lives better? Can we use a more egalitarian language of alliances, coalitions, and solidarity, instead of salvation?

 

                                                        Lila Abu-Lughod (2002, p. 789)

 

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, post-election conflicts in a range of countries including once peaceful Kenya (home country to Dr. Ngunjiri), wars and rumors of war in several regions, and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, scholarly research in peace studies and conflict resolution has been steadily growing in multiple disciplines. The area of peace and conflict resolution has been of interest in the academic community for more than half a century; several peace research institutes were founded in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s including the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo in Norway, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden (Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies [Kroc Institute], 2008). More than 400 universities and colleges around the world have started undergraduate and graduate programs in peace studies and conflict resolution (Kroc Institute, 2008).1 Recent conferences such as the one held at the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University on Media, War and Conflict Resolution2 also help to draw scholarly attention to the diverse issues and perspectives surrounding peace studies and conflict resolution. What is new in peace studies and conflict resolution is a focus on women’s agency as perpetrators of conflict and agitators against conflict in addition to the traditional focus on their experiences as victims of conflict. Given the growing interest in peace studies generally and women in peace studies specifically, this special issue3 focuses on the interconnections within peace studies and leadership, gender, performance studies, and media studies. 

Women’s activism in peace building and “making the world a more just place” takes many forms, actions, and performances. According to Anderlini (2007), women engaged in working for peace “bring new perspectives and commitment to issues of conflict prevention, peacemaking, and reconstruction, and the differences they are making” (p. 3). As Ross-Sheriff and Swigonski (2006) observe, “the relationship between women, war and peace is complex and contradictory” (p. 129). As opposed to the historical literature which is often dominated by the perspectives of men and their experiences, the articles in this special issue provide vivid examples of women’s agency in different contexts across the globe, using their positionalities to engage in issues of social justice. This focus on women, war, and peace as seen from multiple disciplinary perspectives is necessary, particularly when war is appearing gendered—being fought in homes, in communities, and on women’s bodies (Rehn & Sirleaf, 2002).

The articles are interdisciplinary in perspective, the same way that the field of women, war, and peace encompasses multiple disciplines. Key to our understanding of peace and conflict is the realization that peace is not merely the absence of war; rather, it is the presence of justice and respect for human rights. It is also the presence of—according to Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO (2002), as he launched 2001-2010 The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World­—“equity for all as the basis of living together and free from violence” (p. 2).

As we quickly approach the final year of the UNESCO decade for a culture of peace and nonviolence, much work remains to be done. In the global understanding and performances of peace as enumerated by the Nobel Peace Prize, for example, women and people of color have tended to be left out as recipients of the award for most of its history. As Victoria Newsom and Wenshu Lee point out in the lead article of this special issue, the marginalization of women and people of color may be because the Nobel Peace Prize and other such global performances of peace tended to focus on negative peace (i.e. ending wars) which has been seen as the forte of men; whereas most women’s leadership and agency tends to be local and positive peace oriented—seeking justice and respect for human rights. President Obama’s win of the Nobel Peace Prize this month places this refocusing in perspective, as it demonstrates the move away from merely ending wars to also giving hope by positively building peace through dialogue and avoiding armed responses to conflict.

Women peace activists have taken on leadership roles in fostering local, national, and transnational dialogue towards building sustainable peace and resolving or transforming conflicts for nearly 100 years (see, e.g., Snyder, 2006); In 1915, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom [WILPF] (n.d.), the oldest women's peace organization in the world, was founded “to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all” (para. 1). WILPF works "to bring together women of different political views and philosophical and religious backgrounds determined to study and make known the causes of war and work for a permanent peace" (Goldstein, 2001, p. 324). Numerous organizations have followed WILPF’s lead to unite women who oppose exploitation and oppression in a range of contexts, both global and local. WILPF, for example, works toward implementation of 
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security which calls for including women in peace processes and negotiations.3 Other organizations such as the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women, that provides free counseling to survivors of violence and abuse in Lebanon, (Beydoun, 2002; Femmes Mediterranéenes, 2004), the Federation of Women Lawyers, Kenya Chapter, and Sudanese Women’s Voice for Peace based in Kenya and Sudan (Ngunjiri & Lengel, 2007), and Feminist International Radio Endeavour [FIRE] in Costa Rica (Toro, 2000)  perform leadership and activism in pursuit of peace building and social justice ideals in their cultural and political contexts. Such organizations that are instituted and run by women for the sake of social justice provide us with examples of women’s collective agency in resolving and resisting conflicts that destroys their communities (Ngunjiri & Lengel, 2007). For example, the radio collective FIRE uses media as peace technology, utilizing internet radio to broadcast “from a feminist, Latin American and Global South perspective, FIRE aims to amplify women’s voices on all issues worldwide, to shift the unequal representation of women and their perspective sin the mainstream media” (Thompson, Toro, & Gomez, 2008, p. 440). In recognition of the fact that a majority of the world’s women have limited or no access to the internet, FIRE audio files and media reports are available for download and dissemination through partner community radio and other media (p. 440). The FIRE radio collective, directed by feminist, journalist, and human rights activist María Suárez Toro, has received numerous honors including the national award, Constructors of Peace, from the Peace Center and the Ministries of Justice and Labor in Costa Rica, and awards from Radio for Peace International [RFPI], the Women's International News Gathering Service [WINGS], and the Women’s Peacepower Foundation who presented FIRE with the Amigas Award “to those worldwide who work to prevent violence against women and those who foster peace” (Gotlieb, 2000) and for “dedication to giving a voice and empower women through communications” (Women in Media and News [WIMN], n.d.; see also Crow, 2000; McKay & Mazurana, 1999; Thompson & Toro, 1999; Toro, 1995; Toro, 1996; Toro, 2000; Toro & Dariam, 1999).

Alongside peace efforts by civil society leaders, peace-centered organizations, and independent media like FIRE, peace is performed through creative practice. Peace messages in music (see, e.g., Alberta Peace Education, 2008; Herron & Bachman, 2000; Playing For Change, 2009), dance (see, e.g., Dance Towards Peace, 2009), and theater (see, e.g., Children’s Peace Theatre, 2003; Hivos, 2009) speak universally across cultures and languages. Film, too, is a powerful medium for peace (see, e.g., Global Peace Film Festival, 2009). Reviewing Lilly Rivlin’s (2006) film “Can you hear me? Israel and Palestinian Women Fight for Peace”, Hunter (2007) observes that even as women agitate for peace and a resolution to conflicts in their context, “sexuality and discrimination persist as obstacles in the path of determined women” (p. 117). Women in the Israeli-Palestinian context have been excluded from the peace process, a familiar refrain from many other countries (Hirschfield, 2006; Hunter, 2007). It is with this in mind that WILPF and other organizations have pushed for implementation of UN Resolution 1325. In spite of that resolution, which was passed in 2000, and its reaffirmation by the UN Security Council just last month (UN Security Council, 2009, September 29), women continue to face exclusion and tokenism, but they are undeterred in their search for lasting solutions, albeit often through informal opportunities. Hunter’s review and similar studies that explore women’s organizing and agency across borders demonstrates women’s understanding of the fact that “peace for one side of a conflict cannot rest with stability on the frustrated and humiliated back of the other side” (Ross-Sheriff & Swigonski, 2006, p. 130).

In their personal capacities, women leaders utilize their positionalities to engage in peace building, conflict transformation, or other forms of resistance against armed conflict. Whether it is in their positions as mothers, daughters, and wives whose men are caught in the conflict, or as political and organizational leaders who have the clout to change local and foreign policy, women continue to be actively engaged in resisting the rhetoric of war. Perhaps this active engagement is partly in recognition that the international community’s approach to peace often fails women because it tends to ignore issues of gender (Dolgopol, 2006). Dolgopol (2006) argues that issues of gender are political in nature as they result from conceptualizations of power and hierarchy, and those caught in armed conflict often fail to resolve their differences because it would necessitate relinquishing power. In such contexts, women have to emerge as leaders, or use their existing positions to agitate and advocate for change towards building sustainable peace. 

The goal of this special issue4 is to share a diverse set of women’s leadership in building sustainable peace. We hope to share challenges and opportunities relevant to women in specific contexts of leadership including, but not limited to, the academy/education, politics, civil society, literature, and creative practice. Here the authors describe women’s change leadership and communication strategies, the gains women have made, and opportunities for further leadership in areas related to peace building.

The authors, hailing from Canada, China, India, Israel, Uganda, and the United States bring together a diverse body of refereed articles from multiple nations, cultures, and perspectives, covering both the Global South and Global North on issues relevant to women’s leadership roles in peace, conflict resolution, and social justice.

The lead article in this special issue couldn’t be more timely, given the attention this month to President Barak Obama’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize. To investigate the shifting nature of the framing of peace, Drs. Victoria Newsom and Wenshu Lee advance the concept of "nourishing peace” and interrogate the performativity of peace through the Nobel Peace Prize. Their article, “On Nourishing Peace: The Performativity of Activism through the Nobel Peace Prize”, charts how, in the 108 year history of the Prize, the award has been granted only twelve times to women, four of whom are women of color, and only eighteen times to men of color. Almost half of these awards were granted in the past two decades. Peace has political boundaries, and “On Nourishing Peace” investigates how those boundaries can be slowly penetrated by diverse performances of peace as they become absorbed by the mainstream consciousness of media and public acceptance. Newsom and Lee discuss their joint efforts at teaching university students about the performances of peace in both local and global contexts. Their primary question is stated thus: What would constitute an ethical and persuasive mode of advocacy for “peace” in the eyes of American youth living in one of the most diverse metropolises in the world, Los Angeles? They contend that “the performativity of peace involves a set of personally and locally legible values and needs…Obama’s recent win, especially given its current frame of ‘hope’ and long term efforts to avoid violence more closely resembles those students’ perceptions”.

“Limning Terror: Seams in the Discourse of ‘Terrorism’” by Dr. Susan Dente Ross interrogates gendered discourses surrounding global terrorism and the systematic dismantling of the U.S. commitment to human rights through the so-called “War on Terror”. It also examines media’s role in shaping both global perceptions and the actual directions of the “War on Terror”. Yet, Dr. Dente Ross argues, if terrorism’s “imagined” nature leaves it open to political and mediated exploitation, it also provides scope for audience resistance.

Dr. Priya Kapoor’s article, “Of Moral Positions and Nuclear War: Novelist Arundhati Roy as Peace Activist”, examines the activist writings of feminist author Arundhati Roy following the May 11 and May 13, 1998 nuclear testing by India. While several activists and academics raised their voices opposing the 1998 testing, throwing down a gauntlet against nuclear proliferation at Pakistan, it is Roy’s voice that gets the attention of prominent academics and politicians. As a woman taking on a primarily male enterprise (that is, the war machine), Roy establishes an audience and following that few South Asian women enjoy today.

“Women’s Political Education: Developing Political Leadership in India and Canada”, by Dr. Catherine McGregor, Dr. Darlene Clover, Martha Farrell, and Saswati Battacharya, evolves from a partnership between the University of Victoria, British Columbia and the Society for Participatory Research in Asia [PRIA]. The educational needs of women leaders in Canada and India are analyzed to illustrate the complexity of the discourses that act to shape women’s political leadership identities and practices. Examining women’s formal and informal political roles in both nations, the authors note the persistence of gendered norms and expectations in both nations and how these act as barriers to women’s participation in political life.

Dr. Valerie Fabj’s article titled “Private Symbols as Vehicles for Public Voice: ‘Women of the Fast’ Reject the Mafia” explicates the agency of a group of women who collectivized in order to show their disgust over the murders of innocent people and the Italian government’s inability to protect them. The group who called themselves Women of the Fast staged a demonstration in Piazza Castelnuovo, a square in the center of Palermo, where they fasted sitting under a banner that read “We are hungry for justice. We fast against the mafia”. The article demonstrates the impact of women’s collective agency in achieving social justice goals and drawing attention to a local problem, with the effect of shining a light onto the mafia menace locally and internationally. Dr. Fabj analyzes the rhetorical strategies employed by the Women of the Fast, including how they regained the right to speak against the Mafia by using private symbols as vehicles for a public voice.

"‘Who Seeks Peace, Will Live in Peace’: Representation of Arab women in Hebrew Literature Curricula”, by Drs. Sara Zamir and Sara Hauphtman, analyzes the portrayal of the Arab woman in the corpus of Hebrew literature curriculum for the Arab sector. The authors argue the portrayal of women in literature serves as a barometer by which the status and role of Arab women in society can be measured. Their analysis is informed by Kristeva’s notion of abjection as it is used to illustrate the constitution of marginalized groups, and by critical theorists from the discipline of literary criticism who argue literature instills values, reflects social changes and evolving perceptions, and shapes the identity of the reader. Literature as social agent provides scope for readers to question gendered values and discourses.

The work by Drs. Yusuf Kalyango and Betty Winfield, “Rhetorical Media: Framing of Two First Lady Political Candidates across Cultures” examines the rhetoric used by the press to frame Janet Museveni of Uganda and Hillary Rodham Clinton of the United States and as they ran for legislative offices in their respective nations while their spouses were still serving as president. Drs. Kalyango and Winfield assess news coverage in two distinct political cultures with different forms of democracy in The Daily Monitor and The New Vision of Uganda, and New York’s Daily News and The New York Times of the United States. The authors argue newspapers emphasized gender-specific rhetoric to frame Janet Museveni and Hillary Clinton during their campaigns. Their study increases understanding of the challenges women encounter to serve their countries and how women in prominent leadership roles negotiate their nations’ political cultures and gender equality discourses.

These articles draw attention to the various strategies for building peace, particularly positive approaches that include respect for human rights, using dialogue, transforming conflicts, reshaping the performances of peace, and including all stakeholders, men who have always been at the table, and now, women and minority groups. The articles particularly highlight women’s unique strategies at helping to transform conflicts, using various performative tools to reach at their goal of positive peace.

 

Notes

1 While there are more than 400 peace studies and conflict resolution programs at universities and colleges around the world, there are currently only a few, such as the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, that offer graduate degrees (Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, 2008).

2 Dr. Ellen Gorsevski, Editor of the Graduate Section of this special issue of Global Media Journal, organized the conference held at Bowling Green State University in September 2008 on Media, War and Conflict Resolution.

3 The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security marked “the first time the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, recognized the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building, and stressed the importance of their equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security” (PeaceWomen, 2009, para. 1). The commitment to Resolution 1325 was recently reaffirmed by the UN Security Council (2009, September 29).

4 The guest editors wish to express our deepest gratitude to the team of reviewers who volunteered their time and expertise to this special issue on “Intersections between Performance Studies, Media, Gender, Leadership, and Peace Studies”. We sincerely appreciate their efforts to complete blind reviews of all the submissions. The reviewers’ high standards, thoughtful comments, and rigorous evaluations have been critical to the success of this valuable collection of scholarship.

We express our deep appreciation to Dr. Yahya Kamalipour, Managing Editor of Global Media Journal, for the opportunity to edit this special issue. We also thank the Global Media Journal web assistant, Lisa Pennington, for her production expertise and for her efforts to bring our issue to life. It is an honor to be a part of this esteemed journal.

Lara thanks the Faculty Research Committee at Bowling Green State University for awarding her a $10,000 Research Incentive Grant (with Dr. Ellen Gorsevski, Editor of the Graduate Section of this special issue) and a Faculty Improvement Leave (sabbatical) to conduct research on transnational feminisms, media, and peace during the 2009-2010 academic year.

Finally, we thank Assistant Editor, Matthew Lamb, Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University for his tireless efforts, insightful suggestions, and enduring professionalism.

References

Abu-Lughod, L. (2002). Do Muslim women really need saving? Anthropological reflections on cultural relativism and its Others. American Anthropologist, 104(3), 783–90.

Alberta Peace Education. (2008). Singing for peace: Celtic songs of life and laughter. Performance as part of the Alberta Peace Foundation/Culture of Peace Program Conference “Building Peace - One Community at a Time: Development of an Alberta Culture of Peace Program and Alberta peace education strategy”, Alberta, Canada, October 24, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.peace.ca/AlbertaAgenda2008.htm

Anderlini, S. N. (2007). Women building peace: what they do, why it matters. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Beydoun, A. S. (2002). On combating violence against women: The performance of Lebanese non-governmental organizations. Al-Raida, XIX(97-98), 56-61.

Children’s Peace Theatre. (2003). History: Children’s Peace Theatre. Retrieved from http://www.childrenspeacetheatre.org/history/history.html

Crow, B. (2000). [Review of the book Reclaiming the future: Women's strategies for the 21st century, by S. Brodribb (Ed.)]. Resources for Feminist Research, 28(1-2), 268-269.

Dance Towards Peace. (2009). Mission and vision. Retrieved from http://www.dancetowardspeace.com/missionandvision.htm

Dolgopol, U. (2006). Women and peace building: What we can learn from the Arusha Peace Agreement. Australian Feminist Studies, 21(50), 257-273.

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Gotlieb, A. (2000, March 6). Peacepower aims to help women. Media Articles, Women’s Peacepower Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.womenspeacepower.org/feature.html

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About the editors

Dr. Faith Wambura Ngunjiri is Director of Research at the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies at Eastern University where she is Assistant Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Organizational Leadership. Prior to her appointment at Eastern University, Dr. Ngunjiri was Associate Director of the Ethics and Spirituality in the Workplace program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Yale University. Her research interests revolve around women and leadership, particularly studies on African women, servant leadership, spirituality, peace building, and conflict transformation. She also teaches and writes about culturally responsive research approaches. Her work has appeared in refereed publications including Journal of Research Practice, International and Intercultural Communication Annual, and Journal of Business Communication, and her first book is forthcoming from the State University of New York (SUNY) Press titled Women’s Spiritual Leadership in Africa: Tempered Radicals and Critical Servant Leaders. She can be reached at fngunjir@eastern.edu

Dr. Lara Lengel is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication, School of Media and Communication, Bowling Green State University where she teaches Ph.D., M.A., and undergraduate courses in transnational communication and gender and communication. Her four books, which include Intercultural Communication and Creative Practice: Music, Dance, and Women's Cultural Identity, and Casting Gender: Women and Performance in Global Contexts (with Dr. John T. Warren), and numerous refereed articles which have appeared in, among others, Gender & History, Text and Performance Quarterly, Journal of Communication Inquiry, and International and Intercultural Communication Annual, address women and performance, transnational and intercultural communication, field research, and communication technology in the Global South. Her grants include a Fulbright award to conduct research in Tunisia (1993-1994) and a U.S.-Middle East University Partnership Program grant from the U.S. Department of State (2004-2007). She is Co-Editor  (with Dr. Noemi Marin) of the book series, Transnational Feminisms. She can be reached at lengell@bgsu.edu


 

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