Dr. Toni Haastrup is a senior lecturer in international politics at the University of Stirling in Scotland. Her research focuses on the politics of regional security institutions, specifically the African and European Unions, and using a critical feminist lens to understand the foreign policy practices of both. In this interview with the International Peace Institute’s Jasmine Jaghab, Dr. Haastrup discusses the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda during its twentieth anniversary month, and how feminism, generosity, and inclusion can strengthen the implementation of WPS.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What are the weaknesses in how the WPS agenda views race and other identities?
Dr. Haastrup: The most obvious one is that it is called women, peace, and security. Part of why that happens is to make it more palatable to people when we think in binary terms. On the one hand, keeping the focus on women was accessible, those who you were trying to convince could grab a hold of it. But fundamentally it doesn’t help to capture the issue around genders.
When I read the work of Jamie Hagen on LGBTQI rights, I go back and think about how WPS came about and it seems so obvious that we couldn’t just focus on women given the richness of activism of people in other marginalized communities around LGBTQI rights and the presence of people with those identities in spaces of policymaking. I understand the pragmatism in just thinking about women and I understand the conservatism of countries, even those who are involved in WPS, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to not think about that broader framework.
We also know, for example, when we look at different types of conflict, issues around ethnicities in certain regions of the world are quite dominant. Think of a country like Ethiopia where marginalized identities can actually be majority groups, how do you reconcile that in the context of WPS? That is a gender issue if you think about it intersectionally—gender is not just about women, it’s about social relations, what is masculinized and what is feminized and how they relate to each other.
The second is perhaps a little less obvious, but certainly manifests issues of race/hierarchies and certain constructions around superiority, even though that is not the intention. It has to do with two dimensions—the policy process itself and the way knowledge is garnered. For the policy process, we tend to look at the ten WPS resolutions as a starting point—even though WPS is not just about the resolutions—which tends to externalize issues to primarily areas where there is war. Violent crisis has to be a determining factor in the implementation of WPS, of course. But the whole point of having a national action plan was not just to have a plan for other countries or regions, but to think about how to institutionalize or localize the WPS agenda so that it filters through all policy, both domestic and international. That is not necessarily what you see in case of countries in the global north.
In terms of knowledge production, when the United Nations or African Union seeks to engage with academic knowledge, there is the question of who gets to speak about their knowledge of WPS in these high-level spaces. Why is it that the same people get called to these spaces? The answers to these questions affect things like funding. Perhaps why this is especially important with WPS is because it was supposed to be a normative framework influenced by feminist activism (and ethics). Even if we feel it no longer exhibits those aspirations, that is how it started. A lot of people who are still working on WPS still self-identify as feminists, but to what extent are they reflecting on their positionality and the kind of space that they give to those who are marginalized?
I think one explanation of why people are hesitant to do this is that people are afraid. But is that the kind of fear consistent with a feminist practice? Of course, you are scared, who wants to lose this space you feel like you fought hard for? I also realize that we are only human. Even when you (me) aspire to inclusion, sometimes you’re still quite gated about how that inclusion should be manifested. A lot of those issues are systemic, but individuals also need to be reflective about what it means to be a feminist and where feminist generosity comes into play.
How can practitioners of the WPS agenda challenge narratives of white saviorism and instead better promote narratives of racial justice?
When we talk about the totality of practitioners of WPS, they are mainly from the majority world, so they understand racial hierarchies. So, in many ways and in their everyday work many WPS practitioners, in my view, are challenging “popular narratives of white saviorism.” But we need to ask who holds the power, and that applies to whose narrative is then positioned as popular on WPS.
I understand that UN institutions have to limit the number of people acting as representatives, but a structure does exist that leaves out many players. I believe Secretary-General António Guterres is committed to WPS much more visibly than any previous secretary-general, but people must go to him and say, “this structure is not working despite your commitment.” There has to be resistance to the system in order for those from the majority world to be represented.
And it is not enough to simply say that people from the global south are not trying to participate or that the best candidates come from the global north. We can’t look at this on an individual level, we are talking about the architecture or structures that claim to be inclusive. These are structures that say they want epistemic community involvement but when you look closer at what is possible based on the actual design, they do not necessarily leave the space that is needed.
In resisting these exclusive systems, we should question their design. People are saying the system is broken, but I say no, the system is working exactly the way the system was designed to work. At the very least we need to start questioning those systems. We say that we do it as feminists, but sometimes I think it does suit some of us who are in position of privilege that it works in those ways.
In a perfect world, when we are talking about how organizations engage epistemic communities, there would be a relatively new structure where different informal practices can come into play that would allow a non-governmental organization or an individual representing civil society to get access to those forums to engage to influence. But the truth is half of the time the reason why I can be included in these institutions is because I know who the penholder is, and I can ask them for access. I think there has to be a more democratic way.
To get the inclusion of practitioners from the majority world in these systems there has to be resistance to the status-quo. But of course, it is not enough as someone who is from the global south to advocate that the system isn’t working well, it has to be people who have power and the access who are making those spaces. As feminists it is the least we can do. Feminists lead the organizations, but are they leading the calls for appropriate representation when they are invited to these spaces?
In a chapter from your recent co-authored book, you and Dr. Jamie Hagen discuss how most countries in the global north lack an internal analysis of WPS needs and initiatives within their own borders in their National Action Plans (NAPs). Why do you think there is a lack of such analyses and what can be done to overcome this?
Dr. Hagen and I feel that WPS practice has replicated the same patterns of racism in international politics that we see in other domains. In other words, we wanted to put to bed the idea that over the years WPS practice was somehow special despite its activist roots.
The lack of analyses is perhaps due to that assumption that the feminist roots and assumptions embedded within WPS itself were enough for critical reflection. However, traditional foreign policy analysis says you have to look at the domestic process for the international context, that is “Foreign Policy Analysis 101.” When it comes to WPS, we don’t always do that.
For example, in the case of the United Kingdom, the former foreign minister, William Hague, launched a program for sexual violence. But around that same time, under the same administration, we had the closing of a lot of women shelters where women who had been sexually abused could ordinarily go and find support. At the same time In the UK we have a rule called “no recourse to public funds” according to immigration law. This means that if a shelter takes public money to deal with issues around sexual/domestic violence, migrant women who are often black and women of color, may not have access to the center’s services because of the no recourse to public funds rule. I find it difficult to take the UK seriously when it says that sexual violence is important in crisis situations because they only say that when it is externalized to the UK.
Have you experienced any moments of inspiration or optimism in your work around WPS that you would be willing to share?
I think the fact that we’ve come up to the twentieth year in the middle of the pandemic has forced many of us to look back and think not only of the unfulfilled promises but what we’ve built. A new virtual issue on WPS in the International Feminist Journal of Politics, curated by Professor Laura Shepherd, demonstrates this well. There is a global community of practice that could do better, but it’s there. This community has changed minds, has done the work and we are not where we should be by a long shot, but we are here.
I am particularly optimistic about the scholarship drawing on and bringing African perspectives to the fore of knowledges about WPS in international politics—the works of Amanda Coffie, Peace Medie, Titilope Ajayi, Yolande Bouka, Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso to name a few.
In what ways would you like to see WPS expand or change in the future. Relatedly, are there certain types of questions or issue areas policy experts and researchers should be more curious about right now?
I think we have a lot of policies, frameworks, and instruments and we need to focus on the processes of implementation in a more systematized way. In terms of questions—I think this also needs to be linked to the process of how we get answers—our research processes and approaches in the global north should pay attention to existing knowledge and practices of WPS in the global south. This is not fetishizing global south knowledge or saying it is intrinsically better, but according agency to WPS practitioners who will never the get the face time or access to UN Women or the European Union, but who are doing the work in their tiny community and they know what works, and what will work.
Something that has been helpful to me is engaging with the work of people who are doing post-colonial/decolonial scholarship. When you read this work it inspires you, but it also makes you reflect. One person who has made maybe the biggest impact on me has been Linda Tuhiwai Smith, an indigenous scholar from New Zealand who wrote a book called Decolonizing Methodologies. It takes you through why collaboration in and of itself is not the answer, you need to think about co-production. If the design of a project is based on methodologies that are quite embedded within certain institutional academic norms situated in the global north, then whatever my intentions are, that hierarchy still creeps up even if you are not consciously aware of it.
Co-production requires a bit of surrendering, which is hard because when looking at funding for your work you must have an idea in mind. I say this as somebody who is learning how to do this in actual practice, in feminist work we already know that generosity is essential to the work we do. The decolonial practices have really helped me think about how that could filter all the way through because it is not just the generosity. It is also about allowing other people in, it is the generosity of being able to say, “we need to think about knowing together.” But our research systems are not designed that way. If you’re working within an institutional context—i.e., the “academy”—that is not designed to recognize this sort of change, then it is really difficult to step back from that. But as human beings we grow and learn new things, so I am thinking about this as a journey. I have to take a step back and think about what I can do as a person that is better and, luckily, I have feminists that I’m working with that are generous in spirit who are there to correct me.
This article is part of a series reflection on the future of the women, peace, and security agenda.