3: ‘Peace’ across Spaces: Discussing Feminist (and) Decolonial Visions of Peace

This conversation addresses the question: what is peace and is it possible? The contribution centres feminist and decolonial thinking, focusing on visions for alternative futures and the openings for peace they create. The authors put into conversation lived experiences and knowledge from two postcolonial spaces – the post-socialist post-Yugoslav and the Andean-Amazonian space – which have different historical and political contexts. In so doing, the conversation focuses on the possible conceptualizations of feminist and inclusive peace, drawing on ideas rooted in different cultures, and discusses the possibilities of envisioning peace in a plural form.

9:30 am in Quito, 2:30 pm in London, 3:30 pm in Prishtina. Across time zones and in the midst of a pandemic, we start our calls with questions about the health of our loved ones and the latest public health updates in each of the countries we call home. Discussing ‘peace’ during a global pandemic is poignant and overwhelming and yet, it also crystallizes our thinking; it opens up space to problematize a singular notion of peace. In that sense, this conversation offers a critique of understanding peace in singular terms, as promoted through various interventions. It also points to the power hierarchies that are deepened by a singular understanding of peace. Equally important, the conversation is driven by the need to highlight the language we use to talk about peace, understood in plural terms, that exists in the spaces from which we speak.

Our discussions focus on two core themes: first is the significance of having perspectives from the Global South and the Global East in conversation; second is the possibility of understanding peace, and feminist peace in particular, from a decolonial perspective that can pluralize the notion of peace from our embodied experiences. On the first theme, with the three of us coming from countries in the Global South and the Global East (Sofia from Ecuador, Nita from Kosovo and Elena from Macedonia), our conversation centres both border thinking1 and the connection between different knowledges at the borders. For the three of us, our engagement with one another expanded our geographical reach and created ruptures with the Western gaze that dominates discussions on peace, including feminist peace.2

With that in mind, the second theme – pluralizing the notion of peace – provides an opportunity to show how different knowledges can be in conversation without silencing or marginalizing one another. We propose an intercultural translation3 characterized as a horizontal exchange of ideas among distinct epistemologies. At the heart of this encounter is discomfort feminism defined as a willingness to accept and propose discomfort to question and destabilize the status quo upheld by liberal and neoliberal feminisms.4 Discomfort feminism, with regard to conceptualizations of peace, puts the politics of discomfort at the centre of creating solidarities and alliance-building.

This dialogue is possible because of trust and thick solidarity, which is based on what Liu and Shange have described as ‘a radical belief in the inherent value of each other’s lives despite never being able to fully understand or fully share in the experience of those lives’.5 We have approached the discussion on peace from different perspectives, but always from a deep commitment to feminist epistemologies, aware that what we know is filtered through what we have experienced or embodied. The dialogue that follows was possible because of our dedication to ensuring plurality in terms of geographies, experiences and voices despite embodying particular viewpoints and histories.

Global South–Global East in conversation

(SZC: Sofia Zaragocin Carvajal; EBS: Elena B. Stavrevska; NL: Nita Luci)

SZC:Elena, I wanted to know why you brought us three together, what was the thinking behind it?
EBS:In some of my work in the post-Yugoslav space, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, and in Colombia, I keep encountering different ways in which people speak about peace and different visions that they have of what constitutes peace, be that in relation to justice, normal life, harmony, rahatluk, buen vivir or something else. Most of the time this is accompanied by scepticism towards peacebuilding, usually associated with foreign interventions. These experiences and different visions made me think that it would be productive to think together and learn with scholars and activists across spaces, especially spaces that are almost never in conversation with each other and yet, are also spaces that have experienced various forms of interventions.Specifically, I was thinking about what Müller has called the Global East, or the ‘countries and societies that occupy an interstitial position between North and South’6 and how potentially productive it could be to connect different knowledges and struggles that have been excluded or siloed in the geopolitics of knowledge production. And similarly, speaking of siloing, I thought it would be generative to have this discussion across disciplinary lines, bringing together a decolonial feminist geographer, a feminist anthropologist and a feminist peace scholar. This, of course, would also inevitably require reflections on our positionality and privilege to have these conversations and, just as importantly, reflections on the feminisms and epistemologies that inform our analysis and experiences too.
NL:I think one of the issues here is the relationship between particularities and universals, how these are lived, assumed and ideologized. When thinking of transnational connections, we are necessarily required to ask what have been the historical connections between places that are otherwise assumed to be so incredibly separate, and perhaps different, from one another. A relevant question for me has been to account for how this axis of particularity/universality comes to constitute the very ’difference’ which is then applied as a mechanism for the exercise of power. One example could be the attempts to replicate the so-called transitions in Latin America to the transition from state-controlled economies to free-market economies in Eastern Europe.7 Another example, and less researched, might be the conversations and exchanges between Latin American and South/East European feminists and activists. So, there have been convergences as to how these political and economic geographies were part of global alignments and realignments, but they have not translated into academic production or conversation.Even now, the connections and comparisons that are made largely rely on concepts and questions travelling from ‘centres’ to ‘peripheries’. However, they can show us how particular epistemologies gain credence. And that is why I think, for example, the neoliberal solution to gender equality is not convincing. The reason why I consider that certain attempts to generate solidarities across spaces have been unsuccessful, and here I am thinking of the former-Yugoslav space in particular, is that feminists in the centres of activism, and academia, have still not done that difficult work of reflecting on the longer-standing historical inequities that enabled their position of privilege, and which continued unchallenged as they claimed sisterly solidarity with women elsewhere. I have seen some work coming out about how the women’s movement in socialist Yugoslavia was inspired by the Non-Aligned Movement, making linkages to experiences of women in Africa and in Latin America. I find that incredibly dishonest and I am incredibly bothered by it, because both women academics and activists, of course with exceptions, have been unable, at least in former Yugoslavia, to speak about the internal inequalities and the racist assumptions that had underpinned their analysis, which they claimed was anti-patriarchal, but essentially was also very problematic. So we have to unpack these assumptions and positions of privilege in particular locales, because that is how they were experienced and felt, but also often utilized to provide political legitimacy to violence.
SZC:Yes, I completely agree. In Latin America, autonomous feminisms have historically questioned liberal Western feminist agendas held up by the state and in relationship with multilateral organizations. Those agendas have historically disregarded differences, especially territorial differences. Currently, Indigenous feminisms and communitarian feminisms are questioning the Western-centric perspective of Latin American feminisms. I think there is a key element in what Nita is saying about liberal feminism and how it is still, at least in Latin America, the dominant framework for the women’s rights agenda at the level of national and governmental bodies. Liberal feminism is the feminist framework for all the national statistical information we have, and everything still is very much dominated by this framework. So how do we talk about peace, feminist peace, in a way that is not going to fall into that trap, that is not going to feed into a feminist liberal or neoliberal agenda? There is also an acknowledgement of difference under discomfort feminism that counters neoliberal homogeneous contemporary feminisms. We are discomforting feminism right now in having this conversation between geographies that seldom engage with one another, and that is fascinating.
EBS:I agree: discomfort is an important element here. The discomfort about our positionalities, about how we understand feminisms, how we understand peace, about inequalities not only across spaces, but also within the spaces in which we think and live. The way I see it, discomfort here can play a knowledge-producing role in destabilizing the status quo thinking around peace, but also a political role in enabling a connection of different knowledges, enabling different experiences to be shared and discussed without silencing or marginalizing. It is only in discomfort that such connections are possible and that then opens up space to discuss feminism, peace and feminist peace as plural notions and avoid the colonial and imperial tendencies that come with singular understandings.
SZC:What is the particular relevance of reflections coming from the Global South and Global East, in conversation with each other, regarding peace, and feminist peace in particular? The three of us share experiences of the structural inequalities we face when encountering the Global North academic praxis. This discussion could not be possible if we were based in the Global North institutions. In putting together Global South and Global East, we are decentring the Global North. That is a decolonial practice for feminist ideas of peace. Elena, I thank you for making this direct contact between the Global South and Global East and, in turn, giving us our own epistemic space.
EBS:It is a question of whose story is told as well. How can we talk meaningfully about peace processes, for example, in a way and with the vocabulary that does justice to the experiences that we are discussing? And are we interested in speaking to and using the language of the Global North more broadly or Western academic audiences, too?
SZC:This is a very important question. For decolonial discussions that deeply take into account place because of how inequality is ingrained in our different geographies, part of me just wants to lay out the discomfort and disruption and say that peace in the Western liberal sense is not relevant for a space like Ecuador. In this context, there are no feminist agendas that are striving for peace. In many ways, you could conclude that we actually do not care about peace. I recognize that this is quite a strong statement, which needs to be further explored.The temptation is to say that though feminist collectives and movements in Ecuador do not explicitly state peace, they are striving for it, which I argue would be a colonial gaze with feminist peace in mind. To assume that the lack of discussions on feminist peace in Ecuador is because of ignorance on these terms does away with the political agency of Ecuadorian feminist collectives and movements. Disrupting these assumptions could be one of the contributions of this work. Being in the peripheral borders of knowledge construction we are accustomed to partaking in different processes of cultural and linguistic translation and translocation. Living in the Global East or Global South implies that you are going to be translating ideas from the North to our different geographies constantly. But now, and being in contact with you both, it pluralizes the flow of knowledge even more.So, in response to your question, I am ok with making these discussions available to a Western audience, that is what we are doing at the moment with this conversation. However, I am also interested in further developing these discussions with both of you and bringing these reflections to part of the Global South. To date, many of the discussions within decolonial feminisms concern the North–South binary. I am excited to see how we can keep making sense of Global South and Global East decolonial feminists’ discussion on peace. In this way, I am not just prioritizing and disrupting these discussions within a Global North audience. There is a need to not make the West the focal point of our discussions anymore.

‘This is not a feminist peace’

NL:From my perspective, I have never used the concept of peace in any of my work. And to some extent, that is disciplinary. There are obviously anthropologists who write about war, but to me it always meant that when you talk about peace, you are talking about how to manage that post-war moment. If we are to think of categories that make sense, in terms of what we look at ourselves or how we relate to people in the contexts that we are working and living in, the question of freedom has always been more relevant in Kosovo, not the question of peace. Because freedom was seen as something that would bring everything else into being and freedom meant also economic sovereignty.Looking at the 1990s peaceful civil disobedience in Kosovo, together with Linda Gusia,8 we are highlighting the relevance of the 1989 Trepca miners’ hunger strike not only as a watershed moment in the disintegration of Yugoslavia, or through the lens of nationalism, but for what it says about the structural inequalities and injustices of state socialism in Kosovo. Miners in this mining complex had gone underground in one of the wealthiest mines in Europe, generating power for the entire country, as well as exporting minerals. However, while a Croatian TV crew (from one of the ‘centres’, right) interviewed the wife of one of the miners, they showed her living in a shack with nine children and no electricity. So freedom would have meant not only freedom for political determination, self-determination, which was part of the protest language of the time, but peace also needs to be conceived through how self-determination, economic sovereignty or justice are imagined locally.While earlier, self-determination in Kosovo might have been conceived of mainly in regard to relations with Serbia, it is now, increasingly, also thought of in relation to the international community, because of having been a UN-administered post-war protectorate and the EU oversight of rule of law. On the one hand, you might emphasize the need for the common denominators of rule of law, such as ‘strong democratic institutions’, but on the other hand, and in increasingly more locations globally, there is a constant kind of conflict over defining those very notions – democracy, justice, rule of law. There was, for example, also the attempt to take ‘lessons’ from South Africa in terms of transitional justice in former Yugoslavia in setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is not working because in many ways it has to be more authentically felt, and have more local agency, and such endeavours must also account for the history of repression without placing it only in the realm of culture.
EBS:Yes, perhaps we need to think about what peace means to each of us, in the context of our experiences, and I am certain it will not have the same meaning. This is precisely the reason I am uncomfortable not only with the liberal peace idea, which is in many ways a neo-imperial enterprise, but also with the understanding that peace can be thought of in singular terms.When I think about what peace means to me, considering my lived experience in the former Yugoslavia and then in Macedonia, it has more to do with human rights and justice broadly understood, including socio-economic and gendered justice elements, and the possibility for one to exercise their own agency in the context in which they exist. For some of the Indigenous women in Colombia I have learned from, peace has to do with re-establishing harmony among people, but also with nature. For others, such as families of victims in Bosnia who I have spoken with, it has to do with what the Bosnians call rahatluk, or mental peace and tranquility, which is dependent on multiple forms of justice. All of these understandings point to the desperate need to pluralize the visions of peace, as well as the grammar we use.
SZC:What makes peace plural? Is it a different understanding of peace? Is it opening up the term to the extent that we look for alternative terms? Is it diverse worldviews that assure plural understanding of peace? And from a decolonial Latin American feminist perspective which has emphasized epistemological and geopolitical othering, what can we reflect on making peace plural? Drawing on Yuderkys Espinosa Miñoso’s work that has questioned feminist epistemological and methodological frameworks as prioritizing white, Northern and Western forms of doing feminist knowledge, what does it mean to do feminist theory from a decolonial perspective and with regards to Peace Studies?This makes me think about worldviews. Perhaps there are prior questions to grapple with before we talk about peace. I am thinking specifically about how peace has been translated by the people who are living the violence. Not the politicians, not people who are bringing peace, but people who have lived and are living conflict. I am wondering how the word peace causes discomfort, in that it feels like an imposition? How much has this to do with predominant worldviews? Is it the way peace gets translated between common stakeholders, such as the governments that are following the nation-state framework, and communities that are much more autonomous in their questioning of the state? Our disruptions and questions are much more profound than the use of a term or how it gets translated. I think that lots of things are shifting in these discussions, and I wonder whether ‘peace’ ever made sense in the Global East and in the Global South. If you also take questions about peace to the Global North, and you ask communities that have lived different types of conflict, whether peace makes sense there as well, did it ever, who did it ever serve?
NL:The way Sofia posed it now, and the question of what the use of peace in interventions/international institutions serves, becomes very important. In that sense, peace is a mechanism through which to govern in a particular way. So, for example, using ‘frozen conflict’ as a term to define certain contexts. The term causes me a great deal of discomfort and I refuse to have a whole cultural and political space be defined in such a way. Not because it is based on an absence of peace, but because it assumes constant, simmering conflict and violence, and it imposes a particular kind of view and governance of ‘uncivilized others’.
EBS:Yes, and it is important how the term has been used and whom it has been used in reference to, both in policy circles and in certain parts of Western academia. While there are places in the Global North that might be in a ‘frozen conflict’, they might not be referred to as such. This points to the racist and colonial assumptions built into the use of the term, portraying it as something ‘over there’, in societies and communities that are ‘just on the verge of getting violent’.
NL:Why do we assume that in certain places it will not get violent, such as the US, for example? Again, who and what does it serve? If you think historically about Black communities throughout the United States, would we say that they have been living in peace? Have they been living in a state of frozen conflict, if we think about the examples of police and other kinds of militarized ‘solutions’ used to subdue people?
EBS:Conflict and peace are often portrayed in opposition to each other, as mirror images to one another, which serves the purpose of governing and, in my view, the purpose of turning a blind eye to the violence that remains in places of so-called peace, even after a peace agreement has been signed or a ceasefire has been agreed. But what is the use of these terms for the people who live those realities?
NL:I am reminded of the Feminist Conversations atelier that we, the University Programme for Gender Studies at the University of Prishtina, organized with partners, where we brought together women activists from Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo in Prishtina to talk about their experiences of anti-war activism. This was the first discussion of its kind, in that it brought the discussion and the activists in Prishtina, Kosova – otherwise considered a geographical and socio-political periphery for similar conversations – and that it treated the very notion of difference (national, gendered, classed) in women’s activism between Kosovo and the rest of former Yugoslavia. Sevdije Ahmeti, one of the activists, recalled an invitation her organization had received to participate at a conference abroad. The organizers had said ‘we are going to talk about how you can do workshops for community-building’. And she was saying – they took out the paper and the markers, and then Sevdije says – oh, this is a workshop! We have been doing this all along, but we just never called it a workshop.To connect to your question about naming, how things acquire meaning, and that it is not necessarily that the practices were missing, but they come out of different histories, different necessities and potentially different ways of imagining how things would be or could be. The same could be said about certain narratives and ways of describing war, peace, conflict. For example, in the context of a homogenizing language and practice of gender inequality, the injustice becomes seen as how women and men are unequal in society, as opposed to the potential for developing feminist politics that centers on injustice and the work that is done towards social justice.9 This is not only about relations between men and women, but thinking about those intersecting inequalities as well. One thing that certainly has happened through liberal governmentality, and in processes of peacebuilding, is the disappearance of particular groups and categories, social categories, such as workers, for example, or the disappearance of class as a relevant category of analysis and activism. For example, the second wave of feminism was relevant throughout Yugoslavia and yet failed to recognize those injustices that were part of the previous system.
EBS:We see this disappearance of class and the language of class even not only as you say in foreign interventions, but also in the discussions at home, including among feminists. This hesitancy seems to come from the desire to separate themselves from the past, from Yugoslavia, communism and socialism. But that blank distancing also prevents people, including feminists, from being more critical of the blind spots and violences occurring in the Yugoslav system, including the racialization of different communities. Keeping class and race and gender as categories separate and separable in one’s analysis and one’s praxis is in line with that neoliberal governmentality. That separation is particularly visible, for instance, when you consider the lived realities of Roma women across the Balkans and whether that is ever spoken about in relation to gender equality. Or Roma population more broadly – despite all the suffering of Roma people during the Yugoslav war, their position is never considered when talking about peace and reconciliation. It is always a question of whose experiences are considered.This goes to the point of pluralizing the idea of peace. When people in the post-Yugoslav space talk to me about peace as normal life, and the current absence thereof, for most of them, especially if they were middle or working class in Yugoslavia, it meant having a home, having stability, having enough food for the family, being able to provide your children with education. They were talking about this normal life that they used to have, before the wars, and they just wanted to go back to normalcy, whatever normalcy meant. But that, I often found, did not involve reflections on who could think about ‘going back to normal’ and the politics that allowed for that to appear as the normal life. Who was invisible and oppressed in the context of that ‘normal life’, in the context of such peace? So even within one space, we need the openness to be able to think of peace in plural, so we can consider different lived experiences, shaped by different systems of oppression and inequalities.
NL:Yes, it could be that – no, there is no going back, because I would not want to go back to what that ‘peace’ was. Because that was something predicated upon somebody else’s disempowerment and disenfranchisement.
SZC:Something we have not talked about is the Women, Peace and Security agenda. How this agenda has facilitated the coloniality of gender. Many years ago, I worked for UN Women and witnessed the efforts to gender-mainstream the Ministry of Defense in Ecuador. As part of the gender-mainstreaming efforts, the Ministry led the WPS agenda. I got to see first-hand how this agenda was translated in linguistic and cultural terms. There were no women’s or feminist organizations prioritizing this agenda in the country, but you had the Ministry of Defense leading the way. Having the Ministry of Defense lead the WPS agenda is very problematic for obvious reasons, that can be directly linked to the coloniality of gender.Aside from highlighting the link between coloniality of gender and the WPS agenda, there are decolonial considerations we can make with regards to peace. Currently there is a lot of emphasis on healing from Indigenous women’s perspectives in Latin America. Healing not just humans, but also the non-human and from the perspective of territories and bodies as one (cuerpo-territorio), and as ontologically the same. I can see an incipient link between healing bodies and territories that are akin to Western conceptions of feminist peace found in the WPS agenda. I am also thinking about the possibilities of engaging with ethnographic refusal proposed by Audra Simpson,10 about how as researchers we have to honour the refusal embedded in our ethnographic work. We do not have to know everything, in fact we should not know everything about our contexts, even and especially when striving for peace.
EBS:Absolutely. Thinking about the importance of healing and, more broadly, about peace as a process, also points to another discomfort – with a Western notion of peace as ‘a final product’. And both ‘final’ and ‘product’ are significant here, especially if we think about peacebuilding interventions that are driven by a neoliberal logic. That logic is, I would argue, in direct opposition to what many of the people living the violence would understand peace to be. In my experience, and from everything I have learned from activists and organizers in different violence-affected societies, it is more about what Angela Lederach has called the slow peace.11 Peace is something that is nurtured, through the process of healing and nurturing the self, the community and the territory. So, in decentering the notion of peace we should start thinking about it as a process of working towards alternative futures, not as an end goal necessarily.
NL:A focus on process does make that plurality possible, because you are not then working towards one end, where you are choosing means towards an end. You are also coming up with means and you are rethinking them as you go along. It allows for that openness.In instances of engaging with history or collective memory work with young people, there is always the question of – why do you do this, why would that past matter? Especially because they seem to think that if you deal with history, it will eat you up, because that means you will end up like your parents or your grandparents, and everybody else before you because you were insisting on some past injustice and past wrong, and you should just move on. You should forget about that. And obviously, it is not about bringing baggage, it is not about victimizing oneself. But if you do it through an open process, it makes it much more complex, if not complicated, and intellectually and emotionally demanding. Such an openness to process allows for so many more conversations, a better possibility for thick solidarity, and possibility to consider how you give of yourself and what you take from others.And on the issue of healing, it brings to mind Zainab Salbi, who founded Women for Women International WfWI. In one of her talks, she cites a woman who defined peace as the moment when her toenails started to grow back. Now I am not certain that WfWI is an example of thick solidarity, but what resonated with me here is that although, obviously, there can be an end of war and you are no longer fleeing, constantly walking, moving from one place to another, from one camp to another, from one border to another, your body will have disintegrated and will be put together in new ways and often missing pieces. What is often overlooked is how in moments of formal peace, that kind of coming apart of the body also takes place. So, the body is violated, comes apart, in all kinds of ways after war, after so-called conflict, too. For feminist peace to even begin to be plural, it would have to consider all the different ways in which, affectively and physically, politically and economically, people experience peace. In war, your life is at immediate risk. But then there is this kind of prolonged suffering too, even when there is peace, where we come to understand how difficult it is to build the kind of feminist peace we have been taking about. But there is also the incredible desire, and possibility, to create it.

We relied on one another for this conversation. We also almost immediately trusted one another, to be heard, and to have the space to speak. We remain in anticipation of how the discussion may continue.

Notes

1

Such as ‘the epistemology of the exteriority’, as discussed in Mignolo, W.D. and Tlostanova, M.V. (2006) ‘Theorizing from the borders: shifting to geo- and body-politics of knowledge’, European Journal of Social Theory, 9(2): 206.

2

In this chapter, we use ‘West/western’ and ‘Global North’ interchangeably.

3

de Sousa Santos, B. (ed) (2008) Another Knowledge Is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies, London: Verso.

4

Gökarıksel, B., Hawkins, M., Neubert, C. and Smith, S. (eds) (2021) Feminist Geography Unbound: Discomfort, Bodies, and Prefigured Futures, Morgantown: West Virginia Press.

5

Liu, R. and Shange, S. (2018) ‘Toward thick solidarity: theorizing empathy in social justice movements’, Radical History Review, 131: 190.

6

Müller, M. (2020) ‘In search of the Global East: thinking between north and south’, Geopolitics, 25(3): 734–55.

7

Coronil, F. (2019) The Fernando Coronil Reader: The Struggle for Life Is the Matter, Durham: Duke University Press.

8

See also Itziar Mujika Chao and Linda Gusia, this volume.

9

See also Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Nela Porobić Isaković, Madeleine Rees and Sarah Smith, this volume.

10

Simpson, A. (2007) ‘On ethnographic refusal: indigeneity, “voice” and colonial citizenship’, Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue, 9: 67–80.

11

Lederach, A.J. (2019) ‘“Feel the grass grow”: the practices and politics of slow peace in Colombia’, PhD diss., University of Notre Dame.

Further reading

  • Espinosa, Y.M., Correal, D.G. and Muñoz, K.O. (eds) (2014) Tejiendo de otro modo: Feminismo, epistemología y apuestas descoloniales en Abya-Yala, Popayan: Universidad del Cauca.

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  • Gökarıksel, B., Hawkins, M., Neubert, C. and Smith, S. (eds) (2021) Feminist Geography Unbound: Discomfort, Bodies, and Prefigured Futures, Morgantown: West Virginia Press.

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  • Gusia, L., Krasniqi, V. and Luci, N. (2016) Feminist Conversations: History, Memory, Difference, Prishtina : forumZFD, Available from: www.dwp-balkan.org/userfiles/file/Feminist%20Conversation%20Publications.pdf

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