Reconstructing masculinities (Part 1)
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Reconstructing masculinities (Part 1)

How do violent conflicts shape concepts of what it is to be a man? Are these concepts of masculinity fixed through traditional norms and expectations? How are these concepts constructed and reconstructed before, during, and after conflicts? Can studying the myriad ways of expressing masculinities pave the way for transforming drivers of unequal gender norms after periods of violent conflicts? More importantly, can studying masculinities and how these are forged eventually promote gender-fair social relations and more inclusive policies toward lasting peace?

These are just a few of the questions examined in a two-year, mixed-method study conducted by a composite team of researchers focusing on three conflict-affected areas in Southeast Asia: Aceh and Maluku, in Indonesia; two Maguindanao provinces; and Lanao del Sur in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The research teams in each area conducted face-to-face survey interviews among more than 6,000 informants (2,000 for each area), and held community focus group discussions (FGDs) in selected villages in the three contexts. Researchers from each area were locals to ensure that research instruments (survey tool and an FGD guide) were understood fully by the informants. Conducting this massive undertaking was made possible through the generous support of Japan’s biggest private-donor agency, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) based in Tokyo.

Collaborating with SPF is the Conciliation Resources based in London, an international nongovernment think tank that periodically assesses peace-building initiatives in different parts of the world that have gone through violent conflicts. For years, Conciliation Resources focused its editions of the Accord, their annual publication, on the two Mindanao peace processes—first, between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Government of the Philippines that concluded with the First “Final” Peace Agreement signed on Sept. 2, 1996; and secondly, between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This process concluded with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014, paving the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2019.

Other partners include the Institute for Women Peace and Security of Georgetown University in Washington, and Integral Knowledge Asia, a nongovernment research and policy group based in Bali, Indonesia. The Mindanao State University–General Santos City, through its College of Social Sciences and Humanities and the Research and Development Center, is the project’s partner in Mindanao.

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The report, “Reconstructing Masculinities: Gender dynamics after conflict in Aceh, Maluku and Bangsamoro Mindanao,” distilled the findings and conclusions of this study. SPF released it last week online, and it plans on launching this report in London and Belgium in the coming weeks; and in Manila, Indonesia, and Japan in the next few months.

SPF’s interest in conducting a study on masculinities in armed conflict-affected areas in Southeast Asia is part of its mandate to fine-tune its peace-building programs in the region through gathering evidence-based information. SPF harnessed the skills of local academics and researchers together with their resource institutions in the three study areas. The study puts a premium on engaging Global South researchers and intellectuals to highlight its “decolonial feminist approach” recognizing that “conflict-affected populations’ knowledge” and experiences are manifestations of how these have been shaped by “complex legacies of colonialism” and international geopolitics.

Masculinities—or expressions of being a man in society—have just recently been considered as equally important, or even significant, in understanding gender dynamics in a community and in larger society. Understanding these dynamics—often skewed in favor of men—can help us identify ways to break down barriers toward more gender-fair relations and, eventually, a more inclusive and peaceful society.

Traditional gender norms dictate that men have to show they are strong, both physically and mentally (also economically and politically among the elite), and to avoid being vulnerable to emotional breakdowns. In a traditional Bangsamoro family, boys are enjoined to become future men who are “strong enough” to protect their families, earn money for them, and in general, assume the household head role at all times. On the other hand, women are expected to provide nurturing and caring services for the members of their family, and do repetitive household chores to ensure its sustainability.

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(More next week)

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