My research is situated at the intersection of security, global governance, and feminist postcolonial theory. In particular, I am interested in women’s security, especially as interpreted by and through the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations in West Africa. I examine the role of women’s community organizations to understand how they advocate for and support women in conflict and post-conflict situations, especially in response to UN Security Council's Women, Peace, and Security agenda.
Conditions for women in the Global South have increasingly become a subject of concern for both scholars and the international community as a critical component of global security, though there has been little examination of exactly how women themselves in post-conflict societies conceptualize security and act to secure it. In West Africa in particular, local women’s activism has, at times, gained considerable publicity as a model of women’s ability to secure peace; however, the majority of the international attention has been restricted to a few cases because of their great successes or because of the extreme level of victimization. This limited focus leads researchers to generalize about women’s peacebuilding movements and ideas about women in conflict, which occludes the awareness of other political, historical, and cultural factors that impact international policy implementation. Given the complex interplay between actors, policies, and discourses that I have uncovered in my research, I contribute to both mainstream and critical international relations literatures an understanding of practices of national and international governance and peacebuilding and these practices’ effects on women’s lives and communities.
My dissertation project asks: Do women activists in post-conflict societies prioritize their security and empowerment goals the same way they have been defined by the international community? More specifically, how do women respond to the sometimes-conflicting goals and priorities of the international community, their national governments, and powerful transnational NGOs?Many women in post-conflict areas play a transformative role in formal and informal security, but they also must navigate the politics of UN Security Council resolutions regarding women’s participation in post-conflict peacebuilding, national policies addressing women’s security (including the National Action Plans mandated by these resolutions), and the politics and financial pressures of transnational NGOs. This project addresses how local and national women’s organizations in West Africa work to advocate for women’s security to reveal how international resolutions impact local actions and also whether and how local women’s priorities can shape international policies, both through national actors and separate from them. I analyze policies on women’s security and the discourses that sustain them through macro-, meso-, and micro-level lenses to reveal how local and regional women’s community organizations define their security goals and priorities, translate and localize the international agendas of the UN Security Council and transnational NGOs as well as the national agendas of governments, and work with local women to achieve peace and security. I conducted interviews and participant observation in Cote dʼIvoire to look at the activism of local and national women’s security and peacebuilding organizations—and the support of their governmental, UN, and transnational NGO partners—to understand how they advocate for and support women in conflict and post-conflict situations.
To support my argument, my three empirical chapters make the case that attention to women’s security follows prior agendas from all actors, whether national, international, or local. At the national level, Cote dʼIvoire’s National Action Plan has been implemented only partially, with the country devoting much of its attention to security sector reform. I argue that this is a response to international priorities in women’s security, namely an emphasis on sexualized violence and giving primacy to achieving easily measurable indicators, all the while privileging mechanisms of traditional security. At the international level, I discuss how local women’s organizations, in implementing the Women, Peace, and Security resolutions, must contend with two models of international intervention. The security/human rights model passes norms and policies developed at the international level through the state, with the expectation that the state will implement or adhere to these norms and policies, then directing local actors—whether governmental or civil society—to follow and further implement the directives. The development model largely bypasses the state because of the assumption that the state has already failed to provide for its citizens, so provisions and implementation efforts begin at international organizations or countries in the Global North, funnel through transnational NGOs, and end up at local NGOs or specific government projects through grants. Prior to these resolutions, women’s issues had usually been addressed as a development concern, yet with the Security Council becoming an actor, these models conflict, resulting in a patchwork of policies that do not holistically address fundamental issues of women’s security. At the local level, I employ the lens of postcolonial feminist theory in order to examine in detail whether and how some African women counter victimizing, marginalizing discourses told about them in international politics. I show that because of women’s preexisting community networks and their knowledge of what their communities need, their local practices of implementation in some ways subvert international policy. In the end, I conclude that women’s organizations are fundamentally responsible for implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security resolutions while at the same time being beholden to policymakers, governmental officials, and donors. Simultaneously, these organizations must manage limited understandings of women’s lives in Cote dʼIvoire and cope with limited funding, leading to ineffective policy implementation.