Gender and Peace Education Final

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7. Gender and Peace Education

Lesson Objectives

At the end of this section, the participants will:

  • Be able to define gender
  • Be able to discuss the importance of gender in peace education
  • Understand different ways to integrate gender into classroom practice
  • Develop specific lesson plans that focus on gender 

Guiding Questions

Before you read this section, consider the following questions

  • What does gender mean to you? How do gender roles play out in your life?
  • In your culture, are there assigned gender roles for men and women? If so, what are they?  



Riddle: A father and son are in a car accident. The father dies on impact, and the son is rushed to the hospital. In the operating room, the surgeon looks at the boy and says, “I can't operate on him. He's my son.”

How can this be true?

(Answer is found at the end of the section)


The only way to solve the problem of women’s subordination is to change people’s mindset and to plant the new idea of gender equality into every mind.
- Qingrong Ma


Gender can be defined as


the social differences and relations between men and women which are learned, vary widely among societies and cultures, and change over time […] They condition which activities, tasks and responsibilities are perceived as male and female. Gender roles are affected by age, class, race, ethnicity and religion, and by the geographical, economic and political environment (International Labor Office, 2000).


The concept of gender must be differentiated from that of sex: sex is a purely biological description, while gender connotes socially constructed categories.


Gender is an important consideration in the context of peace education for a number of reasons. The most fundamental of these reasons is that women’s empowerment and equality in all spheres is absolutely necessary in order to achieve a sustainable peace. As affirmed by the UN’s Beijing Declaration, “local, national, regional and global peace is attainable and is inextricably linked with the advancement of women, who are a fundamental force for leadership, conflict resolution and the promotion of lasting peace at all levels” (United Nations, 1995). 


The implications of gender on peace education are many and diverse.  First, society must recognize the potential of women as peace-builders, and actively promote their inclusion in peace-making processes. Second, violence against women, which is one of the most common forms of violence worldwide, must be eliminated, with awareness education about the issue as the first step towards this goal. Finally, societal consciousness of gender inequalities and discrimination against women in all spheres must be raised so that these issues can be recognized and addressed. The differences in the socialization of boys versus girls and gender equality in education are especially relevant topics under this category. A key aspect of UNESCO’s campaign to foster a worldwide culture of peace is to “ensure equality between women and men,” thus affirming that gender is an important consideration with regards to peace education (UNESCO, 2000). There are many ways in which teachers can incorporate gender-informed peace education into their classrooms, which we will explore in more detail below.

Women as Peacebuilders

History has demonstrated that women, in both an individual and group capacity, are extremely effective as peace-builders. This is not to say that men are not also peacemakers, nor that women are never violent, but rather that the achievements of women in this capacity are often overlooked and merit further attention. However, the inequalities between men and women that still prevail in our societies limit the impact of women in creating a culture of peace to much less than their true potential. According to Brock-Utne (2009):


Even though women frequently build the backbone of peace organizations, they are seldom given credit for their work. They are mostly made invisible in history books which frequently are “his - story” books, describing the development of violent conflicts or wars started by men. Conflicts which are solved non-violently or the work for peace, especially the work of women for peace, do not find their way into history books. This naturally has consequences for peace education. It is difficult to educate about peace when the textbooks youngsters are required to read are mostly on war (p. 215).


The capacity of women as peacemakers must be recognized and promoted in governments, in nonprofit organizations, and in international relations, as well as in the classroom. The UN has stated its support for the active engagement of women in the peace process in numerous official resolutions and declarations, and now it remains for the world to follow through (United Nations, 1985, 2000). Teachers can further this goal in their classrooms by discussing the peace processes throughout history and not just the role of wars. Teachers should also make sure that the role of women throughout history is not omitted. One possible exercise for students might be to research women's perspectives from a certain historical period, if these are not portrayed in their history textbook.

Violence Against Women

The term “violence against women” refers to “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm of suffering to women” (United Nations, 1994). The continuing worldwide prevalence of such violence remains a significant obstacle to building a lasting peace, as women living in fear of gender-based violence cannot achieve true equality.


Not only is violence against women an unacceptable act in itself, but according to the UN (1994), it is also


a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.


Violence against women both causes inequality and is caused by inequality. According to Brock-Utne (2009), “the unequal power between men and women is considered to be the main reason for violence against women” (p. 206). Gender-based violence is the most brutal and overt form of the inequality that is present in all spheres of society. Thus, a crucial part of peace education must be the dissemination of information about the widespread occurrence of such violence and its negative impacts on women and on progress toward creating a culture of peace. 


An important consideration when thinking about violence against women is the effect of the media on social perceptions of women and acceptable behavior towards women. The media as a whole tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes of women, and an important step in gender-informed peace education is to recognize this trend and develop awareness about it. Kempadoo, Maxwell, and Smith (2001) describe this media bias as follows:


There is a link between media images of women and incidences of violence against women. Products from liquor to cars are sold using women’s bodies: women are shown primarily responsible for the home and family. What does this say about women? What message is the media sending when it constantly juxtaposes sex and violence? Women are beaten and raped in movies, popular songs emphasize women’s bodies as objects to be used and abused. […] Negative media images are harmful in a society where violence against women is increasing. The danger is that violence against women is becoming accepted as the norm (p. 9).


Someone who is conscious of the bias present in the media’s representation of women is less likely to be subconsciously socialized or conditioned by the images they see, and more likely to protest the injustices in the media that negatively impact women. Popular culture must evolve to promote gender justice and equality rather than violence and abusive behavior towards women. 


In the classroom, there are many ways in which a teacher can work to further this goal. For instance, the teacher should choose pieces of literature, film, and media carefully and in consideration of how these sources might portray women in a negative way. If use of a biased source proves necessary, this provides a wonderful opportunity for a lesson on gender stereotypes and violence and to raise students’ awareness of their own, often unconscious, behaviors that enable the status quo to continue.


Another way in which the teacher can help eliminate violence against women is to ensure that his/her own classroom is free of violence. Aside from the obvious ban on physical violence, disparaging remarks and comments that enforce unwanted gender stereotypes should also not be tolerated. This rule should apply to interactions between all students, but especially between boys and girls. 

Gender Inequalities and Socialization

In world society today significant inequalities between men and women persist, ranging from gender-based violence and outright bias, to tradition-supported discrimination, to unconscious differences in behavior towards men versus women. Peace education can have a positive impact on eradicating these inequalities by raising awareness of the existence of discrimination in everyday life, and by inspiring action to eliminate these inequalities.


The differences between society’s treatment of men and its treatment of women are often so customary that they have become ingrained in the collective mindset as perfectly normal and correct. However, if we stop and reexamine these behaviors, it becomes evident that many of the differences in society’s attitudes towards men versus women are neither positive nor conducive to building a culture of peace. Consider something as basic as the toys girls and boys commonly play with: for girls it might be pretty dolls, while for boys it might be miniature soldiers. This divide begs the question: “To what extent are girls and boys in our society being socialized equally or differently when it comes to learning how to care, empathize with others and engage in or endure violent behavior?” (Brock-Utne, 2009, p. 205).


Issues of war and peace have become highly genderized, so much so that associating warfare with men has become a rarely-questioned norm. According to Brock-Utne (2009),


 All over the world there are more men than women in the military. This fact probably has a pre-socializing effect on boys. In countries with compulsory military service, this service is normally compulsory for boys only. […] This socialization may explain why women are more likely than men to support conscientious objectors, to be against war toys and against war (p. 209).


In striving to educate for peace, we must take these societal norms into account and actively try to counteract them. If young boys focus on the heroics of war in their youthful games, they build an easy familiarity with violence that fails to recognize the true gravity and horror that battle entails. Violent media images, electronic games, and toys only reinforce such inaccurate conceptions that emphasize war instead of peace. Even something as basic as a history book tends to place the focus on battles rather than resolutions. As noted earlier, it is difficult to educate for peace when textbooks are mostly about war. Thus teachers as peace-builders must make an active effort to draw students’ attention to achievements of peace rather than of war. 

Promoting Gender Equality in the Classroom

The following are some suggestions for teachers to promote gender equality in their classrooms.


The first step for teachers wanting to counteract this trend of unequal socialization is to become aware of the gender stereotypes that they (perhaps unconsciously) perpetuate. If teachers are conscious of their own perceptions of gender, they will be able to make an active effort not to recreate them in the classroom.

Challenge students’ ideas of gender roles

Similarly, in the context of any class assignment or discussion, the teacher can challenge students’ ideas about gender roles and inspire them to think critically about the origins of these inequalities.

Include women’s perspectives in history

Another way in which teachers can proactively support gender equality and peace is by emphasizing the role of women, since many textbooks tend to center more on men. Similarly, teachers can shift the focus to the peace-building processes of history rather than the typical emphasis on wars. Both women and peace are often underrepresented in history textbooks.

Use gender-neutral language       

Teachers should also try to use gender-neutral language (which is easier in some languages than others). For example, using “police officer” instead of “policeman.” While the teacher should use gender-neutral language as much as possible, the teacher should also teach about gender neutrality in language, and why using gender-biased language perpetuates inequalities.

Gender Equitable Education

Although discrimination against girls and women exists in all spheres of society, possibly the most important areas with respect to our focus on peace education is inequality in education. Data shows that enrollment rates of girls are significantly lower than those of boys in both primary and secondary school (UNGEI, 2010, p. 12-13).  Girls have less than equal access to education for various reasons, including traditional gender roles, financial limitations, cultural considerations, and early marriage or pregnancy. All these obstacles must be addressed before equal enrollment can be reached.


However, “achieving gender parity (equal numbers of boys and girls) in school is just one step towards gender equality in and through education. While parity is a quantitative concept, equality is a qualitative one” (Wilson, 2003, p. 3). With progress being made toward equal access to education for girls and boys, there now remains the more difficult task of creating education that is truly gender equitable. According to Oxfam (2005),


The content and delivery of education […] can reflect and reproduce gender inequalities. Girls’ and boys’ learning and interaction with each other, and the teacher, are influenced by ways of teaching, the content of the curriculum, and relations within the classroom (p. i).


Teachers thus have a central role to play in fostering increased gender equality in society, and can do this by making sure that their classrooms are environments that teach and reinforce positive gender relations.


The classroom can be the starting point for fostering gender equality as a step towards a comprehensive culture of peace. As mentioned in the section above with regards to history, curriculum content must reflect gender equality. A second example would be to ensure that students in a Language Arts class read an equal number of novels by men and women authors, with a mixture of male and female protagonists.


The classroom must also be an environment that enforces gender equality. There should be no difference in the type of work assigned to boys and girls, and the same standards and expectations must apply to all students. In terms of achieving gender parity in schools, teachers can act as advocates for girls to continue their education, both through encouraging their female students and through discussing the issue with the students’ parents, if necessary.      

Sample Lesson


Women, Peace, and Security (Reardon & Cabezudo, 2002)

During the summer and fall of 2000, a small group of NGO members active in women’s concerns at the United Nations developed and pursued a strategy to persuade the Security Council to hold an open debate (a session on a general topic that constitutes a threat to peace and security rather than a particular or specific conflict or crisis) on the role of women in peace and security policy formation, conflict resolution and prevention, and global security. The session was convened in October 2000. This unit is based on key extracts from the resolution adopted by the Security Council at the conclusion of this special session. These extracts appear on the following pages as a handout. (Copies of the full text of S.C. Resolution 1325 are available from the Hague Appeal for Peace and online at http://www.peacewomen.org/un/sc/1325.html.)


This unit was designed by the authors of Learning to Abolish War.

Grade levels and subjects

Secondary grades, 10 - 12; history, civics, social studies, world problems/global issues, human rights, gender studies


The handout excerpt of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (pages 122-123), or the full document (available online atwww.peacewomen.org)


Research and presentation of reports; critical analysis and discussion; role playing; proposing alternatives


Gender, security, peace, international diplomacy, civil society


Students will:

  • ·         Become acquainted with the functioning of the United Nations, including procedures and documentation;
  • ·         Learn about women’s strategies for peace and peacebuilding;
  • ·         Analyze the relationship between representations of gender and conflict in the media;
  • ·        


Activity 1

  2. At the next class session read the extracts (or have students read aloud one paragraph each)
  3. After a paragraph has been read, discuss it, asking such questions as:
    1. What problem or obstacle to peace and women’s participation in conflict resolution and/or security policy making is likely to have inspired this paragraph?
    2. What particular lines of action would the United Nations have to pursue to overcome the problems and obstacles and achieve the aim embraced in the paragraph?
    3. What actions can NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and citizens take to assure the implementation of the aims expressed in the paragraph?
    4. Are there actions students might take?


Activity 2

  • Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Protocols of 1949
  • Refugee Convention of 1951 and the Protocol of 1967
  • Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) and the Optional Protocol of 1999 

NOTE: For these and other relevant international legal instruments, visit www.un.org/rights/.


  2. What are the purposes of the Convention? 
  3. What types of problems are likely to have led to the drafting and adopting of the convention?
  4. To what goals and recommendations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 might this convention apply?
  5. What provisions of the convention would be most relevant? 
  6. Who should be aware of this convention if it were to help achieve the aims of 1325?
  7. What should ordinary citizens know about the convention?


Activity 3

    1. How is it affecting men and women differently?
    2. Do women have special needs as a result of the conflict? What are they?
    3. Are these needs being adequately met? Who is attempting to meet them? Are there other agencies that should be involved?
  2. Are the gendered aspects of the conflict presented in the media? Is the presentation adequate to the problems?


Activity 4

  2. Weave the following topics into the discussion:
    1. Individual perspectives and motivations;
    2. Styles of peace actions women pursue and why such actions might have been chosen;


Excerpt from: UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTION (S/RES/1325) Adopted by the Security Council on 31 October 2000

(Preamble omitted)

The Security Council

  1. Urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict;
  2. Encourages the Secretary General to implement his strategic plan of action (A/49/587) calling for an increase in the participation of women at decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes;
  4. Further urges the Secretary General to seek to expand the role and contribution of women in United Nations field-based operations, and especially among military observers, civilian police, human rights and humanitarian personnel;
  5. Expresses its willingness to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations, and urges the Secretary General to ensure that, where appropriate, field operations include a gender component;
  8. Calls on all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective, including, inter alia:
    1. The special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration, and post-conflict reconstruction;
    2. Measures that support local women’s processes for conflict resolution, and that involve women in all of the implementation mechanisms of the peace agreements;
    3. Measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police, and the judiciary;
  10. Calls on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict;
  11. Emphasizes the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls;
  14. Reaffirms its readiness, whenever measures are adopted under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, to give consideration to their potential impact on the civilian population, bearing in mind the special needs of women and girls, in order to consider appropriate humanitarian exemptions;
  15. Expresses its willingness to ensure that Security Council missions take into account gender considerations and the rights of women, including through consultation with local and international women’s groups;
  16. Invites the Secretary-General to carry out a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building, and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution, and further invites him to submit a report to the Security Council on the results of this study and to make this available to all Member States of the United Nations;
  17. Requests the Secretary-General, where appropriate, to include in his reporting to the Security Council progress on gender mainstreaming throughout peacekeeping missions and all other aspects relating to women and girls;


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection

  1. What is gender? What is the difference between sex and gender?
  2. Why is gender inequality relevant to peace education? 
  3. What are some ways that gender inequalities are perpetuated?
  4. How can you integrate gender issues into your classroom practice? Be specific.
  5. How are girls and boys socialized differently in your culture? Is there a relationship between this socialization, peace, and violence? What role cab the classroom play in promoting gender equality?
  6. How do you ensure that your classroom is a gender-inclusive environment? What are some of the things you do or avoid doing to achieve this?


Answer to the Riddle: The surgeon is his mother. Often times, when people first hear the riddle, they might say things such as “the boy was adopted,” or think of other ways that the surgeon could be his father. This riddle demonstrates our own gender bias, as many people first think of a man in the role of surgeon, or other prestigious positions.


Brock-Utne, B. (2009). A Gender Perspective on Peace Education and the Work for Peace. International Review of Education, 55(2-3), May, p. 205-220.


International Labor Office. (2000). ABC of women workers’ rights and gender equality. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/dyn/gender/docs/RES/68/F1962744474/ABC%20of%20women%20workers.doc


Kempadoo, K., Landa, O., Maxwell, S., & Smith, N. (2001). Gender, Peace and Development in the Caribbean: Research Report on the Northern Caribbean, Prepared for UNESCO. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/cpp/uk/projects/NorthFinalReport.pdf


Oxfam. (2005). Gender Equality in Schools. Retrieved from http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/issues/education/downloads/edPaper2.pdf


United Nations. (1985). Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. Retrieved from http://www.un-documents.net/nflsaw.htm


United Nations. (1994). General Assembly Resolution: Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Retrieved from                  http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/(symbol)/a.res.48.104.en


United Nations. (September 1995). Fourth World Conference on Women: Beijing Declaration. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/declar.htm


United Nations. (2000). Security Council Resolution 1325. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/ods/S-RES-1325(2000)-E.pdf


UNESCO. (2000). Culture of Peace: What is it?. Retrieved from http://www3.unesco.org/iycp/uk/uk_sum_cp.htm


Wilson, D. (2003). Human Rights: Promoting Gender Equality In and Through Education. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001469/146974e.pdf 

Additional Resources

The Girl Effect

http://www.girleffect.org/video - Interesting Video that promotes/emphasizes education for girls.


Interesting book on the potential of women in context of international development:

Kristof, N.D. & WuDunn, S. (2009). Half the sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. New York: Vintage Books.


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