Gender Attributions of (Ir-)Reconciliation

Christine Krüger's picture
Call for Papers
February 22, 2024 to February 24, 2024

Since the beginning of her term in office, the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has openly declared her support for a "feminist foreign policy", which for her can also justify deliveries of arms to Ukraine. In contrast, Alice Schwarzer, one of the most prominent German feminists, positioned herself in an open letter in the women's magazine Emma in April 2022 as well as in a manifesto for peace at the beginning of this year with the credo that interference in the war from a third party should only take the form of demands for negotiations. As contrary as these positions appear, both are based on the conviction that feminism brings a specific perspective to foreign policy conflicts, can play an important role in conflict resolution, and contribute to a lasting stabilisation of the peace order.

When politicians, not only in Germany but also in other Western countries, declare "feminist foreign policy" to be their programme, this is usually accompanied by the idea that a historical turning point is being reached. However, the idea that there are gender-specific ways of conflict resolution and reconciliation has a long tradition. Already in the early days of the women's movement, its activists used it as an argument to support the demand that women be given a political voice. From the end of the 19th century onwards, feminists in the international women's peace movement tried to influence international relations from a gender-specific position. They were convinced that they could make an important contribution to a lasting peace. An important role was played by the biologistic argumentation that women were destined to give life and therefore had to counteract war, which destroyed life. In the social sphere, too, women often defined their specific task as fulfilling a balancing, reconciling function, and also justified this with reference to "motherliness".

However, the invocation of motherliness in this context was ambivalent, because as an element of bourgeois gender ideology, it could equally serve to justify traditional gender hierarchies. Opponents of emancipation argued, for example, that women's political engagement would lead them to abandon their role as "reconcilers". They considered this a serious threat to social peace. And it seemed downright scandalous to many contemporaries when women deliberately decided to intervene violently in conflicts instead of working for reconciliation.

The conference aims to shed light on the significance of the category "gender" in conflict resolution and reconciliation processes from the 19th to the 21st century from a historical perspective. It does not want to concentrate solely on the women's peace movement, which has already been relatively well studied by historians, but to bring together research that asks about gender attributions in various forms of reconciliation efforts in different constellations of conflict – e.g. it in marriage, in neighbourly disputes, in class conflict or in war.

Special attention will also be given to a global history perspective. For the gender ideology described here was a European product, just as conflict resolution strategies in Europe had their own character, with Christian religious ideas being influential. And for both fields, Europeans were often convinced of their pre-eminence of civilisation. Thus, it is not surprising that from a postcolonial perspective, the approach of "feminist foreign policy" is also criticised as Western superiority thinking. This, too, prompts reason to critically analyse contemporary imaginaries and practices.

Proposals may address but are not limited to the following questions:

  • Which conceptions of masculinity and femininity influenced certain strategies for resolving conflict or initiatives of reconciliation?
  • To what extent are complementary gender conceptions also found for irreconcilability?
  • In which ways were these ideas discussed? Did contemporaries assume they had universal validity or did they consider them historically changeable? Which alternative drafts could there be to the common gender attributions?
  • Do other cultures have different ideas about the connection between gender and conflict resolution? What interactions, if any, existed on a global level (e.g. in the colonial context)?
  • Which connections can be identified between the social and especially the legal position of women on the one hand and gender-specific attributions of conciliatory or irreconcilable characteristics on the other? Can we observe intersectional variability?
  • To what extent did contemporaries also see such connections and how were they discussed by women's rights activists on the one hand and by anti-feminists on the other?
  • How did historical actors try to exploit such gender ascriptions in specific situations of conflict or reconciliation initiatives? In which situations were they perhaps also instrumentalised (e.g. class conflict/marital conflict)?
  • Which were the effects of widespread gender ascriptions when it came to achieving reconciliation between the sexes?

The conference will take place in Bonn from 22–24 February 2024. Conference languages are German and English. We invite abstracts of up to 500 words and a short biography (max. 200 words) by 30th April 2023 via email to Prof. Dr. Christine Krüger ( The selected contributions will be circulated among participants prior to the conference. Travel and accommodation costs will be reimbursed. A publication of the conference output is envisaged.

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