Gender & Sexuality

ICES, from its inception, has considered gender a core category in the analysis of ethnic identity and conflict. Hegemonic ethno-nationalisms frequently seek to degrade and feminize the “other” and while women and men within an ethnic group might be segmented in various ways according to class, caste, age, status etc., they are also invariably socialized into upholding gendered stereotypes, in the name of national/ethnic cohesion and identity. Men are expected to be valorous, and often militant, defenders of the ethnic group while women are perceived to symbolize the purity, continuity and exclusivity of the group. Some of the earliest projects in which ICES was involved thus sought to provide a feminist analysis and critique of such gendered subjectivities by unpacking patriarchal assumptions inherent in religious tenets and practices.

ICES’ on-going project on masculinity continues this trend of inquiry by now focusing on the other end of the spectrum of communalized violence: in the main male perpetrators. The study seeks to understand the social/cultural parameters within which such practices become permissible. This two-country study on masculinity and violence is an extrapolation, in a sense, of previous, smaller-scale, in-depth research projects on militarism as well as militancy in Sri Lanka, pioneered by ICES. ICES’ studies on militarism and militancy have also been complemented by research on feminist peace activism nationally, regionally as well as internationally which culminated in an international conference which brought together many feminist scholars, activists and policy makers involved in peace work. ICES’ focus on violence against women in contexts of riots and ethnic conflicts was expanded extensively when its executive director, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was appointed the UN Special Rappoteur on Violence Against Women, in 1994. ICES’ development into a Secretariat to facilitate the Special Rappoteur, resulted in it becoming the repository of a vast data base on VAW, the convenor of innumerable international consultations and conferences and the coordinator of an extensive network of national, regional and international scholars, activists and policy makers who specialize on various aspects of VAW. ICES also continued its interventionist agenda, previously being involved in helping to set up of the first women’s shelter, Women in Need, by spearheading the anti-domestic violence bill, which was passed in Parliament, in 2005.

ICES’ recent 3-country South Asia study however has sought to think more genealogically about the category of VAW: how do we trace its development through particular historical conjunctures? What have been some of the outcomes of a sustained push by the UN as well as INGOs to make this a focus of inquiry and intervention? How has such a focus shaped feminist scholarship and activism? Such reflection and analysis is not only apposite but crucial for conceptualizing the future direction of this very important area of research and intervention.ICES has also sought to provide a safe space where feminist analyses of the Sri Lankan constitution and devolution of power could be presented and discussed at length, where the Women’s Coalition for Peace could hold their meetings, and where a variety of consultations with other peace groups, business leaders and politicians could take place. Such interventionist contributions towards a political resolution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, a commitment to re-think categories such as ‘peace building’ and ‘human security’ from a feminist perspective and to challenge the hegemonic, male-centred approach to global security will be continued by ICES in the future.

ICES proposes to work more broadly in the area of sexuality for several reasons. It is now well established that sexuality, the politics of sexual relations, orientation, and their material manifestations form an integral part of gender analysis. At the same time they intersect with other key areas that ICES has expertise in – namely violence, state and power, and globalization. The violence that attends many sexual relations needs to be understood fully not only in terms of general theories but also in terms of the historic and specific ways in which it operates in Sri Lanka and South Asia. Issues of sexual orientation have repercussions on one’s relation to state power and citizenship. Sexualities and their economies are also shaped by global patterns and flows that have their local characteristics. In committing to provide rigorous research in the area of gender and sexuality, ICES also importantly seeks to support other initiatives in the field of sexuality in Sri Lanka. At present while a few activist organizations working on sexual rights and sexual health exist, few of them have the capacity for extensive research in the field of sexuality or see it as their mandate. By providing grounded analysis and empirical data of the many registers of sexuality in Sri Lanka, ICES seeks to complement the work of these organizations.

Programme Objectives:
* To provide a feminist analysis of gender and sexuality
* To re-conceptualize VAW interventions in conflict and other settings
* To strengthen the role of women as political decision makers at all levels, particularly in peace and security.
* To promote an understanding of the historic, social and cultural aspects of sexuality in Sri Lanka, including that of sexual orientation and masculinities

Past and Future Directions
Building on ICES’ work on gender over the past 20 years, this programme will now include sexuality and politics. The programme will combine feminist and alternative research, policy intervention, dialogue, training and creative expression.