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Nira Yuval-Davis' Paper

'Human security' and the Gendered Politics of Belonging


In recent years, with growing realization of both the achievements and the limitations of identity politics, especially under the growing costs of neo-liberal globalisation in terms of inequities, there have been more and more attempts to interrelate what Nancy Fraser (1997) has called the political problematics and the dilemmas of justice of recognition and redistribution in the 'postsocialist' condition. In other words, how to incorporate the demands of people as collective agents for recognition of their separate identity and culture with a more traditional socialist concern with the redistribution of wealth in compensation of class inequities.

While Nancy Fraser has been working in the arena of feminist and political theory, activists and NGO workers in the international and development arenas have been trying to tackle the same issues under somewhat different terminologies. Two central, different but interrelated 'buzz-words' in this field have been 'intersectionality' and 'human security'. Elsewhere I've written and commented on the debate concerning the first term (Yuval-Davis, 2003; see also Anthias & Yuval-Davis 1983, 1992). In this paper I want to focus on the notion of 'human security' and how it relates to the Fraser dilemma. However, while Nancy Fraser mainly tackles the issues from within the realms of morality and politics, I would like to add to them also the realm of the emotional. Feminists have been arguing against the use of the emotional as means of excluding them from political participation (Nussbaum, 1995). They also strongly emphasize the socially constructed nature of the emotional (Ahmed, 2000; Chodorow, 1978; Nussbaum, ibid). However, inspite of Anderson's crucial work on this in the arena of nationalism (1991(1983); see also Kitching, 1985), there has not been enough work done to incorporate the emotional as a central part of the political process itself within the current debates. This ommission is especially problematic because a lot of the gains of the Extreme Right and more and more of the mainstream, both in Europe and outisde it, is due to their appropriation of the emotional, while the Left all too often escludes it as an inappropriate basis for the political. The debate around the notion of 'human security' which is discussed in this paper constitutes an attempt to deal with this omission.

The first part of the paper introduces the notion of 'human security' that has become a trendy mantra to many of the international NGOs and UN circuit during the last few years. I then turn to look at the relationship of this notion with wider issues that concern contemporary politics of belonging. The last part of the paper focuses on some particular issues that this relationship poses for specific feminist concerns.

'Human security'

'Human security' is a buzzword that many activists, including feminists, started to carry around as a substitute to the notion of 'human rights' in recent years. A product of the post-cold-war era, it has gained special resonance especially with the growing security mania of post 9-11. However, the notion of 'human security' relates to concerns that have been growing since before that. Some of these concerns relate to the field of military security. There are claims that 'human security' represents 'the cardinal mission' of the United Nations (the International Commission on Intervention and Sovereignty, mentioned in Alkire, 2002;4). It has grown from the UN's 'agenda for peace' (A/47/277-S/24111) and reflects the growing move of security concerns from inter-state to intra-state concerns and from national territories to ethnocized and racialized communities, local and trans-national. However, the agenda of 'human security' as it developed has become much more radical and encompassing than that, partly pushed by the growing participation of NGOs and the growing sophistication of Peace and Conflict Studies. It also reflected the growing unease not only with the spread of ethnic conflicts and wars but also with the growing poverty and inequity under neo-liberal globalised market. As the 1994 UNDP report stated, 'human security' is 'articulating a preventive "people-centered" approach that focused jointly on "freedom from fear and freedom from want"' (Alkire:4). Or, to use Kofi Annan, the UN general secretary's more detailed declaration: ''human security' can no longer be understood in purely military terms. Rather, it must encompass economic development, social justice, environmental protection, democratization, disarmament and respect for human rights and the rule of law.' (UN Millenium Report,2000:43-44).

The field of 'human security' has thus incorporated critiques and concerns not only from the arena of international relations but also from the field of development. In particular it has been influenced by the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen (1981, 1992) and later on by Martha Nussbaum (Nussbaum & Sen, 1993; Nussbaum, 2000). This approach rejects the discourse of rights and entitlements as well as of general measures of opulence, such as GNP per capita, and instead focuses on the ways people positioned in all groups in society are capable to achieve quality of life in terms of achievement and freedom. It argues that resources have no value in themselves apart from their role in promoting human functioning. Marta Nussbaum claims (1995b:5) that the capabilities approach is compatible with cultural relativism - the supposed lack of which has been a major source of critique of the 'human rights' discourse - (although not necessarily with subjective preferences, as they 'may be deformed on various ways by oppression and deprivation'). Its main focus, however, has been to develop a list of universal functions of human beings that are most worth the care and attention of public planning the world over.

The link between the 'capabilities' approach and the 'human security' approach is not only ideological but also personal. Amartya Sen himself has adopted the mantra of 'human security' (2000) and has been a major inspirational figure in this field. Specifically in relation to feminist concerns in the field of development, the notions of 'human security' has attempted to answer critiques to the various paradigms of WID (Women In Development), WAD (Women And Development) and GAD (Gender And Development) (Bhanvnani, Foran & Kurian, 2003), avoid Eurocentrism and tackle questions of specific cultural constructions. It is because of this transformative meaning that 'human security' has primarily become incorporated as such into feminist discourse, as in the work of such organizations such as AWID, DAWN & IAMWGE (see papers presented at the 2002 AWID conference []; for somewhat similar analyses see also Bhavnani & al 2003). However, the 'human security' approach tackles a wider range of issues than most paradigms of gender and development,.

There is only partial agreement concerning what constitutes 'human security' and what are the issues that need to be tackled to achieve it. Different scholars, activists and agencies have defined 'human security' in somewhat different terms. The Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research compiled a list of more than twenty different definitions of 'human security' by various UN, government and academic institutions and scholars (see their website). However, although they have much in common, they often do not specify exactly what rights, capabilities and/or needs are covered by the notion of 'human security'. Sabina Alkire, who prepared a conceptual framework for 'human security' for the international 'Commission on Human Security' (2002) argues that a working definition of 'human security' should do no more than identify a certain 'vital core' to be protected from 'critical pervasive threats in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfilment'. She identifies three categories of rights and freedoms in this 'vital core' of 'human security' - those pertaining to survival, to livelihood and to basic dignity. Beyond this, she claims, the definition should not be more specific, as 'the task of prioritizing among rights and capabilities, each of which is argued by some to be fundamental, is a value judgement and a difficult one which maybe best undertaken by appropriate institutions' and wide-ranging public participation. Alkire's approach follows that of Amartya Sen (2000) in the 'International Symposium on 'human security' in Tokyo in July 2000, who adopted these three categories as the core of 'human security' and discussed in his paper the new threats to each of them in contemporary global context. Others, like Lincoln Chen (1995) and Graham & Poku (2000) include freedom and liberation as a central part of the vital core of 'human security'.

Although Sadako Ogata, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees (1999) talks about 'human security' as guaranteeing to all people all the rights 'that belonging to a State implies' the right to/notion of belonging as such, to a national or ethnic community, is not referred to explicitly in any of the various definitions of 'human security' I have seen. And yet the relationships between individuals and communities is central to the discourse of 'human security'. One can see this whenever the notion of human dignity is associated with the rights of people to exercise solidarity (eg Sen, 2000) or practice their cultures (eg Ogata, 1999) and whenever their right for 'human security' is linked with their rights for a sustainable sense of home and social networks (Leaning & al. 2000). Probably most significantly, in the various definitions and discussion on 'human security', the carriers of rights are sometimes constructed not just as human individuals but also as 'their communities' (Alkire, 2002:2). There is no interrogation, however, as to how these relations of ownership between certain individuals and specific collectivities have been constructed and what are the boundaries of these 'imagined communities' (Anderson, 1991[1983]). And yet, civil wars and ethnic strife are considered to be major threats to 'human security' as are the more general questions of racism and social exclusion.

It is in this intersection of the various constructions of 'human security' and the gendered needs and/or rights of people to belong to particular collectivities and communities and to defend them when they consider their communities to be under threat, that the focus of this paper lies.

The politics of belonging

My interest in the politics of belonging has been developing out of my work on identity politics on the one hand and multi-layered citizenships (of local, ethnic, trans- as well as national and supra-national polities) on the other hand (eg Yuval-Davis, 1994, 1997, 1999). Belonging, however, as Crowley argues (1999:22), is a 'thicker' concept than that of citizenship. It is not just about membership, rights and duties, but also about the emotions that such memberships evoke. Nor can belonging be reduced to identities and identifications, which are about individual and collective narratives of self and others, presentation and labeling, myths of origin and myths of destiny.

Belonging, arguably, is a deep emotional need of people, formatted during infancy and/or even during the times inhabited already in the womb (Otto Rank, 1973 [1929]; Bowlby, 1969,1973; Chodorow, 1978). Countless psychological, and even more psychoanalytical, works have been dedicated to writings about the fears of separation of the babies from the womb, from the mother, from the familiar. It is important to emphasize that this need to belong and fear of separation that are interrelated, exist even in cases of sexual and other abuse in the family, and even when the environment of the womb itself proves to be far from the perfect haven in which all the needs of the baby are being satisfied (Lake, 1986(1966)).

Belonging and the yearning to belong, however, have not only been central in psychological discourse, and personal and familial attachments have not been their only objectives. In some way, one could claim that one of the prime concerns of sociological theory since its establishment and hence its writings, has been the differential ways people belong to collectivities and states - as well as the social, economic, and political effects of instances of the displacement of such belongings as a result of industrialisation and/or migration. Some basic classical examples are Toennies' distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (1940[1935]), Durkheim's division of mechanical and organic solidarity (1933) or Marx' notion of alienation (1975[1844]). Anthony Giddens (1991) has argued that during modernity, people's sense of belonging becomes reflexive and Manuel Castells (1996-8) claims that contemporary society has become the 'network society' in which effective belonging has moved from civil societies of nations and states into reconstructed defensive identity communities. Interestingly, in many of these texts, the conditions which bring to the lessening of naturalized belongings also bring growing social inequities. They also bring about 'the risk society' (Beck, 1992[1986]), in which fear invade more and more spheres of life.

Neither citizenship nor identity can encapsulate the notion of belonging. Belonging is where the sociology of emotions interfaces with the sociology of power, where identification and participation collude, or are at least aspired to or yearned for. Like other hegemonic constructions, belonging tends to become 'naturalized' and thus invisible in hegemonic formations. It is only when one's safe and stable connection to the collectivity, the homeland, the state, becomes threatened, that it becomes articulated and reflexive rather than just performative. It is then that individual, collective and institutional narratives of belonging become politicised. And as mentioned in the introduction, it is often the Right that exploits the love and hate, fears and hopes that are evoked in these situations in order to build higher walls around the boundaries and borders of the national collectivity and to mobilize the people towards exclusionary politics, often relying on narratives of fear and threats to security. Paradoxically these kinds of politics often have the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading further and further away from a social, economic and political climate, in which any notion of 'human security' can happen.

Women, 'human security' and the gendered politics of belonging

The relationships between 'human security' and the politics of belonging are deeply gendered and paradoxical in more ways than one. As Anderson (1991[1983]; see also Kitching, 1985) pointed out, there are very few causes for which people - and it is usually men - are ready to sacrifice their lives as well as to kill, as in the cause of their imagined communities of belonging. In the name of communal security, real and/or imagined, they are prepared to sacrifice their personal security.

The inherent paradox in women's politics of belonging is somewhat different, and relates to the different relationships that women usually have occupied in ethnic and national collectivities. On the one hand, women belong and are identified as members of the collectivity in the same way that men are. Nevertheless, there are always rules and regulations - not to mention perceptions and attitudes - specific to women. Such constructions involve a paradoxical positioning of women as both symbols and 'others' of the collectivity. On the one hand women are seen as signifiers of the collectivity's honour ((Yuval-Davis & Anthias, 1989; Yuval-Davis, 1997), in the defense of which nations go to war ('for the sake of womenandchildren' to use Cynthia Enloe's term (1990) ). At the same time they are a non-identical element within the collectivity and subject to various forms of control in the name of 'culture and tradition'. As I have elaborated elsewhere (Yuval-Davis, 1997; Yuval-Davis & Stoetzler, 2002), this constructs women as embodiments of collectivity boundaries but at the same time might make it easier for women to transcend and cross boundaries and engage in dialogical transversal politics (Cockburn & Hunter, 1999; Yuval-Davis 1994, 1997, forthcoming). Such politics acknowledge and respect the different positionings of women from the different collectivities but operate within the boundaries of the common 'epistemic community' (Assiter,1996) of emancipatory values. This is especially true in recent times. Under the technological, economic and political conditions of globalisation, a certain loosening of some of the controls of traditional values, structures and leaderships has taken place and some of the hegemonic constructions of borders and boundaries have become more permeable. This means that many women are able now to embark on new social roles, both in the civil and the military labor markets as well as to cross and transcend many other social and political boundaries.

Nevertheless, globalisation has not only been the occasion of the loosening of the bonds of belonging. It has also been the context for the rise and vitality of defensive ethnic and religious fundamentalist movements in the North and in the South in which agendas control of women and their behavior often play central roles (Sahgal & Yuval-Davis, 1992; Yuval-Davis, 1997). This might make women, especially those who do not conform, highly vulnerable.

This points to another paradox which concerns the relationship for women between belonging and security, where often the danger for women's security lies where her bonds of belonging lie as well. Feminists have always been pre-occupied with 'the enemy within'. They have pointed out that it is often the woman's nearest and dearest who are the most violent towards her and long before the days of the 'global war on terrorism' have looked for ways to make women feel secure wherever they are, whether at home or outside at work, to reclaim the street as a safe space as well as all other private and public spaces (eg Bunch, 1997; Lees, 1997). However, while this pre-occupation with women's safety and security has constituted a major part of feminist politics, it has always been only part of feminist politics that also called for a thorough transformation of the relations of gender and sexuality within the family and within society as a whole. To borrow from the differentiation made by 'Aunt Lydia' in Margaret's Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale (Vintage, 1990; see also the introduction to Sahgal & Yuval-Davis, 1992), feminist politics have always included both the notion of 'freedom of' as well as that of 'freedom from'. However, it is much easier for people to perceive and sympathize with the idea of negative freedom rather than that of a positive one and often demands for women's safety got more sympathetic ear than those which called for radical transformation of social relations that are necessary for this to happen . Moreover, as Charlotte Bunch (2002) has commented, even within such constructions of negative freedom and 'human security', the physical security risks for women from violent men of whatever nationality, race and religion have been marginalized, if not completely ignored within the overall global concern with security (except, I would add, when the call to protect and/or liberate women was useful as a rallying cry for war - as, for example, happened in the case of the recent war in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent, on Iraq) .

A concluding comment

This marginalization of the security needs of women bring us back to the dyad of recognition/redistribution with which the paper started, because, of course, it is not only the security needs of women that are marginalized but also their other needs and resources. As Nancy Fraser would point out, this is a case par excellence in which lack of recognition affects lack of redistribution.

Sara Ahmed (2000) is trying to develop what she calls 'economies of emotions', arguing that what characterises emotions is that they circulate without inhabiting any particular object, body or sign, without inherent source or goal, although one effect of the circulation might be that some objects, bodies or signs are endowed with emotional meaning and values, 'they can get stuck'. Ahmed argues that the intensification of emotions that take place when they 'get stuck' is what creates the surface, the boundary of difference.

I find some aspects of Ahmed's approach problematic, especially the fact that the notion of the economies of emotions and their circulation constructs a marketing model, as if emotions not only circulate and get attached but also get traded as a matter of course. Nonetheless, her approach might be one way of the incorporation of the emotional into the political and the economical, into the interface of the sociology of emotions with the sociology of power relations, into the interweaving of 'freedom from fear' with the 'freedom from want'. What is most important, however, is that we cannot leave the emotional outside our considerations and our theorizations of social justice and equity.


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