Conditional Protection? Sex, Gender, and Discourse in UN Peacekeeping

  • Citation: Kathleen M Jennings, Conditional Protection? Sex, Gender, and Discourse in UN Peacekeeping, International Studies Quarterly, Volume 63, Issue 1, March 2019, Pages 30–42,
    • Topics:
    • Human Rights
    • Keywords:
    • discursive constructions
    • local people
    • gender
    • masculinities
    • Haiti
    • Liberia
    • Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

How do peacekeepers operating in Haiti, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) discursively construct the local people, especially local women, and to what effect? I show a connection between peacekeepers’ representations of local people, articulated in discourse, and the gendered, often sexualized interactions and transactions in peacekeeping sites. Gender plays a central role in peacekeeper discourse. It situates the peacekeeper outside, and superior to, the chaotic, dysfunctional, feminized local. At the same time, a close reading of peacekeepers’ representations of local people disrupts idealized notions of peacekeeper masculinity as protective and benign, which still persist in peacekeeping circles, revealing it as something more vulnerable and brittle. The connection between discourse and (non)performance of peacekeeping duties is neither causal nor straightforward, but I argue that peacekeepers’ discursive constructions of locals affect how peacekeepers interpret their mandate to protect civilians: protection becomes conditional on peacekeepers’ perceptions of locals’ appearance, affect, behavior, and their ability to act out an idealized role as someone “worth” protecting. The article thus brings new insight to our understandings of gender, masculinities, and protection failures in peacekeeping.

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