Kasia Grabska, postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Tropical Institute, will present her research on the role of returnee women in peacebuilding in Sudan. Maria Gabrielsen, senior researcher at PRIO, will act as discussant. First seminar in a series on Mobilities and Conflict funded by SAMKUL.

A video recording of the event is available here.


This presentation discusses the diverse positions and roles taken up by women in the context of South Sudanese conflicts and peace-building (1983-2005), and the gendered nature of displacement. It is based on ethnographic research among Nuer South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma, Kenya and following their return to South Sudan. Wars historically have been symbolised as the “touchstone of ‘manliness’,” expressed through male aggression, brutality and violence, an image often perpetrated in literature, films, songs and tales (see White 2007). White argues that men’s roles as protectors of women are accentuated while combat is seen as the ultimate test of masculinity. Women and girls have been portrayed misleadingly as victims, peacemakers and/or mothers of the nation providing support for heroic male combatants. Male agency dominates the discourse of war, while women and girls have been rendered silent and invisible (see Denov and Gervais 2007). My research demonstrates that such simplistic interpretations leave complex female (and male) roles in war, and consequent changes in gender relations, unexplained and untheorised. My data suggests that war and conflict open up different possibilities for disempowering some women and empowering some men, while creating opportunities to reverse some gender imbalances. As the example of Nuer women will show, women play an important role in fostering conflicts and militarised masculine identities, even though their own position is often weakened in the process. It is necessary to recognise the diverse roles that women play during conflicts and in peace-building in order to go beyond the simplistic view of women as ‘peacemakers’. Such view essentialises their positions, complicates understanding of the gendered dynamics of conflicts and peace, and farther fixes women in subordinate positions.

About the Speakers

Katarzyna Grabska is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Swiss Research Consortium NCCR North South and is based at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel. She is currently working on a research project entitled: Migration and Mobility: Confusing terms, varying regional relevance, conflicting policies? She is carrying out fieldwork in Ghana and Kyrgyzstan for this project. Katarzyna is also affiliated as Research Fellow and a Lecturer with the Global Centre on Gender and Development at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva. Her research interests focus on inter-linkages between conflict, forced displacement, gender and generational analysis and rights. Before joining IDS, she worked as a researcher at the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies program at the American University in Cairo and was a coordinator and a researcher with the Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalization and Poverty. She has received her PhD in development studies/anthropology from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, UK. Her research focused on the impact of forced displacement and return on gender relations among South Sudanese refugees. She is particularly interested in intersections of power, gender identities and gender relations in forced displacement situations and the impact of (forced) migration on youth. She has experience of working and researching in the humanitarian field on issues of human rights, migration, refugees and post-conflict development in Egypt, Guinea, Ghana, Kenya, Lebanon, Sudan, Cambodia and Vietnam. She has conducted research on forced migration policy in the Middle East and East Africa. Her interests are also in visual media and visual research methods. She worked as a researcher and a producer with documentary making company in Washington DC, German TV in Mainz and in Warsaw, and co-produced an independent feature documentary on South Sudanese refugees in Cairo.

Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert completed her PhD in International Relations in 2010 at Sciences Po in Paris. The topic of her doctoral work was the internationalization of conflicts in Southern Sudan and Darfur, with a particular attention to the role of activist movements and public mobilization in Europe and the United States. She has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI, Oslo); the Centre d’études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales (CEDEJ, Khartoum); and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA, New York). Additionally, she has taught several courses on the international management of armed conflicts and the mediatization of conflicts at Sciences Po in Paris and in Lille. She is currently a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo.