Rachel’s story

May 2023.

I did my PhD because while working in Sri Lanka I could see that the wonderful work done by people on the ground was completely missed in the reports about the projects and I wanted to know why….so I explored the way project management and evaluation both prioritise and enable donors to have power in go/no go and deciding what is success, therefore the people have no power in the process…but I think that the people and their lives are vital to really knowing how change happens.

I brought my 20 years spent working as a peace and conflict practitioner, and half of those were working in senior management roles across multiple continents, into my research and began to build collaborative and innovative research projects that explored under-researched topics about civilian roles and perspectives in armed conflict. In particular I worked for Nonviolent Peaceforce on Unarmed Civilian Protection, and now I sit on their Board of Trustees.

I built up a track record of working in Myanmar and Philippines, getting internal and external research funding, and through doing lots of presentations, finally getting work published and being invited to speak.

My existing skills in leadership, fundraising and international collaboration enabled me to put together good teams, provide training and manage the projects easily, so that we got results that included direct benefits for the participants as well as interesting for policy makers.

My promotion to Professor (8 years after my PhD) came in the first year of Lockdowns (2020) and I was quite isolated in trying to figure out what my new role could be so I examined how all my research ties together and links to my, now 30, years in peace work. I realised that it all relates to the importance of including people and their lived experience, their lives, and listening to diverse voices, enabling people to raise their voices.

I went back to my earlier experiences as a woman peace campaigner and the ways in which I was silenced both in my views about security and disarmament, and within movements. In work is was always about what I did, and not how I lived, or how my work and life intertwined. (even now people don’t understand that my values drive my work, so my life and some work decisions are linked) Nobody asks about our lives (a capitalist neo-liberal view of labour I think). In peace work I think we must include our lives. I do think that Hope is a radical act in the midst of darkness, but hope isn’t a work task, it is the way we live.

I think that we under-estimate the importance of people using their lives to make their voices heard in social justice (or how the silencing of some people leaves them excluded from institutional response e.g. domestic violence or human trafficking). It’s the way we think about power, who has power and how power manifests itself. (not that power and voice are the same)

So, in my research, actually hearing from civilians about what they think they do, how they do ceasefire monitoring in Mindanao, or volunteer protection officers in Myanmar. They tell us how their lives fit with the tasks we see them doing, and we can think about resistance strategies people use to change the structures and conditions in which they live.

I think many people would like to include ‘lives and voices’ and as well as building new international networks and developing innovative theoretical conceptual models, I want to build internal collaborations in LBU in which we can increase our impact.

There are niche’s in unarmed civilian protection and in leading on ‘how’ to really include local people in research (rather than including them as participants), and an opportunity to bring power analysis from feminism (politics) into other disciplines….and this is fascinating and exciting!