The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Peace Medie, an APN Alumnus (BMC 2016; IRG 2015) and research fellow at the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) at the University of Ghana. Dr. Medie has recently been appointed a co-editor of African Affairs, the top-ranked peer-reviewed journal in African Studies published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal African Studies.
On June 7, 2017, she presented a seminar at the Social Science Research Council in Brooklyn, NY, on Global Norms and Local Action: The Campaigns against Gender-Based Violence in Africa, the topic of her forthcoming book manuscript that has been supported by two APN grants. We conducted this interview following her seminar; it has been edited for length and clarity.
APN Team: Thank you so much for being here with us today for an interview following your insightful seminar. Please tell us a bit about your research.
Dr. Peace Medie: Thank you for having me; it’s good to be here. Over the last five years or so, my work has focused on violence against women as well as civilian protection. My main project that I am working on now is a comparative study of Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia and their responses to violence against women. Specifically, I look at how the police in both countries and the gendarmerie in Côte d’Ivoire have created institutions to address violence against women, and also how the law itself has been enforced in these countries.
I also work on civilian protection, specifically how civilians self-protect—that is, how they protect themselves from violence in the absence of peacekeepers and in the presence of peacekeepers who do not provide adequate security—and have published on both of those aspects of my research.
Could you tell us about your APN-supported fieldwork?
My APN-supported research took place in Côte d’Ivoire in 2014. This was based on interviews with law enforcement officers, as well as with survivors of violence. Through these, I try to understand the factors that affect law enforcement and that drive when and how survivors of violence seek help. I sought to understand when women who experience sexual and physical violence are more likely to report the crime to the police and why this is so. I published some of the findings of that research in African Affairs recently.
In terms of the progression of your research from an APN Individual Research Grant (IRG) to the Book Manuscript Completion (BMC) Grant, how has that process influenced the trajectory of your research?
Well, I think the ability to continue working on state actions and women’s responses to gender-based violence through the APN grants has launched me into a new area to begin looking at another component of this topic, which is to focus more on the community-based responses to violence against women. Much of my work, including part of the APN-supported research, examines formal institutions: How does the state work? How do state agencies like the police and the courts work? Now, I am trying to understand how communities behave: How do individuals in communities behave? How do informal institutions—chieftaincies, for example, and families—affect how women address a problem of violence against women or gender-based violence?
In terms of the policy relevance of your research, have you made any recommendations for how these countries can improve their treatment of these issues?
Yes, I have published policy briefs and other short pieces, including with the APN’s Kujenga Amani, making recommendations for how both states, Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, can enhance how they address violence against women. I published a piece with Project Syndicate that was about what happens after peacekeeping missions withdraw and what that means for the protection of women. As the next stage of my policy engagement, I want to introduce more concrete initiatives—working directly with the police force, for example, and trying to ensure that my work informs their practices with regard to responses to violence against women and interactions with women.
You mentioned the need for a more holistic response, such as increasing support services available to women who have experienced violence, rather than a merely prosecutorial defense. What are your recommendations in that regard?
I do think there’s been a lot of focus on what I call a criminal justice sector approach—investigate, arrest, prosecute—and there are advantages to that, but at the same time, that is not always the best response. Even when it is the best response, it’s often not sufficient. It’s not enough to tell a woman who is poor, who doesn’t have social support, who is reliant on her abuser if the abuser is a husband or a boyfriend; it’s not enough to tell her to go to court and prosecute. Where is she going to live after reporting? How is she going to feed herself and her children? And how does she protect herself from angry relatives who think that she shouldn’t have reported her husband to the police?
I think there is a need for a more holistic approach where not only are women able to prosecute if they want to, but they’re not being compelled to do so. Secondly, if women go forward to pursue prosecution, they must have the socioeconomic support that is needed to survive in their communities. This will also encourage reporting not only for physical violence but also sexual and other forms of violence. If women know: “If I report, there are all these support systems in place,” that will encourage more of them to seek help.
Given that you’ve now received two APN grants, do you have any advice for early career researchers or anyone who’s thinking of applying for an APN grant in the future?
Well yes, I think it has been an excellent opportunity. I am very fortunate to have received these grants, and I am very grateful to the APN.
In terms of advice, let me talk about what has worked for me and that might be useful to others. I put a great deal of time in developing my proposals. Often, I work on a grant proposal for one or two years. It’s not something that is done overnight. I also rely on others to get feedback. I try to have at least three experts, usually people who have accomplished more than I have and whose publications and grants I aspire to have. I ask them to read my work, to give me feedback, and then incorporate it into my proposal. I do as much as possible.
When I spend a great deal of time researching beforehand—spending months developing my proposals, presenting them to others, sometimes presenting them in a seminar format to get feedback from people who are experts on the topic and also giving it to them to read and give me comments—I have found that this process has greatly improved my chances of getting the grants. That’s the primary advice I would give to people; it has worked for me and I think it would work for others.
Thank you so much for being here to speak with us today.
It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me.