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Women’s potential positive role in preventing and arresting ethnic conflict, and their obvious absence in conflict resolution initiatives, has been largely ignored and negated from community level to the level of international donors. Traditionally, ethnicity has been treated as a gender-neutral identity, when, in fact, academics and development professionals have tended to examine ethnic issues from a male perspective. The following article shows how ethnicity is a gendered concept by drawing on research conducted in Kyrgyzstan in 1999. This research demonstrates that women, more often than men, reject an ethnic identity in favour of a gender identity. This favouring of a gender identity over an ethnic identity allows women to be more open than men to working with ethnically ‘different’ women across contested ethnic lines. This gendered aspect of ethnicity provides a powerful device for preventing ethnic violence that has, to date, been overlooked by those involved in promoting peace and democracy through development assistance.

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