Radhika Coomaraswamy & Dilrukshi Fonseka
"Equal access and full participation of women ill power structures and their full involvement ill all efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflict are essential for the maintenance of peace and security. "
Beijing Platform for Action 1995. United Nations For many years, women were a neglected gender in the peace discourse. The pioneers of peace research consistently failed to imbue a gender analysis into their thinking and writing, to the extent that the dominant discourse on peace, i.e., the male one, became the status quo discourse on the subject. There was also a perceived or actual dearth of female agency in peace-building work on the ground. Notwithstanding that women had always played vital roles in building peace at the community level, they had at the same time been significantly absent at other levels, especially the more public and political. Gaps in theory and practice were mutually-reinforcing, and for many years, made a convenient-if not convincing-case for leaving women's voices out of the peace discourse, and keeping the discussions and deliberations on peace exclusively in the hands of men.
Fortunately, in recent years, the gender gaps in peace research and peace practice are being bridged, slowly but surely. On the one hand, feminist scholars in particular, are effectively challenging accepted patriarchal norms on the subject and making a strong case for a more gendered approach to thinking and writing on peace. More powerful than the advancements in theory, however, have been developments on the ground. By 'developments', we are not simply tendering to the qualitative increase of female agency in the peace-building arena. Without doubt, women are now more prominent players in the conflict transformation processes of their respective societies than ever before; in addition, governments, international organizations and civil societies are paying more heed to the gender-specificities of war and peace. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, for example, sets a historic precedent in reaffirming the full participation of women in all areas of decision-making with regard to conflict resolution, and calling for the adoption of a gender perspective at all levels of peace-making and peace-building. International agencies are fast realizing the value of women 's work in peace-building, and have begun focusing their attention and resources to developing this sector. International legal mechanisms established to prosecute war crimes in post-conflict societies, such as those set up for the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, are setting precedents in their treatment of rape as a war crime, separate from the rest, putting issues of redress and justice for gender-specific violence on post-conflict agendas at all levels. These developments taken together have resulted in an increasing awareness around the multiple correlations between women, war and peace.
This anthology marks an attempt to bring together some of the key thinkers and 'doers' on women and peace. It comprises a series of papers-originally presented at the International Conference on Women. Peace building and Constitution-making organized by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Sri Lanka, in May 2002-on various aspects and dimensions of the subject written by some the best-known names in the field. The papers that follow reflect an attempt to go beyond the conventional images of women as simply victims of war and agents of peace. Instead, they explore the multiple ways in which women interact with both war and peace, critically assessing their participation and potential for shaping the political, economic and social structures of the post-conflict landscape. The essays in this anthology are a deliberately heady mix of theoretical knowledge, empirical research, and case-specific application, and proceed from our conviction that a productive tension between theory and practice-- where one roots, tests, challenges and transforms the other-is integral for advancing the concerns of both gender and peace.
In this introductory chapter, we attempt first, to engage with some of the conceptual themes that run through the anthology, and second, to summarize some of the key arguments contained in each essay.
Women, War And Violence Without doubt, women are the worst affected by war. In today's conflicts, 85 per cent of victims are civilians, of which a majority are women. They also constitute the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons. Women in conflict environments are at risk from multiple forms of violence. They are deliberate targets of sexual violence. They are the first and worst affected by the economic hardships wrought by war and are often compelled to become primary breadwinners and economic agents in changed environments. They also experience the difficulties of social and cultural displacement created by war, particularly when they take on new identity labels as widows. ex-combatants or sexual assault victims.
It is one thing to acknowledge and account for the overwhelming difficulties faced by women in times of war. It is another thing, however, to remain fixed to a one-dimensional conceptualization of women as victims of war. The dichotomy of the male aggressor and the female victim continues to dominate our thinking on war. This conceptualization-though rhetorically powerful-is grossly inadequate and misleading on at least three accounts. Firstly, it does not allow us to seriously account for and explore the issue of female militarism. Throughout the ages women have aided war efforts in their societies, even when prohibited from serving in military rank and file. Today, an increasing number of women are in fact part of military rank and file of state and non-state armies. It is true, a large number of women remain non-combatants in times of armed conflict. However, women are also capable of horrific violence. To subscribe to the male aggressor/female victim dichotomy is to sidestep the issue of female agency in initiating and sustaining violence. Secondly, this conceptualization does not account for the ways in which women 'gain' from war by virtue of acquiring new roles, skills and positions of power. As unsettling as it might be to look at the 'dividends' of war, we cannot ignore the evidence that conflict and post-conflict configurations can potentially be favorable to women. The over- bearing focus on women as victims of war undermines their inventiveness, entrepreneurship and perseverance as survivors of war.
Thirdly, and perhaps most pertinent to our discussion, the tendency to see women as simply victims of war obfuscates their full potential for building peace. The focus on women as victims draws attention to their needs as victims and less so to their potential as agents of change. It also leads to a somewhat restricted understanding of women's motivations to work for peace, i.e. women suffer from war therefore they advocate peace. This type of linear thinking accommodates the female war-resistor or grassroots campaigner, but does not necessarily embrace other images of female agency, such as for example, the female peace negotiator, or the female political leader. It is not surprising to find that even in those situations where women have played vital and strategic roles in ending the violence, they are still excluded from sitting at the negotiating table or running for public office. Relating her experiences to UNIFEM, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks between Palestine and Israel, observes how men adopt patronizing attitudes towards women peace acti vists, attitudes that insinuate that once the violence is over, women should retreat to the kitchens, leaving the men-again-to deliberate over the 'hard' issues of conflict settlement, power-sharing, political reform and economic reconstruction.
It is important that we move beyond the conceptualization of women as simply victims of war towards one that embraces and encompasses all images of female agency in war and peace. A more constructive approach is to perhaps conceptualize war as a gendered activity. War is as much 'patriarchy by other means' as it is 'politics by other means', in that, it effectively perpetuates and reinforces the patriarchal power structures and hierarchies that exist during peacetimes. Women are most affected by war because their subordinate positions in everyday society make them more vulnerable to war and violence. This is especially the case when their gender identities converge with other vulnerable identity categories such as nationality, ethnicity, religion and language. War, as a gendered activity, allows for a' more nuanced understanding of the experiences of women in times of war, including their experiences of victimization. Take, for example, the high incidence of sexual violence against women in conflict situations. Rape as an instrument of war has been used in an unprecedented manner in contemporary warfare, as is evident from reports from the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Chechnya, and East Tirnor. These incidences are not simply 'inevitable' acts perpetrated in the 'heat of the battle' or simply insidious examples of the harsher realities of war. Women are systemically targeted for rape in times of war, because women's bodies are sites on which men (and women, in instances of women-on-women violence) imprint their identities and exercise their sexual and political power. Women's bodies therefore become the sanctioned sites of revenge, retaliation, and humiliation. Understanding the gendered nature of violence also makes us more sensitive to the new and subtler forms of violence women go on to experience and endure in 'post-war' situations. Recent studies around the dramatic increase in domestic violence against women in the aftermath of violent conflict, and the significant influx of prostitution- rings and brothels around peacekeeping missions respectively, are indicative that the end to hostilities between warring parties does not necessarily herald the end to violence or the threat of violence for women. In summary, the violence experienced by women in conditions of conflict stand in a continuum, alongside the violence (physical, structural and cultural) they experience in 'post-conflict' and 'normal' (peaceful?) conditions.
Women And Peace The impact of war on women is shaped and influenced by the fact that they are women. In the same way, women's responses to peace are patterned and persuaded by the fact that they are women. This is not to be conflated with the notion that women are inherently peaceful. It is superfluous for us to launch into a serious exploration of the nature vs. nurture (essentialists vs. constructionists) debate at this juncture. That is a debate that has been visited and revisited in the gender/ peace discourse many times over. What we take away from the debate is that both the essentialists and constructionists place heavy emphasis on the impact of war on women and on the need for engendering peace. The relative strength of social constructivism, however, is that it leaves room for change; accommodates a multiplicity of roles and perspectives; and is sensitive to the political, economic, social and cultural specificities of each situation. In her pioneering research on women in conflict in Yugoslavia, El Salvador and Vietnam, Inger Skjelsbrek challenges us to understand that the dominant value systems and discourses identify men with war and women with peace, but to understand still that the male/female dichotomy does not necessarily coincide with war/peace dichotomy. This offers us a point of departure from the almost pedestrian nurture vs. nature debate, where the more constructive debate on whether or not women can be 'potentially' peaceful can begin.'
Women hold capacities for being effective agents for peace. This capacity can be understood through different lenses. First through the hackneyed images of their biological identities and feminine traits. It is one thing to argue against this purely essentialist understanding of the nexus between women and peace. It is another thing however to disregard its rhetorical power and the manner in which this line of reasoning can and is used to mobilize women for peace. In fact a good number of anti-war movements organize around the emotive rhetoric of motherhood. Social constructivism offers a second lens for understanding the correlation between women and peace, and that is how women's psychosocial development prepares them to be care- givers and nurturers, roles that are antithetical to the violence and destruction brought about by war. This motivates and mobilizes them against armed conflict.
A third lens connects women's agency for peace to their exclusion from the public sphere and their constant struggle to gain access to the same. On one level, because women have been historically excluded from the public sphere, they are less interested in furthering the political interests and ideological positions of this sphere. Rita Manchanda elaborates this argument in her work, and notes, for example, that in those situations where women are excluded from politics, they are likely to have less vested interest in the continuation of politics by other means, i.e. war.' On another level, the peace arena offers a space and an opportunity for women to access the public sphere. Societies emerging from conflict are often more porous to change, and ripe for advancing the cause of women, not simply in relation to peace, but politics in general. Several international comparative experiences-Northern Ireland and South Africa being the most prominent-bear out that women's groups that initially mobilize around gaining access to peace processes can go onto accessing and influencing the wider political processes of their respective societies.
The fourth and final lens for better understanding women's agency in peace is one of justice. Women are motivated to fight for peace (even when they are not 'victims' of war), because of their experiences with everyday violence and injustice, which endows them with an aptitude for empathizing with victims of the same, and working towards the eradication of all forms of violence in society. This is a useful lens for understanding women's agency in peace (or other arenas of social justice like human rights, sustainable development, and environmental conservation, for that matter) because it revisits the gendered nature of violence in war and everyday violence. This understanding is grounded in the notion of a violence continuum. As pointed out earlier, the cessation of hostilities does not necessarily mean an end to violence for women. To that end, we have to re-examine our understanding of both violence and peace, where the end to armed conflict cannot be equated with peace. Women are victims of violence and injustice in pre-conflict, conflict and post-conflict situations because they are negatively affected by the structures of inequality and injustice that pervade everyday society. Women are motivated to fight for peace because they often understand this peace more holistically. In conflict resolution jargon this peace is termed 'positive' peace, where the absence of war is inextricably linked to the absence of all forms of violence (personal, collective, war-related, everyday, physical, structural and cultural) and also to the enjoyment of human rights and equality. A more holistic definition of peace can be found in the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies, where it is defined that. "Peace includes not only the absence of war, violence and hostilities. but also the enjoyment of economic and social justice. equality, and the entire range of human rights and fundamental freedoms within society. " (United Nations, 1993). This enlightened perception about peace leads us to better understand the nexus between women and peace.
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