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PASSPORT TO DIGNITY

 

CHAPTER IX

CRITICAL AREA OF CONCERN E: WOMEN AND ARMED CONFLICT


…from the Human Rights Instruments

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 4.)

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5.)

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9.)

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 28.)

20.(1) Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law...

20.(2) Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."

(International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Part III, Article 20)

In a world of continuing instability and violence, the implementation of cooperative approaches to peace and security is urgently needed. The equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflicts are essential for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Although women have begun to play an important role in conflict resolution, peace-keeping and defense and foreign affairs mechanisms, they are still under represented in decision-making positions. If women are to play an equal part in securing and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically and represented adequately at all levels of decision-making.

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 134)

"While entire communities suffer the consequence of armed conflict and terrorism, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex. Parties to conflict often rape women with impunity, sometimes using systematic rape as a tactic of war and terrorism."

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 135)

"During times of armed conflict and the collapse of communities, the role of women is crucial. They often work to preserve social order in the midst of armed and other conflicts. Women make an important but often unrecognized contribution

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 139)

 

 

REFLECTING ON THE STANDARDS

The human right to peace is linked to all other human rights.

The quotes above mention a number of specific rights, which are affected by armed conflicts.

Going back to the UDHR and to your own lists of human rights, make as complete a list as you can of all human rights affected by war.

In what way are men’s human rights and women’s rights affected by armed conflicts? How do their experiences overlap? How do they differ?

When there is peace, does it always mean that all those rights are respected? Think of examples when there might be a conflict between peace and justice.


Peace is a Human Right

The human right to peace is inextricably linked to all other human rights. War and violence result in the systemic and sweeping denial of civil, political, economic and social rights, as sentimental niceties or luxuries that a country at war can’t afford. In turn, Lasting peace, in turn, will be attained only when people’s fundamental human rights are fulfilled.

This deep desire for peace is authentic, yet most people in all countries want to preserve the option of going to war if they feel that their rights are at stake: there is a sense that at times the demands of justice will come before the demands of peace. This may explain the following paradox: International Women's Year (1975) and The Decade for Women (1976-1985) were built around the concepts of Peace, Development and Equality. Yet the word ‘Peace’ cannot be found among the 12 Critical Areas of Concern in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA). Instead Area of Concern E was called: Women and Armed Conflict. But when the time came to prepare for the Beijing+5 meetings, several groups of women peace activists pleaded for refocusing attention on ‘peace’. What lay behind this ‘squabble over words’ - peace, development and equity as opposed to armed conflict?

In the 1970s and 80s, the Cold War and the menace of large-scale nuclear war represented for many people the biggest danger for humanity. Other important concerns included ending apartheid in South Africa before the South African situation turned into open warfare and resolving peacefully the problems left behind by the end of Western colonial empires. Anxieties about the effect of booming multinational economic structures and about the environmental consequences of development were interpreted against the background of the growth of the ‘establishment’ and the dangers of nuclear fall-out.

By 1995, the Cold War was officially ended, colonial empires officially dissolved, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreements were discussed. Still, 1995 was hardly the ‘year of peace’: the feared conflagration had not taken place, but small fires were smoldering from one end of the world to the other. Big or small, their consequences were clear: millions of refugees, many of them without any hope of ever returning to their homes; millions more displaced forcibly within their own countries; ravaged forests and farmland; burnt crops; razed villages; polluted wells; landmines lying in wait; landless farmers; homeless urban dwellers; ever larger numbers of trafficked women and children; massacres, rapes, terrorist attacks.

Whether we call them Wars with a capital ‘W’, civil wars, ethnic wars, ethnic cleansings, revolutions, counterrevolutions, or wars on drugs, the consequences on human lives are the same, and the benefits of stopping war seem obvious. But the reluctance to use the word ‘Peace’ is logical too: it reminds us that an officially ‘peaceful’ condition may cover unjust compromises. ‘Peace-language’ may suggest that perfect harmony lies just around the corner, ready to be picked up. In reality, of course, ‘good peace’ takes a great deal of work and demands sustained commitment to the fulfillment of all human rights, while ‘bad peace’, one based on unacknowledged violations of human rights, will be no more in the long run than a bump on the road to war.

Women in War and Peace

Those who suffer most are we, the women, who must be both father and mother to our children, after becoming widows and orphans, leaving behind our villages and lands, languages and dresses, in order to save our lives and the lives of our children.

(Maria Garcia Hernandez, Mama Maquin Women's Organisation, Guatemala, 1998Implementation of the Guatemalan Peace Accord with Special Reference Women Returnees from Mexico, paper prepared for the Inter-Regional Consultation on the Peace Accords in Guatemala. http://www.unchs.org/tenure/Publication/Womrights/Conflict.htm)

Women are less likely than men to engage in "combat" and hence more likely to experience war as "civilians". Despite the fact that men tend to be on the frontlines of the battlefield, 75% of those killed in war are civilians (women, children and older men). Beyond the threat of death, rape and other forms of physical and psychological violence that war imposes on women[4], war directly impinges on women's relationship to land, housing and property. Often, when an armed conflict starts, men leave their homes and lands to join military or guerilla forces in other regions of the country, causing women to become de facto heads of households - if they weren't already prior to the conflict.(...)

As heads of households women are responsible for doing all that is necessary to ensure their own well being and that of their families including: child rearing and education, accessing food, water and other basic amenities and services, generating an income and protecting their families from exposure to physical violence. The burden this places on women during armed conflict situations cannot be underestimated. Accessing food and generating an income can be particularly difficult in the face of food blockades and the destruction or looting of seed stocks, foodstuffs, crops, livestock, and drinking water installations. Women also find it difficult to run family farms without men's labour and if transportation systems have been destroyed...the conflict situation makes it nearly impossible for women to survive economically and emotionally under incredibly harsh conditions.

(Maria Garcia Hernandez Women’s Rights To Land, Housing And Property In Post-Conflict Situations And During Reconstruction — http://www.unchs.org/tenure/Publication/Womrights/Conflict.htm.)

Women are victims as well as crucial participants in the conduct and outcome of wars, although their role is often downplayed when the wars end. They serve as cheerleaders for the combatants, nurse the wounded, provide food and sexual services (although they may provide these services as voluntary followers, as war booty or as enslaved "comfort women".) They tend the fields and run the industries back at home, releasing men for the war.

Conventionally, only men are forced into conscription for combat, but sometimes women and children too endure that fate. In some cases women's participation extends voluntarily to the battlefield. For instance, during the war in Eritrea, women comprised over 30% of the military forces, as commandos, assault troops, tank and truck drivers, mechanics, doctors and teachers.

Both men and women have been forced into slave labor to support the waging of war. Soldiers by definition, and sometimes civilians including women and children, may be subject to imprisonment as prisoners of war or hostages, and may be tortured for ‘strategic’ purposes. Rape has always been a practice of warfare; troops may even be incited to it. In less extreme cases, military regulations may prohibit rape while actual occurrences are left unpunished.

Furthermore, the human rights proclaimed in Articles 4, 5, and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) cited above are frequently violated by states and combatants engaged in warfare: torture, arbitrary detention, forced exile are all commonplace. Despite humanitarian law intended to ‘humanize’ war, and despite the prohibitions formulated by the Geneva Conventions, the toll of modern warfare falls disproportionately on civilians. In fact, high-technology wars have been praised for their ability to destroy a country’s military potential without endangering the lives of ‘our’ country’s soldiers. Civilian casualties are considered the unavoidable by-product of long-range computerized weaponry.

War, Peace and Human Rights : The Example of Sierra Leone

"armed conflict can be pictured as a fault line running across the evolution of a society,

expressing injustice and grievances and often indicating where transformation is most surely needed."

(El Bushra, J. and Piza Lopez, E. 1993 Development in Conflict: The Gender Dimension – Oxfam Workshop, Pattaga, Thailand. Oxfam UK-ACORD)

 

In modern international warfare, abstract rhetoric often covers up the reality of actual grievances or injustices. In civil wars, the underlying socio-economic problems are generally more openly expressed. The civil war in Sierra Leone is an extreme example of the vicious cycle of violence that is both caused by violations of human rights and expressed as violations of human rights. Among other things, the war acted as a revelator of deeply troubled gender relations in urgent need of transformation. But these gender relations themselves were expressions of the wider breakdown of economic, political and cultural rights, which led to open warfare (...)

Even prior to the six-year civil war, opportunities for women and girls were limited at best, at worst non-existent, particularly in rural areas. For instance, according to the 1997 Human Development Report, Sierra Leone's female literacy rate was 16.7% in 1994 compared to 43.7% for males. The country's "Gender-related Development" Index (which compares inequalities between men and women in a country's achievements– using the same dimensions and variables as the Human Development Index) was the lowest of all countries... Women and girls, as mothers, wives and caretakers had borne a disproportionate burden as the country's descended into economic chaos... girls (are) a source of income for hardpressed parents who may force them into an early marriage for bridewealth... increases in school fees resulted in the reduction of female enrolment ratios, due to a cultural preference for educating males.

Starting in 1993, the civil strife intensified and spread rapidly. Many people were displaced and fled to Guinea as refugees. Prolonged civil war pushed the country further down the economic ladder and exacerbated the plight of women particularly rural women. Six years of widespread violence and general insecurity (caused) a near total collapse of rural social structures and fear drove a large segment of the rural population to abandon their homes and flee to urban areas... Many of the rural displaced were women and children who stayed either with relatives or at refugees camps scattered around urban areas. Many were still living in these camps in appalling conditions at the time of the second coup that further exacerbated the economic situation.

In times of armed conflict, men are usually either fighting or searching for work in conflict-free areas (...) Women are left behind with the burden of providing for their immediate and extended families. This burden is compounded by the destruction of traditional support systems and livelihoods in the war zones. Lack of basic services such as ... health, education and infrastructure further undermine the ability of women to provide for their dependents in these situations. Apart from their domestic responsibility, in war times as in peacetime, women must personally cope with menstruation, pregnancy, child birth and child care, often while on the move.

With the targeting of women and girls as a tactic of war, many become victims of rape, non-sexual assault, and atrocities. Unaccompanied girls were captured by combatants and civilian men alike and used either as forced laborers by families in need of domestic workers or as 'wives'. Women and girls must learn to cope with little or no support system if they became pregnant and raise children from acts of rape. Severely ostracized, these women and girls are forced to leave their homes for the relative safety of refugee camps. In Sierra Leone, as in the rest of the world, women and children make up the majority of refugees and internally displaced persons.

.

(Sierra-Leone Conciliation Resources, 2000 CARE UK, CONCERN Universal,/ ACTIONAID, /MERLIN and Christian Aid. http: //www.c-r.org/occ_papers/khadija.htm)

In early 1995, after networking with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), activists in Sierra Leone founded the Women's Movement for Peace to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict and called for general elections as a means of ending the conflict.

The Sierra Leone WILPF brings together women of different tribal, religious and political backgrounds. They are united in their determination to help combat the political, social, economic and psychological causes of war and to work for constructive peace.

Elections were held in 1996 and a short period of peace followed although fundamental human rights crises remained unresolved.

In the (Liberian refugee camps), the majority of ex- combatants had been women or girls. Almost all were mothers,... some barely in their teens, with several children from male fighters...no homes to return to ... No means of subsistence for themselves and their children... many barter their bodies for food, shelter and other basic necessities. The majorities are suffering from one form or another of STD. The implication for the communities in which they live is a proliferation of STDs, especially gonorrhea.

Having had no psychological counseling, and having witnessed and taken part in atrocities during their RUF years, these women and their children have difficulty readjusting to normal society. They manifest behavioral problems and are a source of tension and conflict in both their communities and in refugee camps where some have sought shelter. Some are proud of their RUF association. Others are very ashamed to talk about their experiences. Maladjusted in their new environments and with little to look forward to, many are going back to their former combat lives, with the reconstituted RUF, the People's Army.(...)

In 1997, another coup d’etat plunged the country back into civil strife. Again precarious peace was brought to the area, only to be broken repeatedly, due to the absence of a fundamental solution to the chronic violations of all human rights by rival groups motivated by the incentive of rapid gains from the mining and sale of precious minerals.Four years later, Sierra Leone is still engulfed in bloody chaos, a fragile ceasefire has been repeatedly negotiated, the role played by local and foreign interests in the diamond trade has become increasingly obvious, and... women and children are still cast adrift.

Assuming Leadership in Refugee Camps

The threat or perpetration of violence combines with economic hardship to drive civilian populations away from their homes and lands and become refugees in other countries or in a different region within their country. In many instances, their homes and lands are demolished or burned, their crops destroyed, their houses looted and occupied, sometimes by the fighters from their own side. Women and children constitute 80% or so of the world's 21 million refugees and displaced populations. The drastic impact of displacement, involves a loss of identity as well as of material belongings and security. One’s land, house, community, friendships, family and income-producing roles are gone. Daily survival is a constant struggle for the bare necessities. Women are particularly vulnerable to gender-specific violence as the protection afforded them by their homes and communities disappears and the stress of displacement becomes manifest even within the family unit. Even in well-run refugee camps, gender based discrimination and unequal treatment in allowing access to food, water, clothing, housing, adequate medical care and sanitation often undermines the satisfaction of these subsistence needs.

The discrimination women may experience at home is replicated and often exacerbated in the impermanent camps in which women are forced to live during conflict situations. It is common for refugees to compensate for the shock of displacement by trying to normalize things by reverting to stereotypical patterns of behavior between men and women justified by their being ‘traditional’ memories of life back home.

At the same time, the upheavals created by armed conflicts both force and allow women to.

participate in the public and private realms outside of traditionally prescribed roles. With men absent for training or fighting, women see their roles expand as they fulfill their own traditional roles as well as men's roles, from community decision making to subsistence farming, to earning a livelihood, to caring for children and the elderly. This is even more the case in refugee camps. Camp-life may provide women with opportunities to organize, to act collectively, to participate in decision-making and to advocate for changes and the implementation of policies that are in keeping with women’s interests and needs.

[...]

The experiences of Salvadoran refugees in Honduras is illustrative. Once the initial goal of families' physical survival and basic needs was secured, Salvadoran refugee camps became known for their high levels of organization. The refugees managed the administrative systems of the camps, literacy and skills training programmes, schools and clinics. In turn, literacy rates in the camps rose sharply and large numbers of women learned to read and write during their period of exile. Women also broadened their involvement in the camps, assuming leadership roles, acquiring administrative capacity and organizational skills and moving into non-traditional occupations such as carpentry and mechanics. These programmes and initiatives were viable because of the support provided by external NGOs and field workers for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

[...]

In other camps, women were empowered through the establishment of women's organizations. This can have a direct bearing on women's access to and control over land, housing and property in the post-conflict, reconstruction phase. The best example of this is the Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico where, despite the lack of a lingua franca and the practical demands of camp life, refugee women came together, formed women's organizations and, with the assistance of the UN High Commission for Refugees' local staff, undertook a variety of activities to empower themselves and improve living conditions within the camps.[16]

The following projects were undertaken:

• A literacy campaign designed with women's organizations as a tool for raising women’s self-esteem and contact with one another;

• The implementation of time and labour saving devices such as mechanical corn grinders

and fuel-saving stoves;

• Training in communication skills and radio access for refugee women as a vehicle for

spreading information and raising capabilities of the women involved; and

• Protection and rights training covering human rights, women's rights, land rights, and

sexual and domestic violence including education on mechanisms to report violations of

these rights to UNHCR.

In 1987 the refugees began the struggle to return to Guatemala. A key issue which emerged in this struggle was the right to own a house, and to own, live and work on land. After the 1992 Peace Accords were signed, the refugee women’s organizations analyzed the Accords and discovered that married women or those in common law unions were not being granted independent title to land and housing. This revelation led the women’s organizations to commence a campaign for co-ownership of land and housing upon their return to Guatemala. This campaign was made possible because of the refugee women's awareness of their rights, their overall empowerment and the fact that they had already formed organizations within the camps to represent their interests.

Maria Garcia Hernandez 1999Women’s Rights To Land, Housing And Property In Post-Conflict Situations And During Reconstruction (www.unchs.org/tenure/Publication/Womrights/Conflict.htm.

ANALYSIS AND REFLECTION

Think of the Sierra Leone story as an example of the relationship between peace and human rights-

What elements suggest that the war was at least in part the result of human rights being violated?

Which of the human rights standards in your personal list are affected?

Are the men’s human rights also affected? In which way?

Which human rights were being violated before the war?

Which human rights were violated by the war?

What is the role of the women in the war? To what extent do women keep the war going?

How would peace help the women gain their human rights?

Who should be held accountable for such treatment?

How would those same questions be answered in the case of the Guatemalan women?

Women In Black -- A Worldwide Vigil Movement...

The Women in Black are not, strictly-speaking, a ‘movement’, but rather a very loose structure built around women’s, and in particular mothers’, shared experiences. In the absence of substantial organizational resources, the Women in Black are relatively little known to the public at large, even if their inspiration and the forms of their activities have slowly spread from country to country. The Serbian Women in Black first heard about the movement in 1991, when the Peace Caravan came to Belgrade from Zagreb and Ljubljana, on the way to Sarajevo, where thousands of demonstrators from all over Europe linked hands. On that occasion the Serbian women heard about the Italian Women in Black (who had protested their government’s involvement in the Gulf war) and about the Israeli Women in Black (who had been protesting against their own government's occupation of Palestine and Gaza.)

The Serbian Women in Black’s goals were a broadly founded peace program, including:

• Protest against their own government / war / militarism / nationalism / domestic violence,

• Solidarity with women across the "enemy lines' and internationally,

• Support for deserters,

• Creation of a women's culture of peace and human rights.

Activities included weekly vigils on the main square in Belgrade, peace protests on the 10 of December and the 24th of May, and participation in other anti-government protests, public statements, annual international meetings "Women’s Solidarity Against War", publishing women's peace history (eleven different books with 1.000 to 3000 copies each), women's peace workshops three years in a row (‘97,’98,’99) in five towns in the region, work in refugee camps ('94,'95,'96), systemic analysis of position of women in militarism and war, weekly meetings and workshops on all related issues: dealing with national differences and ‘Difference’ in general: class, age, social status, hetero/gay status, marital status, health and ableness; and struggle against militarism/patriarchy.

(Lea Mladjenovic, Autonomous Women's Center Against Sexual Violence & Women in Black Against War, The Politics Of Knowledge Of Difference: thoughts and contradictions in feminist politics in the anti war movement in Belgrade from '91 to '99 Belgrade, Serbia)

Women’s Vigil for Somalia and Sudan

''A vigil is the act of keeping awake when sleep is customary (...) We are a group of women who are staying awake, watching for peace.''

(What) had started as a small group for Somali women, (grew) into a group of more than 50 members, involving refugees from other war-torn countries like Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan and Sierra Leone. (...) Every 16th day of the month, the anniversary day the Somalian founder’s brother was murdered, the ''Women's Vigil For Peace'' as they are known, gather in a small hotel room in the Kenyan capital for an hour, to share experiences.

(One day in 1997) the group listened to the story of one person whose life has been shattered by his own country's sixteen-year conflict.

The civil war in the Sudan erupted in 1983 when Aruei was only 15 (...) ''Everyone went into hiding, under beds, behind doors, trees, anything they could find to shield themselves from the fighting... More than 300 people died on this day. They were shot. I watched them helplessly as they could not move but had to wait for the enemy to finish them....We ran for days in search of safety.'' Aruei, who is now 31, has- like many others- lost all hope of ever reuniting with his family....More than two million people have been killed in Sudan since May 1983... the beginning of the conflict between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the Southern Sudan and the Northern-dominated government.

[...]

27,000 ... children between the ages of six and 18 walked for weeks to neighboring Ethiopia without food. Many of the children died along the way, more died of cholera in Ethiopian refugee camps. But in 1991, the Eritrean war of independence with Ethiopia forced the Sudanese refugees back into their country. They walked to Southern Sudan, again they had to flee into Kenya. ''We walked and ran for weeks. On the way, we ate anything we could find like wild leaves, fruits and ants,''

[...]

women were captured as booty during the war like in the case of Abdiya, whose story was narrated to the group by her cousin Nasra Aweis [...] Abdiya was abducted from her home in Mogadishu; her husband and child were killed by militia men.(...) The same man who killed her daughter then dragged her home as booty until she was rescued by his wife.

''It takes a lot of courage for a Somali woman to admit that she has been a victim of rape, but unless we talk about these things, the world will not know what is happening,'' says Giama. The story telling is part of the healing process, as American human rights activist Pamela Collet [...]points out. ''When people tell their stories to each other, they let off a burden, and this makes them feel that they have the power to change things and control their lives,'' she explains.

Giama says vigils ''brings to the attention of the world, the true suffering of men, women and children trapped in wars.[...][We want to bring out in detail their violations so that the world can see the human face of conflict,'' she says. ''The vigil is a time of remembrance and harmony when people of all countries and backgrounds join together to strengthen each other in our struggle for peace and security for ourselves and our families.''

Members of the vigil group say they draw their strength from other successful movements, like the Chilean Families of the Detained and Disappeared, who for years marched through the streets with pictures of loved ones killed during the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship, demanding justice. (...)

''We have started the campaign. We can't stop. There are hundreds of thousands of people in Africa who rely on our voice for justice,'' says Faiza Abshir, a founder of the group. ''We don't expect much too soon, but at least they can stop the senseless killings.''

(original diffusion September/October 1997 reproduced in ENDA/IPS/ja/mn/99)

Documenting Women’s Experiences of Armed Conflict:

a Tool for Advocacy and Redress

Isis-WICCE is an international women's resource center based in Kampala, Uganda. It aims to eliminate injustices based on unequal power relations, and to improve women's social, economic, and political situations through the production and exchange of information, promotion of ideas and solidarity actions, and networking.

One of the objectives of Isis-WICCE ‘s work in Africa has been to tap the voices of African women, to respond to the recommendations of the BPFA, and to promote research about causes, nature, seriousness and consequences of violence against women, and the effectiveness of measures implemented to prevent and redress violence against women. (ISIS-WICCE’s) Exchange Programme offers women activists, working in the area of human rights, an opportunity to develop skills in using the human rights framework.

In 1998 and 1999, Isis-WICCE Exchange Programme's Annual Institute focused on the area of women and armed conflict, aimed at developing women’s skills in documenting women’s experiences in situations of armed conflict, and teaching them about human rights mechanisms –local, national and international– available for addressing their human rights in such situations.

Despite the place accorded them in the Geneva Conventions, war crimes committed against women are often ignored and their occurrence consistently denied. Violence against women in armed conflict situations is among the most widespread and systematic violations of human rights in terms of viciousness and the number of victims. Although the sufferings of women in wartime have often been the subject of literature, official history books hardly ever devote any space to the war crimes committed against women.

Documentation is key in a number of ways:

• To provide accurate information and guide future efforts to address these crimes. To inform the public about women's devastating war experiences,

• To provide evidence for special war crimes tribunals or the newly established International Criminal Court, allowing women to seek redress, and have justice made,

• To bring to light urgent problems among people recovering from armed conflict,

• To serve in the healing process of the victims by enabling them to unburden themselves of deep-seated and painful grievances,

• To help understand the ways in which, by force or by choice, women contribute to waging war and,

• To help understand how they contribute to the search for peace.

The Exchange Programme Institute ran in three phases:

1. Orientation: During this period, participants (had) an opportunity to present reports of their country situations, and, with the assistance of three resource persons, discuss the issues of documentation, using human rights as a framework for documenting women's experiences in situations of armed conflict.[...]

2.The participants...return to their groups after the orientation period, for the Action Plan Implementation period, where each participant carries out her plan of action in her home group. For six months, they work on the proposed plan of action as well as do the usual work. Isis-WICCE keeps in touch and monitors the progress of the project.

3. After the 6 months, the participants got together again in Kampala, for the synthesis period...to share reports of their experiences and accomplishments during the six-month plan implementation period... draw up further plans of action for future work, or refine the present plans that might have encountered some problems.... after which participants (were expected) to continue with documentation, and sharing experiences/problems with Isis-WICCE, thus strengthening a working relationship [...]

(Isis-WICCE, International Exchange Programs Kampala isis@starcom.co.ug )

ASSESSING, ADAPTING AND PLANNING ACTION

Are there situations in your society that require documentation to defend and ensure the human rights of women?

What groups or institutions must you approach to collect documentation and start the chronicling?

What kinds of written documents do you need? where can they be located?

Might you use oral documentations: interviews, narratives?

How can the data you collect be distributed?

Who should receive it? (public authorities, educators, journalists, activists, historians etc.)

Does the data you have justify a court proceeding? what steps would one need to take to start one

Women and the Politics of War and Peace

One important component of the last century of women’s activism has been the demand for women to be full partners in the peace-process. Women have been prime movers for global disarmament. They have organized to protest continued nuclear testing, lobbied for nuclear non-proliferation agreements, called for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and related health and environmental problems (e.g. rapacious uranium mining on indigenous lands). They have pressed for controlling the traffic of conventional weapons that is exacerbating civil strife and local tensions, and pressed for alternative uses of the average $800 billion sucked away globally from urgent civilian needs. Thus, we should not forget that women are already playing significant informal roles in voluntary movements to prevent and end wars, find alternatives to armed combat and devise institutions and processes to achieve and maintain peace.

In some societies, women leaders were included in any important decision-making about war and peace. A number of societies included negotiation and mediation among women’s expected roles (a role which the Sudanese, Liberian and Malian women described in this chapter have again assumed). This was often part of the neat division between men and women: men made war, women made peace. In precolonial Tagalog society, where headhunting was an honorable institution necessary to the survival of the group, women with special healing gifts also played a role.

"Mostly women, the babaylans (... were) healers and the spiritual leaders of their ... community. They could carry the culture to a stage of psychic coherence and mediate between the divine and the human. Their healing powers covered everything, from personal to social ills. They mastered not only the rituals but also the myths, epics and other lore of their people. They sang, danced, created poetry and brought people to a state of wellbeing. They were the soul of indigenous religion. (... They decided) the time for clearing the forest in preparation for planting... advised on agricultural work, and ...determined when to harvest (...) The other function where the datu worked closely with the babaylan was the custom of headhunting, which was part of the agricultural system and guided by mythology and religious beliefs. (...) For bountiful agriculture, it was necessary to integrate the world of man on earth, in the sky and the world beneath. It was important to make the three worlds meet for one to attain cosmic perfection, and this was achieved by collecting the head of humans. The babaylan presided over the practice of headhunting, which served as insurance for a good harvest.

(Villariba Marianita C. Women Who Usher in Ease and Well Being

http://www.isiswomen.org/archive/articles/rel00001.html)

 

Modern societies along the Western model, on the other hand, have been exceptional in keeping women out of the decision-making process of war and peace, making it the preserve of professional male-dominated military or diplomatic corps. Women have virtually no part in making the decisions that start war, determine its conduct or its outcome, or negotiate the terms and conditions of its ending.

Women’s active involvement outside the parameters of institutionalized politics and statecraft was acknowledged by the former UN Secretary General in his introduction to the BPFA.

"The commitments made in Beijing are not only the result of diplomatic negotiation. Behind them lies the strong and organized power of the women's movement. The entire continuum of global conferences and summits has been shaped by the growing influence and intellectual conviction of the women's movement." (Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Translating the momentum of Beijing into action — Beijing Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration, U.N. Department of Public Information, New York, 1996.)

The BPFA unequivocally states that women’s full and equal involvement in the politics of peace is essential to the achievement of lasting peace solidly anchored in human rights. The initiatives recounted below are but a few examples of the creativity deployed by women endeavoring to overcome the realities of war and fulfill the requirements of peace.

 

Reinforcing Subordination: An Analysis of Women in Armed Conflict Situations

The following is an account by Roshmi Goswami of a study conducted by human rights groups in North East India about the effects of armed conflict on women’s lives in an area devastated by prolonged conflicts, some of which would fall under the heading of ‘civil war’, others under the heading of ‘wars for national autonomy’, and others still under the heading of ‘struggles for survival and their repression by governmental armed forces’. Roshmi Goswami, a founding member of the North East Network, played a pivotal role in the mobilization of women toward the Beijing Conference, and since then has been involved in shaping the women’s movement in North East India.

Lingthanghuanga is 45 years old today, but tears ushered by pain and shame fill her eyes as she recalls the traumatic events of that fateful day when she was a slip of a girl of 13. She was detained in a room and continuously raped by five armed personnel till she managed to escape through the window and run to the forest crying for help. As the middle-aged woman shared her pain, she also told us that she had never shared this with anyone, not even her husband. Her family members, the community and the church have all preferred not to talk about it or help her to talk about it. She has thus lived life quietly remembering the incident as a shameful act, which had to be hidden deep down within her.

As Ling and others like her from the remote northeastern corners of India relate their stories, it is reinforced over and over again that (all) sections of civilian population are affected by armed conflict, (but) "women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society and their sex." Women experience greater violations, being caught between different violators. On the one hand, the state targets women and uses violence against them as a means of suppression; and on the other, the community is apathetic to the special problems faced by women. Often also, in such situations of ongoing conflict as the one prevailing in large parts of North East India, gross violations of civil and political rights prevail because of the political situation. This situation is often used as justification to disregard the violations of women’s rights that are either consequences of discrimination against women sanctioned by the community or of inaction by the state. But as signatories to the Women’s Convention, the state is obligated to address discrimination at all levels.

Our study attempted to come to an understanding of the steps taken by the government in

strife-torn North East India to prevent discrimination, address past discriminations and

accelerate the process of equality. The study, coordinated by the International Women’s

Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP), has also tried to monitor what kind of

enabling conditions have been provided for women to assert their rights in an area

of conflict. It also tried to monitor the kinds of temporary special measures that have

been put in place for women to enable them to handle discrimination and the negation of

their rights... consequent upon the ongoing conflict. The study was an attempt to understand

and surface inter-linked and underlying causes that make women particularly vulnerable in

situations of armed conflict.

The objectives of the study were to:

- Highlight the depth and different dimensions of violations/discriminations suffered by women in armed conflict situations and get government and non-government organizations to address the specific needs of women in such situations,

• Highlight lacunae in the existing judicial system to ensure justice for women who were

violated in such situations, and to reiterate the need for gender-sensitive justice,

• Work out strategies to involve women in decision-making in conflict resolution, post-conflict

reconstruction and in the peace process,

• Strengthen the networking of women’s groups in the region on issues of violence against

women.

The research was undertaken within the framework of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and with an attempt to focus on the fundamental principles of the Convention, viz., equality, non-discrimination and state obligation/ accountability. The Convention promotes the substantive model of equality, which entails a corrective or substantive approach aimed at transforming unequal power relations between women and men. This transformation can be achieved by providing:

• Enabling conditions in the form of basic social, economic and cultural contexts within which women may be able to lead their lives with dignity,

• Affirmative action in the form of temporary special measures where women’s needs are especially recognized and catered to, and provisions made to remove historical barriers to women’s equality.

In monitoring state action on gender equality, an attempt was made to assess what the state has put in place for the prevention and prohibition of discrimination, identification and redress of discrimination, imposition of sanctions against discriminating action against women’s rights and equality through proactive measures, and acceleration of de facto equality. Information gathered through secondary sources (human rights documentation by human rights groups in North East India, news clippings, and personal interactions) and two group consultations/workshops brought out the:

• Ground realities of women’s condition and position in an area of conflict,

• Communities/state understanding of the gender dimensions of human rights violations,

• Action taken to mitigate violations and discrimination,

• Provisions made for victims of violations and gaps in policies and their realization,

• Needed steps to be taken.

From all the data and case studies, we were able to broadly categorise the existing disparity or discrimination against women in situations of conflict in the areas we studied: violence, marginalization of women’s rights, exclusion of women from peace processes, and exclusion of women from decision making.

Violence against women during times of armed conflict is especially horrifying and has been a persistent and widespread practice over centuries. There is almost an unwritten legacy that this is an accepted norm. Until recently, violence against women in such situations has been couched in terms of the protection of their protection (and their family’s) honour. This has been particularly devastating for women for it perpetrates women’s subordination in an insidiously deep-rooted manner. As pointed out by Radhika Coomaraswamy in the report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women: "By using the honour paradigm, linked as it is to concepts of chastity, purity and virginity, stereotypical concepts of femininity have been formally enshrined in humanitarian law." This has far-reaching psychological impact on the victims for as pointed out by Coomaraswamy, "when rape is perceived as a crime against honour or morality, shame commonly ensues for the victim who is often viewed by the community as "dirty" or "spoiled." Consequently, many women will neither report nor discuss the violence that has been perpetrated against them. The nature of rape and the silence that tends to surround it makes it particularly difficult to investigate women’s rights violations." Or as our work has shown, it is particularly difficult to investigate without causing further violence to the victim by making her re-live the whole episode again and again. Our case studies also showed that it is truly "a battle among men over the bodies of women."

The effects of violence on women have different dimensions. Some of our case studies showed that the psychological traumas associated with sexual violation and with the loss or disappearance of family members last long after peace returns. The conflict in the region, which has manifested itself as a low-intensity silent war and which in some areas have gone on for decades, has no frontiers, entering every home, neighbourhood and community. Normal social and economic life has been seriously compromised and the impact of the violence and the stress associated with the constant threats and anxieties of living in an atmosphere of unremitting aggression and fear has been substantial. Over and above the overt impact of violence, the long-lasting effects of disruption of societal and community life processes that influence health and well-being has been all pervasive and serious. The psychological well-being of individuals is strongly bound to the psychological health of the immediate and larger supporting environment of the family-kin-family. In many areas, this has broken down, leading to disastrous consequences like drug addiction, prostitution, starvation and psychosomatic disorders. Furthermore, continued violence in rural areas has affected livelihoods. Properties have been lost, there is lack of food and personal security even within one’s own home. Continued tension and stress are the other effects. With many of the men killed or "missing," there is an increase in female-headed households. It has also resulted in large-scale migrations to the urban centres by women and this is most pronounced in the Bodo-dominated areas of Assam.

Besides the issue of violence that changed the face of women’s rights, bringing them into the centre stage in the human rights debates, the Beijing Platform for Action has also identified other critical areas into which immediate intervention and action is needed. This becomes all the more crucial in situations of armed conflict. While the consequences of sexual violence is physically, emotionally and psychologically devastating for the women victims, the survivors of such violations have the burden of silently coping with post-trauma stress almost without any kind of support. This is so because, any kind of sexual violation is looked upon by society as an act of "dishonour" rather than as a violation of the fundamental human right of every woman. This has diverse and far-reaching ramifications. In situations where the conflict is linked with the whole question of identity and ethnicity, this leads to increasing societal control over women’s mobility, control over their bodies, and how they express themselves. Assertion of ethnicity is often more exaggerated, and patriarchal and fundamentalist values and ideologies are reinforced. The key word is again "honour," and women are expected to keep the "honour" of the community or collectivity by becoming the custodian of tradition and culture. While women are expected to uphold these traditions and both the negative and positive aspects of their native culture without question, men have the choice of being unbound and unregulated by even the positive values and belief systems of their indigenous cultures.

The other burden that women have to carry is additional socio-economic responsibilities, and this was clear in our case studies. Women of different age groups and occupations, including survivors of sexual violence have had to single-handedly run households as the men have either been killed or have disappeared. Not only were women forced to become the primary bread earners but they also had to grapple with the problems of providing for the family when the means for livelihood were lost and food security threatened. Alternative means of livelihood are not provided, which results in increased powerlessness and dependency of the women. Again, there is the additional burden of having to provide shelter and food to militant groups, but as shelter-providers, they face security risks for the entire family.

The health implications of prolonged conflict are tremendous. There is an acute rise in the incidence of infectious diseases in refugee and relief camps. There is a high prevalence of malnutrition especially among women and children. And of course there is the largely hidden but long-term problems of fear, pain, loss, guilt, anxiety, hatred and depression. But health services often break down or are disrupted. And even if services do not break down completely, health personnel are reluctant to enter conflict areas for security reasons. While this affects both men and women, women in need of reproductive health support services are especially affected. They have to either travel long distances for such services or do without any medical help. They are often unwilling or physically or financially unable to travel. (Services being unavailable further accentuates) the tendency of the women or family members to underplay women’s health needs.

Our study also showed that situations of armed conflict, are accompanied by greater marginalisation of women’s rights, as both the armed forces and militant groups reinforce patriarchal values. On the one hand, women are exploited by the state agencies; but on the other, adequate provisions are not made to safeguard their job security or to cope with the greater economic burden and social and psychological tension. At the same time, there is pressure on women from within the community to uphold culture and ethnic identities, which inhibits or obstructs the questioning of gender-biased customary laws and practices. Women lose control over their bodies, sexual and reproductive rights. They are denied decision-making roles and their mobility is restricted.

In addition, any struggle that continues without any solution in sight gradually goes downhill in terms of values and ideologies. Very often, the lesser and ideologically unsound members of a group exploit the situation to settle personal scores. This further perpetuates the subordination of women and establishes male superiority.

Despite the enormous impact of conflict on women, they do not play a decisive role in conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. Women are either perceived as victims or as healers, but not included as decision-makers in the process. While full attention must be given to the victims-survivors, reconstruction and rehabilitation must necessarily take place within a framework of empowerment and equality. Women perceive peace as a condition that is free of any kind of violence in society, and this implies the co-existence of all people with basic human dignity. This conception of peace begins from one’s immediate family and goes on to cover the state and finally the international sphere.

This was shown in the context of North East India. The extremely low participation of women in decision making bodies—whether it be the traditional bodies or the modern democratic institutions like legislative assemblies—has largely contributed to the impasse in the conflict resolution process. The lack of political will by the members of the Indian Parliament to pass the Women’s Bill has caused a chain reaction of rejection of women’s participation in the political process at the State Assembly levels. Furthermore, the non-representation of women in these institutions has ushered in "development" that is not "people-centred" or "people friendly." This in turn has aggravated the conflict.

Women’s Role in Peace Processes

However, women’s groups have persisted in their own way to express their desire for peace and to condemn violence. The most prominent among such groups are the Naga Mother’s Association (NMA) of Nagaland, the Mothers’ Union of Tura and the Naga Women’s Union of Manipur. In a symbolic gesture of condemnation and rejection of violence whosoever be the perpetrator, the NMA has persisted in covering the body of every victim of violence with a black shroud. This silent yet eloquent statement has not gone unnoticed or unheeded, and today the NMA is also playing a pivotal role in conflict resolution. The Maira Paibis or Torchbearers of Manipur is another important group that has contributed towards restoring normalcy to the aggravated situation.

In all these, women are in the peace process because of their own initiative. When the state takes initiatives to involve them, it is really to use them as go-betweens, playing the role of "healers" or "pacifiers." There has been no effort on the side of state or non-state agencies to involve women in actual negotiations. This merely goes to re-emphasise the lack of understanding of peace in terms of mutuality and equality, and of viewing the peace process as a kind of "settlement." Furthermore, the non-participation of women in these processes has resulted in de-focusing the fall out of armed conflict on women and in marginalising women’s needs and aspirations.

(Roshmi Goswami’s article originally appeared in he Isis-Manila publication Women in Action (3:1999) and is used with permission of © Isis International-Manila, 1999)

African Women’s Peace Initiative

African women’s peace-making takes place in a highly gendered society. There has been a growing interest in these efforts because they have been so persistent and have produced significant results. Several African women’s peace movements have contributed to noticeable change in violent conflict situations through a combination of traditional and modern conflict resolution techniques. While largely ad hoc, these efforts have produced some remarkable impact, unfortunately not enough is known about them elsewhere.

Gender is a social construct that marks a fundamental power relation in societies, which structures and affects both the private and public life of men and women. In African societies, housework, supply of water, childcare and family health are considered women’s responsibilities. The men are expected to concentrate on other material needs of their families, to take up leadership and decision-making positions particularly in the public sphere, and to arm themselves and fight to protect the family, the community or nation.

Such rigid sets of message and instructions on the role of women and men lead to a situation in which a vicious cycle of sexism perpetuates the differential treatment of women, the entrenchment of rigid gender roles and the division of labor. In addition, it is a contributory factor in the inaccurate interpretations that surround the term gender. Often, such misinterpretation denies the existence of the prevailing hierarchy where women are subordinated.

The mainstreaming of gender in the peace process calls for the recognition that men and women do different things and have different responsibilities in society. This recognition needs to be based on reliable data to capture the actual contribution of women and men in both formal and informal peace initiatives in the continent...

• From this perspective therefore, it is necessary to take gender equality as a primary issue in peace initiatives and examine everything through a gender lens,

• Women's unique contribution to nonviolent conflict resolution, their capacity to negotiate for justice and peace, to confront issues collectively, and to mobilize the community to challenge violent ways of managing conflict, have remained largely invisible in mainstreaming policies,

• A gender responsive policy for conflict resolution does not view women as helpless victims of violence. Instead, it recognizes that women are agents of change whose potential has not been fully developed because of prevailing institutional, social and cultural structures in various parts of the continent.

(Angela Ernest Edo, ed., Best Practices in Peace Building and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, Some Documented African Women's Peace Initiatives, a joint publication of UNCHR, UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNIFEM Paris, 1999, p. 6.)

sudan : resistance and conflict resolution

The Sudan has been in the throes of war since 1955, the longest lasting civil war in Africa,

resulting in immense devastation. Women have suffered immensely. However, they have also been active pioneers in attempts to find resolution.

In 1994, women who wanted to see the long war brought to an end through nonviolent means formed the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace (SWVP) in March, 1994. The SWVP encouraged women from the war areas to become active participants in their civil society and assist their communities to implement peace projects and honor human rights commitments. The SWVP actively works with grassroots people in Upper Mali, the Nua Mountains, Barh-El-Ghazal and Equatorial Region of the Sudan. At the inaugural workshop held in Kisumu in August 1994, the SWVP pledged women’s commitment to peace in the Sudan and to reconciliation among Southerners. Due to the lack of formal education, women in Sudan have generally been poorly represented at the policymaking and the implementation levels of previous initiatives. Pramila Patten’s account of Sudanese women’s involvement in peacemaking makes clear however that formal education is not a requirement.

 

(...)

At the household level, women opposed the war by selling their possessions to send their male kin away from home, to avoid conscription whether by the government or by the main rebel group. Alternatively, they sold their property to move their families away from the area of conflict.

The war has driven many into refugee camps where women have undertaken various modes of conflict management, among them the establishment of Women's Courts. Although not recognized by the State, these courts (which are offshoots of precolonial institutions) are recognized by the local community, including Mayors and Sultans. They were formed to resolve conflicts involving women, because women were dissatisfied with the way male-dominated courts dealt with their problems: a man found to be in the wrong in a conflict with a woman is summoned and fined by the Women’s Court. They also address cases of domestic violence, circumcision, unwanted pregnancy issues and violations of women's human rights that can become more severe in times of armed conflict.

(In addition to mediating in everyday problems), women in the Sudan were traditionally used as go-betweens in negotiations, and use those skills to conduct mediations in conflicts involving the refugee camp populations at large, conflicts between different tribes in the camp, and cooperate with relief organizations to ensure the fair distribution of scarce basic resources like water, food and shelter... In their performance of functions related to ‘humanitarian assistance’ these women have made a significant contribution to survival and sanity of the displaced and civil populations suffering from the war.

Women also organize themselves into women's support groups, according to tribe and place of origin, to offer each other support, solidarity and empowerment. Each week, they discuss issues and problems they have encountered, helping each other, especially the most needy such as the widows and orphans.

 

Some women in the camps have also fixed radios in trees at public places like the wells and shopping centers, where the rebels are likely to come. Through these radios, they air messages to their husbands believed to be involved in the rebel activity calling upon them to abandon the war. This has resulted in some rebels resettling back to civilian life in the camps.

One national strategy has been the establishment of so-called peace markets, where two tribes agree to trade, signifying peace between them. At these markets, women from the rebel-held zones barter products like honey, simsim, wild food and chicken against salt, sugar, soap and perfumes provided by women from government held areas. Men on the other hand trade in crops, animals, soap, clothes and other products. Although these markets are not officially acknowledged by the government, they are encouraged as a mechanism for sustaining peace.

At the national level, women activists have advocated for peace by initiating various peace strategies with the Khartoum government, using various strategies. Women in SPLA held areas have held peace conferences with the Khartoum government, exacting promises to share power with the minority groups when an effective ceasefire is achieved. These women realize that the war in the Sudan will not be solved by military means but by peaceful initiatives.

(Adapted from Pramila Patten, Report to PDHRE on Women and Armed Conflict, 1999.)

Women Break the Stalemate in Liberia-

 

In Liberia, almost a decade of violent conflict resulted in over 150,000 deaths, destroyed public and private infrastructure and left a traumatized population. The illiteracy rate among women is 87% and most women are not aware of their basic human rights. Nevertheless, a number of organizations were formed both during and after the conflict, which sought to unite all Liberian women for peace across ethnic and class lines. The Liberian Women Initiative (LWI) formed in 1994 as a response to the continuing stalemate in the peace process. It was created as a nonpartisan pressure group to unite all Liberian women, regardless of religious, tribal or political affiliation or differences. Although initiated by influential urban women, LWI ensured its credibility and impact by reaching out to and including women from all sectors and areas. Women in LWI now range from farmers and traditional healers to medical doctors and journalists.

 

Ruth Sando Perry

 

One of LWI’s founding members, Ruth Sando Perry, was later elected first African Woman Head of State (August 1996). In 1996 she was appointed head of a six-member male-dominated council of state that included the leaders of three major warring factions. Under the Mandate of the Revised Abuja Peace Accord and Schedule of Implementation, it was required that peace be restored in nine calendar months.

Under Ms. Perry ‘s leadership a six-point framework was used in the analysis of the conflict and development of strategies for solutions:

 

1. Self-evaluation

2. Reflections on the causes of the Liberian conflict

3. Identification of the impacting factors

4. Building of a constituency for peace

5. Mobilization and communication

6. Post-conflict peace building

Ms. Perry ‘s humility and determination exemplified traditional values of African women when she approached the awesome task of restoring peace in Liberia. In her address to the Inter-Agency Workshop in Addis-Ababa, Ms. Perry said:

" Firstly, I felt obliged to search my own spirit with regards to my strength and weakness. I objectively queried myself: What specifically was required of me under the Abuja Accord? Was I physically, mentally and emotionally prepared to handle the situation at hand? Was I patriotic and nationalistic enough to consider the future of Liberia above all else? Have I earned the trust and integrity for this position? Was I neutral enough to serve as peace broker and stabilizer? Did I understand the issues and factors responsible for the conflict? These questions served as my guide in performing the task at hand."

" To a large extent, I succeeded because I had a well-defined goal and objectives in mind. I remained very focused on the mandate given me and did not lobby to become any more influential than being an advocate for peace. My position was clear: I wanted unconditional peace for Liberia, and I declared that disarmament was the key element in the peace process and insisted that there must be total disarmament before elections. I projected myself as a true mother and a stabilizer, using faith, discipline, courage, patience and tolerance. Prior to becoming Head of State, I was deeply involved in encouraging and motivating women and all patriotic Liberians to take an active part in the peace process. "

(Angela Ernest Edo, Best Practices in Peace Building and Non Violent Conflict Resolution:

Some Documented African Women's Peace Initiatives,1999 Pp. 24-25)

Somalia

The long and violent conflict left Somalia’s basic infrastructure devastated. Hundreds of

thousands of people fled to refugee camps in Ethiopia. Chaos and anarchy reigned and at least 1 million people were displaced in the countryside. Out of the ordeal several women’s NGOs were born, specifically to work toward the return of peace and for human rights. DULMAR (DDAP), based in Hargesia, North West Somalia advocates for peace, gender equality and the rights of women. It also assists women heads of families acquire income-generating skills. National Organizations for Women and Children Development (NOW).

 

This non-tribal and non-profit-making NGO was formed in 1997. NOW is an umbrella

organization promoting social, political and economic development for women in Somalia.

Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC). SSWC was formed in 1994 by a group of educated Somalia women as a non-profit making NGO whose objective is to promote peace by empowering women through awareness programs, education and unity. Women's Development Organization (IIDA). IIDA is committed to conflict resolution. It provides civic education and skill and literacy training for women...

 

" Peace building is a whole process of restructuring what has been destroyed: harmony, trust and working for a common agenda. At the moment, the easy access of guns creates the biggest problems to the above process.(...) IIDA in collaboration with COSV, an Italian NGO, is implementing a pilot project on demobilization of 150 militia in Merka, Lower Shabelle Region funded by the European Union. The 150 students with different backgrounds will go back to their people and inform them of their lives at the demobilization center; their future expectations. behavior and feelings; how they have changed in their outlook towards life, so different from their previous lives of fighting. Thus, the students will create awareness among those they meet, those near them and those they have ties with.

(Nasri A. Adam. IIDA Women's Development Organization. Addis Ababa 1997, Best Practices, p.17).

The Women of Rwanda and Burundi

In Burundi, where there has been an ethnic war between Hutus and Tutsis since 1993, women – even those who were members of political parties – were initially excluded from all meetings organized by the government to find a solution to the ethnic war. In response to this exclusion, Burundi women organized and created associations for peace and reconciliation and, with regional assistance from female politicians such as the Vice President of Uganda and the ex-President of Liberia, held a conference in Uganda to discuss ways in which women could contribute to a negotiated solution to the crisis. This ultimately resulted in a meeting with the President of Uganda who agreed to negotiate for the inclusion of Burundian women in the Burundi peace negotiation in Arusha. As a result, women have been participating in peace negotiations since October 1998

Rwanda’s Pro-Femme Twese Hamwe received the UNESCO Mandanjeet Singh Prize for the promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence for its role promoting peace and empowering women in a county where, as a result of repeated wars, women represent 60 to 70 percent of the population. On receiving the prize for her organizations, Mrs. Nzambazamariya said, "Like Martin Luther King, the women of Rwanda had a dream: that the nightmare will never happen again, in Rwanda or elsewhere." In Rwanda, women were victims, while other women participated actively in the killing. Twese Hamwe has consistently refused to look at women as peacemakers simply by nature of their gender. Their strategy as described by one of their leaders, has been to make women

" look at the reality of things We are all here, in the same country, we must live here, all of us, and we must live in peace . . . We are all women, and as women, that's something that unites us, whether we are survivors or refugees, professionals or grassroots women, intellectuals or illiterates. We have the opportunity to work together, to tell the truth. We have realized that we need to get past all these differences to find the real problems (interview, March 18, 1999). "

 

The genocide in Rwanda took place in the Spring of 1994. The Rwandese National Assembly came into being on November 24, 1994. Out of 70 MPs there were 12 women parliamentarians whose main objective was to channel women's problems to the responsible parties in parliament and to look for solutions. 32 women's organizations joined forces in order to rehabilitate the Rwandese society and to launch a national, regional and global call for social peace and justice. They focused on sensitizing the whole parliament to perceive gender problems as political problems that must be addressed, and pressured for political and humanitarian action based on concerted reflection and advocacy. This [coalition] has demonstrated women’s ability to position themselves at the forefront of preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding, with a relentless ability to listen and learn, and to take Rwandese communities through a process of restitution, forgiveness and healing.

Pro-Femme/Twese Hamwe women's organization was able to pool women's efforts together with the following aims:

 

• To reinforce the power and role of women in the Rwandese society,

• To reactivate national values and/or create new values,

• To mobilize national and local populations, mainly women, to fight against the ideology of division and exclusion, the culture of violence and to promote social justice,

•To increase the capacity of Rwandese women in providing sustainable solutions (...) of refugees, repatriated people and fugitives so that they could regain their dignity and human rights in a peaceful environment.

In Rwanda, it is women who, often without the assistance of men, are left to rebuild the society, and they do face many similar problems regardless today, problems that transcend ethnicity and politics. By tackling these problems together, women may be able to build bridges to the future.

(Rwanda's Women: the key to reconstruction in The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance www.jha.ac/greatlakes/b001.htm)

 

ASSESSING, ADAPTING, AND ADOPTING ACTION

Reading the examples above, list the various strategies that women have used to tackle the problems caused by an armed conflict.

African Women have both used and challenged their traditional gender roles in

their struggles for peace. From the stories above, list the various strategies that were tried by women.

What opportunities and limitations arise from gender roles in your culture and community? Brainstorm with your group on ways to use the opportunities and overcome limitations

One of the Sudanese strategies to reduce armed conflict involved preventing male relatives from joining the armed forces: What problems might there be with such an approach?

Women in the Sudan have long practiced juridical approaches like the women's courts and mediation of group conflicts as a way to resolve conflicts. Are women involved in conflict resolution in your society? What form does it take?

The women in Rwanda were in the forefront of reconciliation and rebuilding of the whole society. So were the women in Liberia. Are there similar stories in this society of women playing a major role in the building of peace?

Who in your country provides leadership on peace issues? Are there any women in peace and security-policymaking in this country? Are any women in positions of authority in the armed forces of this country? Have they been able to help set policies to bring about peace?

Are issues of peace and human rights kept connected by groups working for them?

Are there joint trainings? Networking for specific actions?

Sudanese women respond to the disastrous economic consequences of war and the peace by conducting peace markets? Can you think of other forms of action of a similar nature that women could take?

Working for Peace- Working for Human Rights

Mothers of Russian Soldiers

Among the many NGO’s that sprouted since 1989, the mothers of Russian soldiers in Chechnya played an important role in every region . One of the two main porganizations was the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, which emphasized that "the mothers' love, the mothers' aspirations to defend their children, turned into conscious human rights activity... The soldiers' mothers understood that to defend their children they have to change the State and society. Their call for human rights in all the military power structures meant a call for democracy. (Ida Kuklina)" When the mothers started organizing themselves and their sons to fight conscription in the first war against Chechnya, their movement was a resurgence of an old stream in Russian political culture. This stream has had two branches: a Christian nonviolent one, and a socialist one, both of which have re-surfaced, after a gap of almost 70 years. Both organizations work with soldiers and deserters, work on prisoners’ exchanges, defend conscripts’ rights within the army, lobby legislators and military authorities, see peace and human rights as interrelated issues, despite some tactical and philosophical disagreements about their understanding of Human Rights and the way to ensure their vitality in a population. The International Peace Bureau’s 1996 nomination of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (CSMR) for the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, cited the group in the following terms:

" This group has been consistent, imaginative and courageous in their opposition to the slaughter in the brutal war in Chechnya (...) with committees in 14 former Soviet republics, the Soldiers’ Mothers have, not only collected statements from mothers opposed to the war, organized meetings and demonstrations, and lobbied the government. They have also undertaken bold, direct action. Hundreds of mothers travelled to Grozny to demand the return of their sons. They buried soldiers, shared their sorrow with Chechen mothers, negotiated the release of military men held by Chechen forces. They support neither the military actions of Yeltsin, nor those of Dudayev.

" (...) The CSMR are the most outstanding— but far from the only—example of active citizen peacemaking in the world today. These women have dared to challenge the militarism of a male-dominated society; they are civilians who are determined to have a say in—or to defy—the decisions of the military bureaucracy; and they have risked their own lives in direct confrontations with a violent system. Their inspired example is already being followed in other conflict zones.

The founders of CSMR (an all-volunteer organization) were five women - two engineers, a journalist, a teacher and an economist. Their initial aim was to campaign for their sons to return home early from military service in order to resume their studies. They succeeded in bringing home nearly 180,000 young men for this purpose.

" The mothers had been horrified by what they saw and learned about conditions in the armed forces: the regular beatings, abuse and humiliations, the lack of food or other necessities, the effective slavery imposed in the 'construction' battalions which comprised about 30 per cent of military manpower. Their demands were for thorough reform of military structures, reform of the armed forces on a democratic basis, an end to forced labor in the construction battalions, demilitarization of the justice system, the establishment of effective civil control over the military and legislation to provide for an alternative civil service.

" (...) Activities expanded and diversified to include the organization of human rights education for conscripts and their parents, dealing with individual complaints concerning human rights violations, regular inspections of military units, the working out of legislative proposals and the organization of nonviolent public protests.

" In November 1994 the war in Chechnya broke out and, as CSMR put it, "the peaceful time for the Committee was over". They opposed the war from the start, both in itself and for the threat it posed to the new Russian democracy. (...) In the first six months of the war, the Committee received letters from up to 200 people a day and in the same period nearly 10,000 people brought their complaints in person.

" Hundreds of mothers organized by CSMR went to Chechnya to take their sons away from the war. They negotiated with the Chechen army and obtained the release of 'prisoners of war'. CSMR organized a remarkable 'March of Mothers' Compassion’. Wherever they went in Chechnya they were given emotional welcomes in war-devastated towns and villages, and bore witness to the horrendous abuses of the war. The event received extensive media coverage. They bombarded the Russian government with statements and petitions, and campaigned for the young men who refused to serve in Chechnya, declaring themselves conscientious objectors. Most controversially, they started a campaign encouraging mothers to support the right of their sons to refuse military service - and they traveled abroad to support the idea of an International Tribunal on Chechnya. "The Mothers have been evicted from their offices, thrown off trains, lied to and confronted by the Russian military; yet they have endured and organized themselves into a significant nongovernmental organization with a fully democratic structure. "

(IPB announcement quoted in- Civil Society East West Feb.1996)

The Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg, worked out of a Christian religious background. With their support, forty thousand conscripts and about three thousand "begunki" (deserters) upheld their right not to serve in the army or to get an early leave from military service with help of the Russian laws. They insisted that the soldiers’ particular problem was merely a reflection of a larger societal problem, which must be tackled through a systemic education for human rights.

The "Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg" actively raise people's awareness of their human and civil rights, which are protected by the Russian Constitution and the Russian legislation. (...) The main aim... is to help people (and especially conscripts and recruits and their relatives)

• To protect their human rights for life and health by informing them on their constitutional rights and,

• To show them how they may make use of the laws that protect them.

 

(...) this is the only way to achieve a civil society in Russia. Every single citizen, every Russian family has to know about their rights and has to become an active member of society. Only pressure from below can guarantee a truly democratic development in Russia.

(...) The organization feels that the individual, looking for help and trying to defend his dignity, is the most important factor in its work. That's why the organization tries to get the deserter out of the military system of violence and power. Only when the young man is in safety do the members of the organization suggest the young man and his family take further steps to find a solution.

[...]

The organization holds lessons twice a week in the "School for Human Rights – We protect our sons". Each consultation is attended by about 100 people. Russian citizens may learn during these lessons about their rights in connection to the draft and military service laws. They learn how they can make use of the laws that protect them and help others to do so. After the public consultations people may discuss their individual cases personally with a member of the organization. As the name of the "School for Human Rights – We protect our sons" suggests, the main aim is not only to inform people, but also to increase their initiative and self-help. Only after citizens reached this step (with the help of the organization), can they go on to the next, which is just as important, i.e., helping others to become active members of society.

[...]

Knowledge is the best way to prevent totalitarian movements and therefore an aim of the organization is to found a whole net of active citizens which help one another. They pass on their knowledge, their experiences and their methods to other people in need.

(Announcement in Civil Society East and West 1996 ; Ida Kuklina (csmr), Aglaja

Popoff(smsp: correspondence with PDHRE )

 

Facing the Tasks of Post-War Reconstruction

The end of the war creates new kinds of problems. Even if refugees are able to return to their own land, which is less and less frequently the case, widows who attempt to return to their lands and houses may find that male relatives of their husband - sometimes distant male relatives - contest a woman's claim to the land, housing and property, claiming it as their own. Relatives or strangers may have already seized the land and have occupied the house. Soldiers returning, with powerful weapons at their disposal, may decide to claim their neighbor’s houses if the neighbor happens to be a woman alone.

It may be difficult for a woman to prove "title" in situations where social norms and customary law prohibit women from personally owning land, housing and property. Women who could make legal claims may choose not to pursue them for fear of family or community reprisal or because they do not have the necessary resources to do so. Often women are compelled to squat and build houses on land that is not their own and risk forced eviction or complete homelessness and landlessness and the dangers and insecurity that entails.

In these cases women are far worse off than before the armed conflict because even though during times of peace women might not have had legal title to the land and house or could not inherit land or housing, under customary law they were at least granted the right to use or cultivate land and to occupy the house. This meant that they had shelter and access to common lands, such as forest and scrub lands used for grazing which are particularly relevant to women for gathering firewood, fruits and leaves. Without shelter and secure user rights women are deprived of sustenance and the means of a livelihood for themselves and their family. Many women end up attempting to survive by wandering from one region to another, squatting, and/or moving to urban centres in search of sustenance.

Okinawa: 50 Years Of Military Violence In Peace Time

Sometimes, the war never seems to end. Long-term military presence by a former enemy ‘for defense purposes’ has also been a major source of military violence against women. The work of the Japanese organization Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence is a source of inspiration to many women in situations in which the violence against women remains invisible to the policy makers. Their experience and the experience of all the people of Okinawa is not unique, so their actions should also be replicated and women for peace over the world stand in solidarity with them...

The 3 months Battle of Okinawa in 1945 took the lives of one fourth of the Okinawa population and destroyed the foundation of its society. Military violence against women began during the Battle and increased after it ended. Countless numbers of women suffered rape... many were killed seeking help. Many children were born out of violence in these lawless times. Okinawan citizens’ land was confiscated to build mammoth military bases, which were deeply involved in launching U.S. military fighting power for the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars and other conflicts. [Under the terms of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, of the 47,000 U.S. Military personnel in Japan, 27,000 active duty military personnel, with family members and other related persons totaling 53,000 are stationed in Okinawa, which comprises 0.6% of the land area of Japan ] The buildup of military drills has forced Okinawans to endure noise pollution, air crashes, live ammunition drills, environmental contamination, and crime. Although Okinawan legal rights were restored when it was returned to Japan in 1972, Okinawa continues to be an island of military bases even after the end of the Cold War.

Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence is a small organization established on November 8, 1995, to achieve true security for women and children, oppose military violence and seek the withdrawal of U.S. military presence from Okinawa. It was formed in response to the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by 3 U.S. military personnel on September 4, 1995. The rape occurred during the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, in which 71 Okinawan women participated and held a workshop on the theme Military Violence Against Women, to document the 50 years of military violence endured by our island of military bases. Whatever the rationale of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the Status of Forces Agreement in objective terms the military base/military force presence has resulted in creating over 50 years of large-scale violence. U.S. Military sexual violence also poses a serious problem for women in the Korea. (...and ) women in the Philippines, which also suffered long-term U.S. military presence, pressed the U.S. military to accept responsibility for children born between U.S. military personnel and Philippine women as a human rights issue. The common feature in each case is that a national policy of long-term foreign military presence has resulted in gross violation of basic human rights and dignity, both in the ‘occupied’ countries, but also back home in the USA.

In an effort to grasp the systemic dimensions of military violence in peacetime, the organization compiled a Chronology of Postwar Crimes of Military Violence Against Women. Their protest took the form of a 12-day sit-in, silent processions in memory of women victims of military violence throughout the 53 postwar years... memorials to the suffering of the women who were made military sexual slaves (Comfort Women) during Word War II, petitions to the Japanese government and foreign ministry, nationwide signature campaigns and the creation of women's networks.

They raised the issue at an international conference, and carried their appeal directly to the American people, with two Peace Caravans that created strong ties with Okinawa Peace Networks in San Francisco and Los Angeles. They also prepared a chronology of their campaigns since the Beijing Conference, useful as a source of suggestions for groups with similar concerns. (Available by request from OWAAMV)

(Sources: Suzuyo Takazato, Co-chairperson, Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence. The Activities of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, Seeking Human Security for Women and Children, Naka, Japan, 1999. Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence Okinawa Women's Second Peace Caravan, 1998)

 

west african workshop on women in the aftermath of civil war

1998, Dakar, Senegal Final Report

In 1998, African Women met at a Workshop conceived by Drs. Meredeth Turshen from the USA , and Clotilde Twagiramariya of Rwanda in the context of their joint book on Gender and Conflict in Africa.. The initial objectives of the Workshop grew out of discussions with the organizers of the Conference on the Aftermath: Women in Post-war Reconstruction that was then held in 20-22 July 1999 in South Africa.

The participants were invited to share their experiences and provide information on

what happens to women in the aftermath of civil war, which is even less well

known than women's experiences in wartime. What are women's specific needs in the wake of war? When so many women are displaced persons or refugees, which institutions and what kinds of organizations can respond to their needs?

These questions are particularly acute after civil wars in which health and education services and service personnel are often "military" targets. In the current economic climate, which emphasizes private sector solutions and self-reliance, women have limited expectations that governments can or will provide the services they need.

Motivated by a belief that women's common experiences of suffering offer the best hope of reconciliation, the first objective was to bring together women on all sides of civil conflicts to initiate a dialogue on healing.

The second objective was to develop a multi-disciplinary understanding of healing and transformation, and to develop as many different ideas as possible to address the diverse problems of aftermath experiences.

There was a resolve to learn from the many disciplines and professions to develop theories that will enable full healing and empowerment among survivors in grassroots organizations.

A fourth objective was to develop strategies to influence the process of democratic representation of women's interests in achieving durable peace.

Finally, mindful of how war changes relations between women and men, between women and their families, and between women and their communities, the attendants were seeking ways to further the social transformation of those relations in the context of the state and society.

The five major themes of the Workshop were:

• Violence against women;

• Women organizing in wartime for survival and in peacetime to build the new social order;

• From reconstruction to transformation: import and impact of war-related shifts in gender relations; changes in material status of women (for example, poverty, loss of access to land); demographic changes (for example, more widows, fewer men, more polygamous marriages, rising birth rates);

• Healing: problems of identity, solidarity, and reconciliation (ethnic/religious identity in intermarriage and in the aftermath; women's solidarity across ethnic/religious lines; the roles in healing of truth and reconciliation commissions, international criminal tribunals, and national courts)

• Relation of the state to society in the aftermath (new legal and service structures, for example, legal reform of women's access to land, public health services).

A discussion took place around Elizabeth Bai-Marro's paper on violence against women \in which she divided violence into two categories: domestic violence and sexual violence. She talked of the protective strategies that could be used during and after conflict and offered suggestions for prevention and healing, which were then discussed. The group agreed that it would be useful to outline a typology of forms of violence that occur during and after conflict. It was noted that the violence inflicted on women is different from the violence to which men are subjected and that the violence against women is both explicitly and implicitly sexual.

The group also discussed the following points:

• What is the responsibility of the state in protecting women and children?

• What are the responsibilities of citizens?

• What should be the role of human rights organizations?

• Could women's organizations be encouraged to put pressure on international human rights organizations? And themselves use human rights as a tool and framework for their action?

Participants felt very strongly that the workshop should plan concrete and sustainable actions that they could take back to their countries and pursue in an active networking process. The goals were:

 

• To create a structure that could put pressure on pressure on states through solidarity with other national and international agencies,

• To assist with training and sensitization programs of healing, education, etc.,

• To popularize human rights and the gendered nature of problems that women face,

• To receive and disseminate information, write formal letters, petition etc.,

• To compile country and regional reports.

Much discussion was devoted to the questions of healing and reconciliation, how to deal with child soldiers, whether to treat them as victims or as guilty parties, how to conceive a consensus on punishment for war atrocities, as well as conceiving strategies for effective reintegration

Again and again the discussion came back to education about human rights and conscientization of the population at large, of the media, of religious leaders.

It was felt that there were economic issues behind many of the armed conflicts, and some participants raised the question of the responsibility of international agencies such as the World Bank or the IMF in creating political conflicts that serve the interests of the Northern industrial nations. It was also felt that alleviation of poverty will not be sufficient to effect the healing that needs to happen in each country that was torn apart by war. Forgiveness and memory must both be encouraged to prevent a recurrence of the events and must be part of a systematic education to foster mutual tolerance and understanding. At the end of the Workshop, the group created the African Women's Anti-War Coalition/Coalition de Femmes Africaines Contre la Guerre. The latter held another meeting in Johannesburg, in 1999.

Mainstreaming Women’s Peacekeeping

One initiative to bring women's peacemaking capacities into mainstream policy making was inaugurated at the Hague Appeal for Peace in May 1999 . It convoked civil society organizations to a conference titled From the Village Council to the Negotiating Table: Women in Peace Building, An International Campaign in Preparation For Beijing +5.

...The perception of women during conflict and war is that of victims. Yet around the globe women and women's organizations are involved in Peace building and have initiated dialogue and reconciliation against all odds. From Northern Ireland to Burundi and the Middle East, from Colombia to Kosovo women are succeeding in developing peace building activities aimed at building sustainable peace which unite the most divided communities. It is essential that women's voices and concerns, their opinions and recommendations be taken into account by the international community.

International Alert has launched a campaign to raise awareness (of women’s peacebuilding role, and further(...) the mainstreaming of gender in the peace making and peace building processes.

The aim of the campaign is to engage as many women's groups and organizations as possible on a process aimed at enhancing their voices, sharing experiences and promoting more effective dialogue between women and governments.

Campaign Objectives

to promote programs aimed at enhancing the capacity and ability of women's organizations to effectively engage in development and peace building efforts.

to increase the proportion of development aid directed at women's organizations working on peace building and reconciliation.

to make gender considerations central to post conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction programs and develop initiatives to respond to women's and girls special needs in reconstruction processes.

 

to implement internationally agreed commitments and ensure the participation of women

as leaders in all spheres of life, from the community to the national political level.

to promote and protect women's human rights during conflict situations and make justice

for women a central component of the peace building process.

to promote changes in cultural values on masculinity and violence and work with men as

change agents and peace activists to create new role models and new leadership.

to ensure the full participation of women into all aspects of the peace process from village level reconciliation to national peace negotiations.

(International Alert, From the Village Council to the Negotiating Table: Women in Peace building An International Campaign in Preparation for Beijing +5, n.d.

LOOKING TOWARD FUTURE ACTION

In the examples recounted above, we have seen again and again intense networking between groups of women. Is your group connected to any other women's action groups? If so, how does your association strengthen and facilitate your peace work?

How might you extend your networking to link up with women world wide now working on the implementation of the BPFA?

In what ways could your group express solidarity with women of areas recently ravaged by war?

How could women better help the peace process? How can they get credit for doing so?

How different would things be if women were involved equally with men in determining national security policies? Would article 28 of the UDHR be enforced more effectively as a result?

Reading about examples of peace building and conflict resolution, reflect on how they

support and use human rights, and human rights capacities. Looking at the examples in this section, which activities made strong connections between the right to peace and all other human rights?

Read the descriptions of the proceedings at the West African Workshop on Women in the Aftermath of War. Consider the questions they asked themselves. Select some for the group do discuss in depth.


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