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Armed Conflict Takes Several Forms On Women

Armed Conflict Takes Several Forms On Women


By Kamala Sarup

According to Peace for women, "Conflicts have psychological, physical and material impacts on the lives of women". There are many other hardships and humiliations that women undergo during violent conflicts.

During violent armed conflicts, bringing up children, taking care of the elderly and earning the livelihood for the whole family becomes the sole responsibility of women because of the absence of men.

During armed conflict, women mainly remain behind to take care of the children and the elderly. In some cases, the rape results in the birth of unwanted children. One can imagine the helplessness, humiliation and psychological trauma this can bring to the women concerned. Most of the children born in this way do not know their fathers. For the mothers, these children are their flesh and blood, and at the same time, permanent reminders of the crimes committed against them by enemy forces.

Even though most women have no direct participation in the conflict, they still face arrest. Being the close relatives of men involved in the conflict is enough for them to be implicated as supporters of the opposition. There are also scores of women who are killed.

Like their male partners, women have disappeared without trace. Forced migration and prostitution: Some women who cannot stand the harassment and intimidation, or the economic hardships, move to the big cities like kathmandu, Pokhara, Biratnagar etc. Many of them have little education or are illiterate. This makes their chances of finding a job virtually. In many cases, they are forced to become prostitutes and those who have direct political involvement, either join the armed struggle or go into exile.

The voices of women, their experiences during war and their struggles to build peace are at the heart of this report by independent experts Elisabeth Rehn (Finland) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia). Because of the specific way in which women are targeted during conflict, and because Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security called for further study, UNIFEM appointed the two women, both politicians and government officials in their home countries, to travel to conflict areas, interview women and bring their concerns to the attention of the United Nations and the world.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is working to move women off the gender sidelines and into the everyday activities of the organization—particularly in the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has been useful in monitoring elections and human rights throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Last November, the European Parliament passed a hard-hitting resolution calling on European Union members (and the European Commission and Council) to promote the equal participation of women in diplomatic conflict resolution; to ensure that women fill at least 40 percent of all reconciliation, peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, peace-building, and conflict-prevention posts; and to support the creation and strengthening of NGOs (including women's organizations) that focus on conflict prevention, peace building, and post-conflict reconstruction.

Due to women's actions in the 1920s and 1930s, a substantial number gained experience and expertise in the international arena and networking. Women in official government delegations, representatives of women's organizations and women in significant positions in the League of Nations kept in touch with each other and acted in consort to further their common objectives. Women's experience was also an indispensable asset when the founding conference of the United Nations was held in 1945 in San Francisco.

The creation of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) under ECOSOC was another area requiring considerable struggle. Although, as previously mentioned, the CSW had a precedent in the League of Nations, contrary to wishes of women participating in the UN founding conference it was initially set up as a sub-commission of the Commission on Human Rights.

However, the first chair of the Sub-Commission on the Status of Women, Bodil Begtrup—President of the Danish National Council of Women and a former delegate to the League of Nations—did manage at the second session of ECOSOC to push through a resolution establishing the CSW as an autonomous entity. Therefore, despite failure to reach a decision on this in San Francisco in 1945, CSW was able to commence its operations as an autonomous Commission as early as 1947.

In May 1999 the Hague Appeal for Peace held the largest civil society conference for peace in modern history. The conference called for the recognition of peace as a fundamental human right, the abolition of war and the right of women to take part in resolving and preventing conflict. The Hague Appeal for Peace has just launched its campaign for Global Peace Education, which promotes women's rights and needs as an integral part of any peace process.

Even on the other side, Women's Caucus for Gender Justice, Center for the Strategic Initiatives of Women and the Women's international League for Peace and Freedom launched Peacekeeping Watch. The network is intended to facilitate the quick flow of information about the commission of violations by Peacekeepers, to bring media and public attention to their occurrence and to seek appropriate responses from the UN as well as troop contributing countries.

It is true, Armed conflict takes several forms and women in such situations should play different roles. From the Balkans to Burundi, Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka and Nepal, women are the worst victims of domestic war. Women are strategic targets due to their role as biological, cultural and social reproducers of their societies and are subject to gender-based violence. As long as the institutions of patriarchy and militarism are dominant in our societies, there will be no peace or justice. We are all aware that many conflicts lead to violence and women and girls are affected by armed conflict in various ways.

Maintenance of national security and peace is an important factor for economic growth and development and the empowerment of women. We should not forget during times of armed conflict, the role of women is crucial. Women make an important but often unrecognized contribution as peace educators both in their families and in their societies.

Education to foster a culture of peace that upholds justice and tolerance is essential to attaining lasting peace and should be begun as soon as possible. It should include elements of conflict resolution, mediation, reduction of prejudice and respect for diversity. In addressing arm conflict, an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programmes should be promoted so that before decisions are taken an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively.

All strategies for the conflict prevention and resolution should be forward looking and long-term oriented. Confidence building also requires political and legal measures such as legal and economic provisions for the return of refugees and displaced persons. It can be successful only if the political will for it exists on both sides.

It is also true, women are the targets of particular types of criminal violence, often involving small arms. There are a number of kinds of violence where women are more likely to be victims because they are women. These include domestic violence and sexual violence. Women and feminists in conflict resolution should not limit their interventions to calls for men's recognition of the significance of feminist perspectives.

Yet, given the present state of power relations in the field and in the broader political context, this recognition may be an important step toward making the field more hospitable to women establishing the legitimacy of feminist theorizing in conflict resolution.

To date women's views on the conflict and their solutions to it have not been heard nor have women been involved in initiatives to bring the sides together.

Women's roles in, and contributions to conflict resolution are ignored. Socially, there is significant poverty, broken homes and families, displacement and insecurity, psychological effects like depression and disorders. The economic empowerment of women is important but economic stability requires peace. Women generally prefer collaboration and consensus but poverty, a lack of employment opportunities, lack of consciousness, social discrimination, and lack of political commitment to seeking solutions are the root causes for the continuation and increase of conflicts. Such conflicts inevitably affect women's economic security.

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(Kamala Sarup is editor of http://peacejournalism.com /)


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