Women in conflict and post

Women in conflict and postconflict situations
Frances Stewart
• Women are often portrayed as victims of
conflict; and in large part they are.
• But women are also agents, active
participants in war.
• Yet they are frequently largely neglected once
peace occurs:
Women as victims of war
• Rape is a weapon of war, used more against women
than men.
– 94% of displaced households in Sierra Leone subject to
sexual assault;
– a quarter to half women in Rwanda’s genocide were
• Women abducted to be army ‘wives’.
• In countries like Angola, Mozambique. Kosova, widows
accounted for as much as half adult female population
at end of conflict.
• Many women resort to prostitution to support their
• Very high incidence of HIV/AIDs among female
populations in conflict areas.
Women as participants
• Women often active combatants – e.g. Algeria, El Salvador,
Eritrea, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, South
Africa, Sri Lanka.
– Survey of 55 countries found women active in 38. One tenth to
one third of fighting forces;
– Not only supportive services (cooks, messengers etc.) but also
active fighting.
– Eg. in southeastern Nigeria, women donated money and food to
support combatants and some fought.
– In Kashmir women helped:
• separatists to escape
• feeding combatants , providing shelters;
• as couriers carrying messages, arms and ammunition
under their veils
• planted bombs,
• Motives differ from men. As well as shared ideological or
grievance motives, women in Guatemala sought to escape
from hierarchical family structures , roles and values
Women in the formation of identities
• Women contribute in major way to the
identities and views of the next generation –
not always in a peaceful direction.
– For example, in Serbia, feminine ideals of
patriotism were bolstered and the militarisation of
masculinity promoted.
– In Kashmir, indoctrinated women (and sons) into
support for armed movement.
Women in the war economy
• Take on new roles during war, as men join the
fighting, leaving jobs unfilled and losses in family
– In the formal sector, women often take on roles
previously held by men –marked in the two world
wars in Europe.
– Take responsibility for family income, becoming head
of household, take up farming responsibilities, and
new roles in the informal sector. E.g. in Cambodia and
Sudan women-headed households increased by one
Women in post-conflict situations
• Despite active role in war, women too often
neglected in the post-conflict situation:
– in peace negotiations;
– demobilisation programmes;
– and post-conflict reconstruction.
Peace negotiations (informal)
• Women are often very active in civil society,
peace movements:
• in Colombia, women were responsible for complex networks
of pro-peace movements;
• in Northern Ireland, Burundi, Liberia, there were female
coalitions across warring partners.
• The Mano River Women’s peace Network (MARWOPNET)
brought together women from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra
Leone were important in peace-making, e.g. bringing the
heads of state to the negotiating table in 2001.
• Our research in Nigeria shows that women played an active
role developing coalitions across fighting groups in the
Aguleri and Umuleri conflicts in Southeastern Nigeria;
conflicts within the Igbo community; and in Kaduna.
Yet frequently excluded from formal peace
– in 2008, UNIFEM estimated that women account for
less than 10% of members in formal peace
negotiations and less than 2% of signatories to peace
– A study of the Congo, Sudan and Uganda concluded
that recognizing and supporting the role of women
was a minor afterthought.
– In Southeastern Nigeria, women were neither
represented nor consulted in peace negotiations.
Political settlements often do improve role
of women
• Constitution making following conflict offers
new opportunities.
– E.g. Rwanda constitution requires 30% minimum
female representation in parliament, and in 2003,
women accounted for 49% of seats.
– Steps to advance position of women also in
Burundi, Mozambique, South Africa, Timor Leste.
But economic recovery programmes
neglect women
• Heavy emphasis on macro-stabilisation and pro market reforms –
gender issues are ignored.
• DDR and employment schemes largely directed towards men.
• Economic infrastructure tends to come before social.
• Women face problems in formal sector employment – as men
return from conflict;
• Pre-conflict gender attitudes resume. In Eritrea, women who had
been barefoot doctors, dentists, administrators, teachers during
the conflict could often not take on these roles post-conflict. In
other cases, women in did find employment – e.g. textiles in
Cambodia; tourism in Guatemala.
• Often discrimination against women in post-conflict land
settlement – e.g. Zimbabwe; El Salvador.
• Farming assistance often bypasses women in extension, credit etc.
• Training and retraining is biased towards men
What is needed
– Formal recognition of what is needed in peacemaking and political systems is well advanced with
many UN resolutions. Better enforcement needed
– Recognition much less in relation to economic
opportunities: assets ownership; employment;
skills; formal sector medium sized credit.
– Need first recognition; then programmes.
Women in deprived groups face worst
• Treble deprivation:
– (i) as members of a deprived group;
– (ii) through general gender-based societal inequalities; and
(iii)particularly strong gender discrimination within the
• For example, in Guatemala female indigenous mean
years of schooling is just 1.3 years compared with 4.6
for non-indigenous females and 5.5 for non-indigenous
males. Such massive deprivation encourages support
for resistance and rebellion, and also is likely to
perpetuate deprivation via the next generation.
• It is necessary to improve the position of
deprived groups generally as well as of
women. This is essential for sustaining peace.
• Since women are active in supporting conflicts,
it is not enough to conclude that giving
women a greater role, politically will lead to
• It is also necessary to address the underlying

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