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Evolving views about gender, conflict, crisis and renewal

A Bibliography

The discourse on women in conflict and post-conflict is wide-ranging, complex and has evolved considerably from simplistic notions of dichotomies such as war and peace, and perpetrator and victim, to recent explorations of the different realities faced by women and men and their multiple experiences of war and conflict as both victims and perpetrators.

The latest discourse also explores more concretely the impacts of conflict and post-conflict situations on women, girls, men and boys and suggests strategies for building more peaceful societies.

Images of civilians affected by recent conflicts are increasingly disseminated globally and challenge scholars, planners and policymakers to deal with their immediacy and complexity. Stories behind these images, as documented in this report, underline the central role gender plays in determining the personal experience of conflict and building strategies for peacebuilding and post-conflict transformation.

This bibliography identifies several critical studies that have shaped the debate about the links between gender, conflict, post-conflict situations, security and human development. Included are studies on themes such as gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence and conflict, the reproductive health impact of conflict, women and decision-making in post-conflict contexts, and links between gender and natural disasters are presented.

The bibliography concludes with a listing of resources for those interested in-depth information about specific themes.

Gender, patriarchy and conflict

Feminist researchers contributed to the understanding of the dynamics of war and conflict by describing the critical role that patriarchy plays in shaping the discourse and strategies of war. Enloe (1990), Cockburn (1998, 1999) and others documented extensively the use of “essentialist constructions” of femininity and masculinity in war discourse. An assertion that emerged from this research is that there is a clear link between masculinity, militarization and aggression on the one hand and the collapsing of femininity with peace on the other. A vast body of literature focused on women as passive victims or agents of peace. Various authors sought to establish that women were natural peacemakers, given their roles as mothers, their essential empathy with others and their strong community ties (Alonso, 1993; Carpenter, 2005; Cohn, Kinsella and others, 2004; Franceshet, 2004; Galtung, 1996; Gilligan, 1982; Goldstein, 2003; Ruddick, 1989 and 2004). In this literature, gender is often conflated with women, who are assumed to be “different” from men. The literature also argues that because women are the “oppressed,” peace is their exclusive responsibility and moral duty (Aroussi, 2009). Women in other words are peacebuilding resources, and their involvement in the peace, security and development agenda is an issue of equality (Anderlini, 2007; Porter, 2007). More importantly the argument is made that women involved in peace negotiations would assert different priorities focusing on social and economic rights, social justice and human security (Anderlineri, 2007; Bell and O’Rourke, 2007; Chinkin, 2004; Gierczy, 2001; Porter, 2007).

Several feminist scholars have suggested a problem on several levels with the framing of women as victims and peace agents: First is the fact that women may be involved in conflict in roles such as combatants, informants and spies; second, it posits femininity as taking precedence over a political identity and imposes a common agenda for all women (Shepherd, 2008). And third, the discourse again assigns value to the gender dichotomy of masculine/feminine and war/peace. This dichotomy has the potential to legitimize the exclusion of women from formal peace processes and is therefore antithetical to equality (Aroussi, 2009; Charlesworth, 2008). The construction fails to challenge the patriarchal world of politics and, as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, excludes women in the long run from the political process (Helms, 2003).

Others argue that the lack of recognition of multiple experiences of women and girls in conflict neglects issues of rights of women combatants or of women working in post-conflict rebuilding. New research documents that women were involved in conflict actively, whether coerced or voluntarily, in Algeria, Eritrea, Guatemala, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Sri Lanka and Uganda (Moser and Clark, 2001; Potter, 2004; Parashar, 2009). While women and girls were engaged in conflicts as combatants or support workers, abductees or wives and dependants, (McKay and Mazurana, 2004; Rehn and Johnson-Sirleaf, 2002), when peace accords are signed and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) policies are implemented, women and girls often lose out, partly because most DDR policies follow a “one-person, one-weapon” rule to identify those eligible for assistance (Bouta and Frerks, 2002). In situations of group disarmament, female combatants have to rely on superior officers to list them. It is often the case that women become invisible with the resurgence of traditional norms and the stigma associated with killings, sexual violence, illegitimate children and so on; they in fact “spontaneously reintegrate” (McKay and Mazurana, 2004).

Equally, there is growing recognition of the multiple experiences of men as non-combatants in conflict and of having been abducted, sexually violated, massacred or displaced (Carpenter, 2006; Dolan, 2002; GTZ, 2009; Sivakumaran, 2007). Men as well as women have been victims of conflict, and the experience of victimization has serious repercussions for post-conflict reconstruction.

Impacts of conflict

Sexual violence, including rape and/or sexual slavery, is the most well-documented impact of conflict on women and men (Bastick and others, 2007; Farr, 2009; Human Rights Watch, various; Johnson and others, 2008; Seifert, 1994; Seifert, 1996; Sharlach, 2000; Stiglmayer, 1994). The documentation of rape, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda, led to the recognition of rape as a weapon of war and as a crime against humanity. There is an increasing international recognition of sexual violence in conflict as a crime, and some have noted an increasing trend over time and across conflicts (Green, 2006; Ward and Marsh, 2007). There is a growing interest in why sexual violence is such a pervasive feature of conflict. The widely held view is that women’s bodies are the site of hostility between different men, and rape of women is essentially about the emasculation of the perceived weaker group of men (Seifert, 1994; Zarkov, 2001). Rape has also been viewed as a top-down strategy of ethnic cleansing. In recent analysis, there is a counter argument that rape is essentially not a top-down strategy but, rather, is more spontaneous. Cohen (2008 and 2009) asserts that rape in fact functions as a form of bonding/blackmail in civilian conflicts dependent on very young, and often abducted, combatants. This was found to be a similar dynamic in cases of group rape in Cambodia (Duvvury and Knoess, 2005). Equally there is growing awareness that rape does not abate after the cessation of hostilities—in fact the threat shifts from military personnel to individuals who may be neighbours, relatives or even burglars (El-Bushra, 2008; Congo Advocacy Coalition, 2008). El-Bushra makes a strong argument that understanding why rape occurs in conflict and post-conflict settings needs to develop a conceptual frame that explores the underlying power relations through gender analysis.

Another important impact of conflict is HIV infection. Some argue that conflict results in a higher risk for HIV, particularly in the context of widespread rape and abduction or coercion of girls to become “bush wives” (El-Bushra, 2008; Farr, 2009; Mills and others, 2006). Two studies in Rwanda found that 17 per cent of women who were survivors of genocide and 67 per cent of rape survivors were HIV positive (McGinn, 2000). There is also some evidence to indicate that communities affected by long-standing conflict (such as Sierra Leone) have a lower prevalence of HIV than surrounding communities because of relative isolation and limited mobility (Anema and others, 2008; Spiegel, 2004; Spiegel and others, 2007). What is beyond dispute is that sexual violence is a risk factor for HIV, and the needs of survivors of such violence must be addressed. A difficulty in conflict and post-conflict contexts, and equally in post-natural disaster contexts, is that there is a significant delay in treatment after the violence has occurred—up to two years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Steiner and others, 2009), with limited access to health facilities, disrupted/destroyed health infrastructure, and limited access to resources (Carballo and others, 2005; Liebling-Kalifani and others, 2008; World Health Organization, 2004).

Conflict, post-conflict and natural disasters all have severe negative impacts on reproductive health. Women suffer gynaecological problems, unwanted pregnancies, maternal mortality, obstetric fistula and pre-term babies (McGinn, 2009; Reproductive Health Matters, 2008). Many of these reproductive health consequences are exacerbated by conditions in camps for displaced persons, whether as a result of conflict or natural disaster (Carballo and others, 2005; O’Heir, 2004). Plumper and Neumayer (2003) suggest that there is an impact of gender gap on life expectancy, which is often reversed in conflict and post-conflict settings, indicating that the direct and indirect effects are more severe for women than men. An important dimension is child mortality and its implications for population policies (Carballo and others, 2005). Equally critical is the impact of the experiences of conflict on mental health. Johnson and others (2008) document the strong association among combatant status, experience of sexual violence and health and mental health outcomes including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide ideation (similar results reported for Afghanistan and Kosovo—see Cardozo and others, 2004).

Another important theme in the literature on gender-based violence and conflict is the mutual interaction between the two. A number of researchers have suggested that states with higher gender equality, lower family violence, less acceptance of gender-based violence and more services for survivors are on the whole less likely to resort to violent resolution of inter-State and intra-State differences (Caprioli and Boyer, 2001; Erchak, 1994; Cockburn, 2001; Hudson and others, 2009). Others point to growing evidence of a vicious cycle that conflict breeds gender-based violence, particularly intimate-partner violence, early marriages, gang rapes and honour killings, with men attempting to reassert control in post-conflict contexts (Pillay, 2002; Greenberg and Zuckerman, 2009; Hudson and others, 2009; Hyder and others, 2007; Strickland and Duvvury, 2003).

Women and post-conflict settings

A large body of literature is developing on ways to rebuild societies after conflict. Some themes emerging from the literature are the links between gender, national security, human security, and development; whether policies and programmes are moving beyond peacebuilding to state building; the extent to which the spaces opened up for women during conflict are sustained; whether gender norms, roles and responsibilities have been upturned; and the essential components to moving towards transformation.

In terms of gender, national security, and human security, several authors argue that while national security and human security are not oppositional, there is a dynamic tension between the two (Porter, 2008; Mack, 2005; Kerr, 2007). Human security is important in that it focuses on the individual and communities rather than on the security of nations (Kaldor, 2007). Human security is also concerned with development, as it involves addressing structures of power to enable women and men and communities to actively participate in the rebuilding of states.

Another debated dimension within the literature is the extent to which new roles and opportunities have opened for women. Studies have documented that during conflict, space opens for women to take on roles previously dominated by, or considered the sole domain of, men (Beecham and Popovic, 2009; Lindsey, 2001; Meintjes, 2001; Pankhurst, 2008a and 2008b). In post-conflict settings, there can often be backlash as men try to reassert “traditional” roles as they reclaim their position within the private and public spheres (Jennings, undated; Porter, 2007).

Critical to women’s participation in the post-conflict reconstruction has been the attention given to ensuring women’s representation in peace negotiations and participation in political decision-making (Beecham and Popovic, 2009). Women’s role in peace negotiations has evolved over time, particularly in civil society diplomacy and grassroots activism, though they still are largely left out of formal peace negotiations (Porter, 2008). Women’s involvement has had impact in terms of inclusion of gender-focused components in peace negotiations as well as increasing the pressure for national plans of action with clear indicators on participation of women in peace processes, prevention, protection and prosecution of gender and sexual violence and promotion of women’s rights (Beecham and Popovic, 2009). Several studies point to the passing of new laws in Rwanda, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Nepal and Burundi as a consequence of women’s involvement in peace negotiations (Chinkin, 2003; Nakaya, 2003). However, there is little research actually establishing the impact of expanded participation in peace processes in the medium or long term. A study by Nakaya (2003) points to a worrying trend that women’s participation in political processes declined in early 2000, after peace accords were signed in Guatemala and Somalia in the late 1990s. In contrast, in Burundi and Nepal, there has been a significant increase in women’s representation in political bodies immediately after the accords. But this has not translated into a significant independent role, as women continue to be subordinated to a patriarchal political system, requiring a fundamental institutional and cultural change to develop women’s capability and agency (Falch, 2010). Women’s civil society organizations can be an effective arena for women’s political engagement, but there are also issues of tension between women elected leaders and women’s groups, overdependence of groups on external funding, and the lack of long-term commitment on the part of international donors (Falch, 2010).

The resource issue is critical. An analysis of World Bank funding in 2004 found that 4.67 per cent of a total $67 million dollars in funding went to 10 projects focused on women in post-conflict reconstruction. Another critical finding is that funding for women’s organizations dropped sharply, in Kosovo, for example, once the urgency of reconstruction had passed (Greenberg and Zuckerman, 2009; Quiñones, 2004).

Another issue that has been highlighted is that much of the attention and funding goes to women-focused programmes while not enough goes to programmes that are gender aware or transformative. Raising the profile of women is critical (an important message of Security Council resolution 1325), but there has to be equal importance given to strategies and interventions to address structural impediments, the most critical being gender relations and the constructions of masculinities and femininities (Strickland and Duvvury, 2003). A transformative agenda can build on healing the trauma of conflict experienced by women and men, girls and boys; rebuilding social capital to strengthen bonds of trust and enhance local conflict resolution; and integrating gender equality and conflict resolution into development programmes in education, health, income generation and community development (Greenberg and Zuckerman, 2009). Additional resources are available at www.unfpa.org.


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