Women, War and Worsening Situations
War, conflict and all kinds of armed battle have horrible impacts. Society is torn apart, often having to be rebuilt from the grassroots. People find themselves crushed by injury, their means of livelihood being thwarted by an exchange of fire and their lives itself, smashed to smithereens with them left to pick up the pieces. But of the lot, women are known to be the worst sufferers of conflict. As report after report seems to underline the fact, the trend still continues in the same direction. World over, women are the greater part of the segments of society that flee from the scene of conflicts. With most of the men folk taking to the armed forefronts, women find themselves being made the sole breadwinner of their families. Coupled with the economic considerations, there is always the looming threat of sexual violence. Oftentimes, the bodies of women become the battleground, as combatants and non-combatants exploit women sexually. Why is sexual violence so common on every warfront? Why are women the easiest targets? The fact is, that rape is cheap, easy and extremely effective. Armed groups, combatants and non-combatants alike use rape as a means to terrorize and control women and communities. Subjecting women to sexual violence earns the woman the indelible mark of stigmatization that society throws on them. Shrouded with humiliation, families then wind up turning these women out of their homes, and when women are spurned the backbone of a societal structure is broken. Men don’t want to marry women subject to sexual violence. Families don’t want to have them around anymore- either the stigma is too much to bear, or the fact that these women burden them since they can’t be married off (especially true in societies where marriages bring in bride prices). Sexual violence is calculated, brutal and absolutely bereft of humanity. Using sexual violence as a modus operandi in warfare is intricately woven with the hegemonic desire for power. Soldiers thirst to drive fear and strive to humiliate and punish women and their communities, in the hope that by doing so, they would invariably break down society entirely. Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations is a preferred method that is used to reinforce gendered and political hierarchies. Considering this, it is absolutely imperative that women be made an integral part of the process of preventing conflicts, and part of the peace-building and peace-keeping roles. Although this would contribute heavily towards protecting women, the ground reality is that the inclusion of women in pre and post conflict measures has been ignored largely. A UNSC Resolution (Res 1325 in 2000) worked to urge all the member states to “ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict”. Aside of reflecting the evident lack of the involvement of women in dealing with conflict, the resolution also showed signs of being a proactive initiation of the process. However, the situation a decade since shows no signs of improvement, or abatement. Consequently, a recent endeavour was made by the Security Council, with a host of deliberations that discussed the means that may be deployed to effectively implement Resolution 1325. The frugal to non-implementation of the resolution boils down to the question of policy. The involvement of women in the process of peace-building and peace-keeping, as also in the active political trajectory of a state is largely up to the state itself, and its policies vis-a-vis women. In most parts of the world, women find themselves inadequately equipped and inadequately represented. Furthermore, in several post conflict regions, women find themselves in a situation of fear, and in a situation where they are placed as sole breadwinners, and thinking of participation in the political process is far too distant a proposition. Where the fear factor goes, most women believe that participation in a vociferous political framework might bring them more harm. This is especially true in the context of places like DR Congo and Afghanistan. When women are forced to be sole breadwinners by circumstance, they are obligated to put their families first. This often makes them want to reach out to things that would benefit their families more than anything else. Consequently, these women wind up either voting for leaders who offer them sops and freebies but no future plans of empowerment, or wind up staying outside the political framework in search of a means of livelihood that could provide for their families. This is particularly true in India, DR Congo and Zimbabwe, and to some extent in Afghanistan and Nigeria. Involving women in the peace process is not easy, and is certainly not free of obstacles. A strong commitment is needed from the states themselves, to determinedly keep its women safe, and offer them a good social standing. On the part of the women, as hard as it might be, it is necessary that they put all their trust in themselves, to take a leap of faith. Women in War Zones International strives to put women back on track in DR Congo, by empowering them through the channel of education. Many of these women have aspirations of taking a plunge into the world of entrepreneurship, and aspire to eke a living out of a means they tailor for themselves. They are, truly, embracing the fact that they can be and should rightfully be the masters of their own fate. However, it is still a feat for them to actively participate in politics not just as voters, but also as candidates. This is something they cannot do until the government and the society of Congo makes some place for these women. The society and polity must learn to rise above lowly considerations such as stigma and stereotyping. Until this is done, true empowerment shall remain a dream for most women. However, we, at Women in War Zones, firmly believe that if we empower these women through education and entrepreneurship, they will be able to rise like the proverbial phoenix, from the ashes. They will be able to carve a niche for themselves, and as women who are unencumbered from the yoke of stigmatization, they will rightfully demand and earn their place in politics.
Join us in our movement to make this a reality. (www.womeninwarzones.org)