- Where is the State Presence?
We live in a world of dichotomies, ironies, hypocrisy and utter confusion. We say one thing, and do another. We claim to want something and we do nothing about it. We harp on matters we have not researched. We condemn religions we know nothing about. We are a messed up people.
The above might be too much to handle for some, but my point is that Islam gets a flag for everything. Be it the decision on female lives; expectations from women and how they ought to lead their affairs of life. But one thing that Islam delineated 1400 years ago- and something that states after all their acumen and intellect have failed to enact- was womenn’s exemption from being made a part of military conflict. Women, children, animals, places of worship, even crops are not to be harmed in a warzone. How much of this is true in today’s world?
Massive feminist uproar has been witnessed in recent times, both within Pakistan and without, about women liberation, their rights and demands for equality. But why does no one pinpoint what needs to be? What of women in a post-conflict scenario? What of their inhuman treatment and degradation in such a milieu? It is imperative to talk about this. Why does no one consider this a topic for emergency discussion and debate?
We only see gross images of women and females humiliated and shunned in war zones such as Kashmir and Palestine. We only look at them and condemn it on Whatsapp groups. Should not the states stand up and resolve to hinder all excesses to basic human rights here? States need to change from being perpetrators to being active contributors to human welfare. States need to stop feeding off their military-industrial complexes, that only fuel human agony, torture around the world and need to go to war. If they are so worried about female liberation, they need to start talking against war and occupation. Forget about equality with men, or liberation– talk about equality of life.
The 2009 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1889 highlighted the need for protection and an effective women’s role in the post-conflict area. “A cessation of conflict should not result in the marginalization of women and girls, nor their relegation to stereotypical roles,” said United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. The following points were brought to the fore:
“The particular needs of women and girls in post-conflict situations, including, inter alia, physical security, health services including reproductive and mental health, ways to ensure their livelihoods, land and property rights, employment, as well as their participation in decision-making and post conflict planning, particularly at early stages of post-conflict peace building.”
And, “That despite progress, obstacles to strengthening women’s participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace building remain; that women’s capacity to engage in public decision making and economic recovery often does not receive adequate recognition or financing in post-conflict situations, and that, funding for women’s early recovery needs is vital to increase women’s empowerment, which can contribute to effective post-conflict peacebuilding.”
Concluding, the author says that, problems facing the state will only be resolved and women issues assuaged once there is a shift from ‘gender-blind accounts’ to ‘gender-sensitive analysis’; transition from universality of solutions to specificity and diversity; and, endorsing women not as victimized figures, but active female participants post-conflict
Armed conflicts usually occur in countries with low economic development– where poverty, battle for resources and inequality cause the conflict. Massive human rights abuses and humanitarian disasters accompany them. Women are always more vulnerable and in need for external protection by the state or NGOs; as they end up worse off economically than men, due to traditionally subjugated roles. They cannot be expected to gain full control of their lives and decision making if such an arrangement had been missing from the start. The state’s role is minimal as it is itself struggling with post-conflict crises like unemployment, inflation and corruption, an overall breakdown of economic, political and social life. To expect the state to pay heed to women protection, be they IDPs or other civilians, is asking for too much.
This is why the state plays little or no role in women protection. Why we find in the examples of Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sudan-Darfur and now Syria, women are hardly ever paid attention during armed conflict, of both international and national scope. It is non-governmental initiatives which to some extent help alleviate female miseries after a conflict.
Women’s problems are further compounded as they suddenly find themselves in the male roles after conflict in otherwise male-dominated societies and cultures. This time may well be very promising for the women, allowing them greater autonomy and exposure as breadwinners; but the challenges in the shape of post-conflict violence are tremendous. They need help with health issues; shelter, nutrition, water and sanitation; birth registration; educational programmes; and need programmes to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, as well as condemnable traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.
Solutions and approaches in this regard are varied. The journal Do Not Delete states that rehabilitation after conflict has to focus on centrality of gender. The two fundamental steps should be, to respond to the post-conflict population’s daily needs, ranging from livelihood to health to education; and secondly, to expand the focus of justice and accountability mechanisms to account for the core material needs of those whom the conflict has victimized, and to articulate and implement their visions of justice. Women are the hardest hit. Forming the nucleus of the family structure, they cannot be ignored and hence, must be considered both in the ‘general’ and ‘specific’ protection and rehabilitation mechanisms in the post-conflict arrangement, like the strategy proposed for women’s empowerment in Iraq. In 2003 the Food and Agriculture Organization, under its Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis Programme, prepared a strategy for participatory processes of context, livelihood and stakeholder analysis with the immediate objective of assisting emergency specialists in planning and implementing gender-sensitive operations there. The main outputs foreseen included improved i) information systems from a gender perspective, ii) institutional capacity in terms of socioeconomic and gender analysis and planning capability, and iii) micro-projects for women’s empowerment.
Women empowerment matters because they have to raise a generation that will form the cornerstone of the population. A lot is expected of women, with little provision. They have both general and specific rights. Their education and employment will matter, because they will add to labor force and help a war-torn economy. They form over 50 percent of the world population and cannot be left to rot with stigmatizing social stereotypes, without being utilized. Educating them will improve chances of their children being educated and adequately nourished. States that fail to provide for and protect its weak members, fail!
It has been noted in as disparate examples as Rwanda, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Bangladesh, North Korea and Northern Ireland that ‘indecent assault’ on women is a perpetual occurrence used as a weapon to undermine the enemy. Protection against this inhuman treatment, solutions for post traumatic stress disorder and HIV/AIDS in fractured societies is indispensable to the post-conflict healing process.
Social security, micro finance, justice and social services like education, adequate livelihood support, health care and a well-trained civil service will only help enhance the long term development of the post-conflict zone. Health care is most important as an immediate relief provision, since, it might have been completely destroyed during conflict. Like in East Timor, where more than one-third of clinics were destroyed.
Women and Post Conflict Reconstruction Issues and Sources by Birgitte Sorensen states that politically, women must be made part of liberation movements and peace-building activities; democratization and decentralization of power, and immediate elections must be called for a society to cope post-conflict. Formal and informal employment must be available to women equally for them to develop. Social integration, especially the integration of socially stigmatized groups (like molested women), will help reduce the female plight. Concluding, the author says that, problems facing the state will only be resolved and women issues assuaged once there is a shift from ‘gender-blind accounts’ to ‘gender-sensitive analysis’; transition from universality of solutions to specificity and diversity; and, endorsing women not as victimized figures, but active female participants post-conflict.
This will only happen once we remove the veneer of upperclass, elitist–hence, far detached and unreal– cries for female liberation. Such voices are limited only to what they want to wear. We need to start working toward real female freedom from oppression. The matter is graver than it seems on the common images of posters hollering female lib. It is time we treated women as humans, equally vulnerable and damaged as men in a war zone.