On 31st October 2000, the UN Security Council passed its first ever resolution on Women, Peace and Security (Resolution 1325). Furthermore, NGOs like Oxfam, Amnesty International, International Alert, Conciliation Resources began also to stress the gender- dimensions of conflicts and their implications for peace-building process as well as their significance for their own work.
Their policy recommendations, project planning and assessment address and stress – to varying degrees – women’s diverse experience in war, including their particular and distinctive peacemaking roles and the psychological, physical, and mental consequences of violent conflicts on women, such as trauma and war injuries.
People not only have different access to power structures and material resources before, during and after the escalation of a conflict; they also experience the pre-conflict phase, open conflict, and post -conflict situation in diverse ways. In most peace negotiations women’s experiences and situations are neither mentioned nor considered, and gender equality has not been adopted as an explicit aim. Therefore, with peace settlements as ‘gendered deals’, patriarchal structures tend to be perpetuated in political and economic institutions as well as in gender-relations.
In addition to the peace negotiations phase, the presence of international agencies and peace-keeping troops has also resulted in the “sexualization” of war zones, e.g., an increasing commercial sex trade include child prostitution. The rise of prostitution under such conditions also entails a striking rise in sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS.
There is growing body of evidence which points to the diversity of women’s activities and new experiences during a conflict that may have social, political, and economic consequences for post -conflict settlement and peace-building process.
In recent years, the immense variety of active roles played by women during violent conflicts was not very visible because of poor documentation and limited studies. As a result, the analytical focus has tended to be very much on women as passive agents, as helpless recipients of aid and targets of warfare.
This has changed. Today, it is documented and acknowledged that women play a variety of roles during violent conflicts. On one hand, women have functioned as peacemakers, peacekeepers, caregivers, and survivors (adult and children) etc.., while on the other hand, some have been involved in conflicts as freedom fighters.
Although there is a great of evidence, especially in the African context, which illustrates women’s roles as conflict mediators and as the main advisors in intra-group, inter-group, and national conflicts, one must realize that the equation of “women as peaceful sex” is not supported by historical evidence. The documentation of women’s involvement in actual violence and directly supporting of most contemporary violence conflicts tells a different story.
In Rwanda, for example, women actively supported and participated in the 1994 genocide. And women have not only used violence but have also incited men to use violence. Therefore, women cannot be considered- whether socially or biologically to be automatically more peaceful than men. The alleged peacefulness of women is the result of their exclusion from power i.e., the result of their dependent and subordinate role in hierarchical gender roles.
Given the wide variety of roles women and play in violent conflicts, one must differentiate between disempowering and empowering effects of violent conflicts on gender relations and women’s and men’s roles in peace-building processes.
Despite gross atrocities, human rights violations and everyday brutality and terror, violent conflicts also bring some empowering effects. In many wars, in the absence of men, women assume traditionally male-dominated roles, thus breaking with the old social order.
The end of a violent conflict may not only imply changes in the division of labor, political transformation etc. but may also lead to (radical) changes in gender relations. In the light of surviving violence and social and economic deprivation, women may gain more or new self-confidence, social and political skills. However, there is no guarantee that all these changes will be sustainable and empowering for women in the long term.
As far as disempowering effects of violent conflicts are concerned, both men and women often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including suicide, depression, different forms of mental illnesses etc. Striking aspects of this include different forms of sexual violence against girls and women like rape, forced prostitution and sexual humiliation. In Bosnia, for example, the sexual abuse of women was part of ethnic cleansing under the guise of national and ethnic supremacy.
Rape as systematic war strategy and its social, psychological, and physical effects on women have received more academic and political attention during recent years. While both male and female rape often aim to humiliate and demoralize the adversary, there seems to be a different motivation behind both forms of rape. Female rape seems to aim at humiliating and even destroying the community. Male rape, on the other hand, may be means to humiliate men.
In this context it is crucial to note that in the aftermath of violent conflicts female rape remains prevalent, while in some conflicts rape and other forms of sexual violence (domestic violence) even tend to be on the increase.
Another striking disempowering effect of violent conflicts on gender relations may be social exclusion- including reduced economic opportunities and marriage prospects-of women who have participated in violent conflicts as fighters.
There has been an increased participation of women as international actors in transnational women’s movements for peace, social justice, and human rights.
Transnational women’s NGOs and their work on issues such as domestic violence, women’s human rights, reproductive rights in the context of population policy or economic rights in the context of development policy have an essential impact on the agenda- setting in international relations, playing an important part in increasing gender-awareness in national and international politics and in policy formulation on the national and international level.
The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is a milestone.