Over the years of living in a conflict-infested world, there have been numerous efforts for peace-building and peacekeeping. The global community, international actors, and institutions have contemplated and implemented various plans and policies to provide relief to the regions grappling with conflicts, violence, and a constant state of fragility that leave the citizens in a persistent state of distress. However, the conflict-stricken states or regions that encountered civil wars or other forms of violent conflict years ago are still trapped, and the episodes of violence keep on repeating themselves.
Peacekeeping missions might mitigate the crisis and recidivism of wars in the short term, but in the long run, they do not prove to be very effective in preventing conflict reoccurrences. “Of the 259 armed conflicts identified by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), 159 recurred, and 100 involved a new group or incompatibility. One hundred thirty-five different countries have experienced conflict recurrence, and the pattern is deepening.” (Scott et al., 2016). Such disturbing pattern of a high rate of relapse is also emphasized by the UCPD/PRIO armed conflict dataset according to which “Of the 103 countries that experienced some form of civil war between 1945-2009 (from minor to major conflict), only 44 avoided a subsequent return to civil war.” (Walter, 2011, p.01). This alarming pattern means that more than half of the countries that endured civil war during this period underwent at least one more conflict that was a continuation or an extension of that previous civil war. Such failure to prevent conflict relapse despite the United Nation’s shift from traditional peacekeeping, which involves sending international personal to monitor the ceasefire and act as a buffer between the hostile armies (Fortana, 2003), to a more robust and multidimensional form of peacekeeping. In such cases, operations are conducted to maintain peace and security and facilitate political processes, protect civilian rights, assist in the organization of elections, promote human rights, etc. (United Nations Peacekeeping) indicates serious faults in peacekeeping strategies.
One of the primary reasons for the failure of peacebuilders to prevent a reoccurrence of war is the unaddressed grievances and ignorance towards the complexities of conflicts and the post-war period. Conflicts and wars are specific, driven by various factors of differing intensity, and they cannot be reduced to the number of deaths per year. Therefore, it is crucial to approach them multidimensionally and bring in an element of intersectionality by taking into account various categories like ethnicity, class, gender, age group, sexual orientation, etc. to dissect the deeper causes of conflict, where they germinate from, which fractions of the population are the most disproportionately impacted, how do the roles diverge over different groups of individuals. Such an approach to deconstruct any conflict and strategize for peace-building operation will reveal how starkly different the people’s experience of war-stricken regions can be based on the particular structural inequalities, social relations, and power dynamics of that society. With such a nuanced understanding, peace-building operations can be tailored to address the specific needs of the region that encountered war, which can better facilitate controlling conflict-inducing causes.
One of the ways to understand the intricacies of wars for enhancing the effectiveness of post-war interventions is to analyze them through a gendered lens and incorporate the gender dimension into the conflict analysis to know how the lived experiences of wars vary over different genders. Nevertheless, more importantly, to also ask why these experiences differ and why some gender identities such as women are disproportionality affected as compared to men, and it will reveal that “Women are not more vulnerable per se in times of war; they are made more vulnerable because of pre-existing inequalities in so-called peaceful societies” (Puechguirbal, 2010, p.176). The structural inequalities and stereotypical gender roles are reinforced during wars and become very starkly visible. Men are in the leading positions who march their armies primarily constituted of men as they are considered to be stronger and more rational and capable of making tough decisions. While women, on the other hand, are portrayed and considered as fragile and emotional beings that need to be protected and who are only capable of taking caregiving and supporting roles.
Additionally, the gender-based violence against women during times of conflict is a deep reflection of power imbalance that reduces the very being to an object of sexual pleasure for men. Sexual violence and rape of enemy women become a strategic tool of humiliating the enemy men for not being able to protect ‘his’ woman and “his exclusive right to sexual possession of his woman as his property” (Copelon, 2002, p.196). Such gender-specific details and sufferings of wars are never given the attention they deserve during the post-war interventions. Consequently, the trauma persists, and a sustainable peace remains unattainable.
Besides considering the disproportionate sufferings of women in times of war, it is also crucial to pay attention to the different political, economic, and social roles that women play during and after the conflict. During wars, the responsibilities of women are increased together with their freedom in decision making as they become the head of their homes and have greater independence in exploring the area of economics and finance to provide for their families. A study conducted to investigate the connection between gender and conflict in specific communities such as Mali, Sudan, Uganda, Angola, and Somalia found a temporary change in the gendered division of labour. Specifically, men struggled to adapt to the altering economic circumstances due to losing access to resources like land, social networks, etc., and fell into a state of despair and gloom. (El-Bushra, 2003). While contrastingly, “women tended to rise to the occasion by exploiting whatever economic niches could be found, and often took over practical responsibility for provisioning and protecting their families, whether or not their menfolk were with them.” (El-Bushra, 2017). Other studies have been conducted that emphasize the leadership and other diverse roles played by women during war times that need to be recognized and included in designing peace-building interventions for improving their efficiency.
However, these arguments on incorporating a gender perspective into conflict analysis and peace-building are not very recent. Rhetorically, a considerable amount of work has already been done that recognizes the unique impact of wars on women and the significance of their contributions to peace-building operations. The most important is United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace, and security. This resolution was unanimously adopted on 31st October 2000, and it “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” (United Nations). United Nations Security Council, with this resolution, urges the member states to increase the representation of women at all decision-making levels and expand their investments in gender-sensitive training efforts. It also calls on the actors participating in negotiating and implementing peace to adopt a gender perspective. (UNSC, 2000). After this landmark resolution, several subsequent resolutions have also been passed, such as SCR 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, 2242, 2467, and 2493. Each of these resolutions addresses a particular concern about protecting women and girls in conflicts and their participation in decision-making processes. (USIP).
Despite such efforts of integrating a gendered perspective in conflicts and post-war interventions that should protect women during wars and ensure their participation in peace-building, there is still a wide gap between what is written in the documents versus what is implemented. Even after more than two decades of adopting the UNSCR 1325, there is little evidence indicating an increase in security level for women in conflict-affected regions or progress in raising women’s profile in peace negotiations. (El-Bushra, 2017). Many authors argue that the United Nations still proceeds with the essentialist description of women as mothers and caregivers, which puts them in a “category that signifies innocence, vulnerability, and in need of protection” (Puechguirbal, 2010, p.172). Resultantly, this emphasis on vulnerability makes it justifiable to exclude women from peace negotiations as they are considered weak.
Moreover, the serious issue of gender-based sexual violence against women remains as unresolved as always. There are multiple testimonies of women from the regions going through conflicts that prove these arguments. Such as, a study conducted on the experience of Syrian women during conflicts reveals that they do not only have to fight a war but also patriarchy. One of the participants said that “Sexual harassment and abuse existed before the war, and it is not only in Syria. But because of the war, it increased.” (Williems, 2021). Another study on the sexual violence against Palestinian women in Israel settler colonialism also reveals the horrors and objectification that the Palestinian women face because “machinery of violence explicitly targets native women’s sexuality and bodily safety as biologized “internal enemies” since they are the producers of the next generation.” (Shalhoub-Kevorkian et al., 2014).
In light of the failure of the practical integration of gender into the conflict analysis and the persistent unattainability of sustainable peace, it is crucial to raise two extremely important questions. The first is why these efforts have not yielded the desired results, and the second question is what can be done now. The core problems that underpin the specific sufferings of women in wars and their exclusion in peace-making decisions are the structural inequalities, power imbalance, and stereotypical gender roles. As long as the system remains masculinist with no room for the inclusion of women, the protection and participation of women cannot be achieved. Also, simply having an equal ratio of women to men in the representative and peace negotiating roles cannot solve the problem entirely unless there is a total transformation and a systematic deconstruction of patriarchy. Therefore, it is essential to eliminate the gender stereotypes and reassess the structural inequalities that grant all the power to men and none to women to not only design immediate peacekeeping interventions that are well-tailored according to the gendered complexities of war but to also put an end to conflict relapse and to accomplish sustainable peace.
This article exclusively represents the author’s views and research, not the position of The Youth Center for Research.
About the author: Mukti is a visiting Research Fellow at the Youth Center for Research and the third-year student at Habib University, majoring in Social Development and Policy.
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Author: Mukti Prem Chand
Dated: 31st July 2021