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Gender and Conflict

This book has raised more questions than tried to answer with each conflict branching into others.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 19:04 IST

Gender and Conflict
by Shoma A. Chatterji
Pages: 233
Price: Rs 295
ISBN: 81-7476-552-2

Here is an excerpt from the Preface:

“Conflict” is a word that has extremely wide connotations in human life, across cultures, cutting across borders of time, place, people, language and economy. For women, however, the word conjures up images concentrating on violence, which too is a word that runs counter to the conventional, stereotypical image of woman as mother and nurturer of the human race. Perhaps, the very notion of the woman’s submissiveness – spontaneous, trained, or socially conditioned, nature has triggered off a range of varied shapes of violence around her in the form of domestic violence, rape, the consequences of war, partition, communal and ethnic conflict, denial of political participation and so on. The age-old argument against allowing women in combat is that they are not strong enough. Another argument is that the presence of women in combat units dominated by men could weaken concentration and disrupt male bonding.

“Conflict” is a two-edged word with razor-sharp edges that cut both ways. Add “gender” to it and you have a veritable atom bomb ticking away, ready to explode. In this book, conflict is defined to mean the striving of different people or groups towards goals that are difficult to reconcile. Conflict linked to gender in this context is an evolving term and its manifestations and textualities keep changing from place to place and from one group of women to another, from one political and historical context to another. It covers a broad spectrum of people, issues, questions and incidents, beginning from the birth of the girl-child within a patriarchal society till the day she dies.

Though “gender” attaches itself to both sexes, over time, it has exclusively been used in association with the female of the human species. Exclusion, discrimination and marginalization based on ethnicity, gender, caste, class, religion and geographic location underpin different kinds of conflicts, resulting in unequal access to resources, opportunities, justice, citizenship, basic needs and rights to women across the world.

Women and children make up to 80% of the refugees or internally displaced persons. Women fall prey to sexual violence, torture, rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and forced conscription in war. Women lose fathers, husbands, sons, property, and employment in war. In Northern Ireland, women are pushing for women’s inclusion in government and politics, while in Afghanistan, women are fighting for the right to survive, including the needs for basic health care and education. From the Balkans to Burundi, Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka, women are the worst victims of war. An international peace network called “Women in Black”, begun in Israel in 1988 has now developed in England, Spain, Italy, the former Yugoslavia and the United States. It stresses that all women involved in countries at war should work towards building peace in their respective communities.

Given the widespread nature of the traumatisation due to war, the psycho-social reactions in women are often accepted as a normal part of life. But at the community level, manifestations of the trauma can be seen in the social processes and structures. Women have learnt to survive under extraordinarily stressful conditions. But the community reels under the impact. Coping strategies must be designed with caution and implemented with patience. The problem of collective traumatisation is best approached through community level interventions such as spreading general awareness among the public, training, vocational training, indigenous coping strategies, expressive therapy, special programmes, reconciliation and rehabilitation.

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 19:04 IST