While men play the largest roles in conflict, women and children are usually the ones who suffer most of the repercussions – whether we talk about (sexual) violence, loss or post-traumatic stress disorder. Women and girls are generally the most affected by armed conflicts and/or disaster, which leads to lack of security and often exclusion from participation in the economic, social and political decision-making processes. Even in the 21st century and even in the developed world, women have to face gender inequality; this offers an idea on how mistreated they are within the developing world, not to mention in conflict areas.
In order to create the setting for an in depth conversation, ISC Paris and World Solidarity Forum Partners organised a second Press Café: Women in Conflict, with focus on these issues and challenges.
The Press Café is part of a Networking series where each participant has the opportunity to join a discussion circle of their interest. Rotation will take place every 20 minutes, enabling the participants to take part to three different thematic tables.
Moderator: Antonina Radeva – Human Rights Expert (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; Climate Change)
Women’s Treatment – Olga Frańczak (European Women’s Lobby)
Ms. Frańczak has taken the audience through a complex overview of women’s treatment within conflict, touching upon women’s situation in both armed and unarmed conflicts as well as in the military. Talking about armed conflict, she argues that sexual assault and rape are not only self-standing acts of violence, but also an aspect of broader political and economic violence. Citing the example of the conflict in Kashmir, she explains that women’s treatment is regarded as a tool for political pressure – ‘ethnic cleansing rape’, where the Indian Forces are ‘making’ women bear children for the ‘enemy’ community. In such cases, happening elsewhere as well, women are even more victimised. Not only do combatants see their bodies as legitimate battlefields, but their own communities (gender bias towards women’s cleanliness) then reject and ostracise them for what they have endured (loss of economic assets).
Regarding military participation, Ms. Frańczak added that women tend to be ‘bullied’ over their duties in the army. While women are asked if they ‘Sold Girl Scout cookies’, men get handshakes and told ‘Thank you for your service’. Moreover, after coming back from the army, there are less job opportunities for women, despite the fact that they learned the same skills as their male colleagues.
Moving to unarmed conflict, it was highlighted that during time of peace, cooperation and prosperity, women’s sexuality (motherhood) are her private sphere and they are respected. Nonetheless, we can see that right wing politics puts women at the heart of their politics, but only regarding one role – “producing” more children (it’s not even about actual, consensual and joyful motherhood).
What is more, whether we refer to armed or unarmed conflict, official acts do not address women directly. Instead women are often used as a battlefield (armed conflict – whoever controls women’s productive and reproductive power has the advantage; or women’s rights are used as a political issue – unarmed conflict)
Women Disabled by War – Nada de Murashkin (UN mission in Darfur)
Speaking from her personal experience in Darfur, Ms. de Murashkin discussed how in areas affected by conflicts, men and women have different mobility patterns, as they have different vulnerabilities and exposure to mines and other remnants of war. For example, women are active in gathering fuel, food, and water which means that they, together with children,are often victims of mines and unexploded ordnance (such as grenades, rockets, and other devices that do not explode on impact). While men are the majority of victims, the impact on women is made worse due to gender bias and leaves them further vulnerable to isolation, poverty, and death.
In some countries, women have less access to healthcare once an accident occurs. This is due to social laws that forbid male physicians to treat a woman, and a lack of female health workers, meaning that women are more likely to die from their injuries. Furthermore men left disabled by the remnants of war are often cared for by their wives and families. However, disabled women are often further marginalised, ostracised by the community and abandoned by their husband and families. This leaves them not able to find a husband, work, or care for children, and further exposes them to poverty and marginalisation.
While providing education messages on risk aimed at women is a useful practice, conflict can leave large areas of land contaminated by mines and other unexploded ordinance, so women have no other choice but to work on contaminated land in order to feed their families. One way to empower women disabled by war is to integrate them into the wider disabled community, and provide resources, healthcare and training that increases their mobility, health, and economic opportunities.
Women Taking a Stand – Angelika Hild (European Young Feminists) & Eke Celine Fabrequette (ACP YPN)
Ms. Hild and Ms. Fabrequette hosted a joint discussion circle where they introduced and analysed instances of feminist movements and activism/empowerment in the Global North and South. As central points they have chosen ‘Repeal the 8th’ Movement (Ireland), women holding ‘Shadow Peace Talks’ (Ukraine), Pretoria Girls High (South Africa) and role of women in the elaboration of a peace agreement (Columbia).
- Political and Social (Media) Movements
Ms. Hild explained how Ireland has seen a sinuous development of the Abortion Law. But, since 2015, the Irish pro-choice movement is getting loud again. Prominent actors came forward and shared their abortion stories; for example, famous Irish writer and director, Graham Linehan and his wife Helen, talked about their experience of a pregnancy with a foetus which had a 100% mortality rate. They spoke about their decision to have an abortion in the UK in a video to support Amnesty International ongoing campaign (#sheisnotacriminal) to have abortion decriminalised in Ireland.
Various protests and demonstrations have been held around Ireland (and the world) in order to ‘Repeal the 8th’ amendment. A big demonstration took place in Dublin, with similar events in more than 20 cities world. Many young people are at the forefront, but also older women who already protested 20 years ago. More than the physical protests, there is also an enormous social media campaign tackling the subject. The online activity shows that the movement is more than just ‘abortion’. While a percentage of anti-choicers does cite the life of the unborn, the ‘real’ topic often centres on morals and the belief that women should be punished for ‘not keeping their legs shut’.
Ms. Fabrequette has highlighted the case of Pretoria Girls High, in South Africa – more specifically, the case of pupils who claim they have been subjected to racism and that their blackness has been discouraged. As a result of the school’s ruling – where African hairstyles such as afros, bantu knots, dreadlocks and braids are forbidden – students held a protest at the school to voice anger against the alleged longstanding rule. Similar to the case of Ireland, the demonstration has entered the online sphere, with various campaigns over social media have exploded.
- Programmes or initiatives for women empowerment in conflict
Moving to empowerment actions, the guest speakers have presented and discussed the Ukrainian and Columbian cases. In Ukraine, a group of around 100 women are holding ‘Shadow Peace Talks’ since July 2016 as a means to brainstorm about ways to help end the conflict that began in April 2014 between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government. Even if studies say that women should be highly active in the peace process, women in Ukraine are still not involved enough in the official proceedings. In Columbia, on the other hand, women have played a great role in the elaboration of a peace agreement between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). The accord pledges to improve access to land for women farmers through a land bank and its subsidiaries, and seeks to encourage rural women to move away from growing coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, by providing creches and other kinds of support.
Women Refugees – Isabella Eisenberg (Formerly with Relief and Reconciliation for Syria)
In 2011, there were (very roughly) 21M inhabitants in Syria. Out of those, (very roughly) two thirds (~14M) have left their pre-war homes (are displaced) and (very roughly) one third (~7M) still lives in their pre-war homes. Out of those displaced, about half have been displaced within the country (IDPs), and the other half have crossed international borders, mainly into neighbouring countries. Figures show around 7M IDPs, around 5M registered refugees in neighbouring countries (alongside many more who have not been registered), plus 500,000 refugees registered in Europe (by late 2015). This means that out of those registered as refugees, the vast majority, about 90%, remains in neighbouring countries, with only ~10% reaching Europe.
In the portrayals of the refugee crisis done by media we have seen many more men appear than women. Yet, those same media often overlook the fact that in the neighbouring countries, men and women refugees amount to very similar numbers; there are roughly as many female as male refugees. Moreover, roughly half of all refugees in neighbouring countries are under 18s with the women being those mainly in charge of looking after them. (There are over 2,5M refugee children, out of which many have been out of school for several years; hence the “lost generation”). On the other hand, in Europe, men amount to (very roughly) 70% of Syrian refugees, and only about 15% are women and 15% children.
Focusing on the women’s situation in the neighbouring countries, Ms Eisenberg discussed the challenges they are facing on a daily basis. Both those living in refugee camps (roughly 10%) and those making do with other forms of shelter (roughly 90%, the vast majority) are coping with desolate housing and living conditions. Basic goods, such as electricity, clean water and food are often missing. There are also major tensions between host and refugee communities and constant instances of bullying (at best) and serious physical violence (at worst) directed against the refugees. For many refugee women and children, violence has become a normalised part of life. Domestic violence is widespread and women make excuses for male violence directed towards them. In addition, forced and child marriage is also common. Some families see marrying off their young daughters as an opportunity to keep their daughters safe, to protect family honour, and to get out of poverty given their limited economic options.