Women and Girls at War: Wives, Mothers and Fighters
Traditional images of war generally depict men as fighters and women as passive victims. While women are certainly victimized in conflicts, the narrow view neglects the roles women play as agents in armed conflict. In some cases, women often occupy a space between fighter and victim.
On Thursday, October 29, in the final installment of the Conflict, Security, and Development Series of the fall semester, Wagner welcomed Jeannie Annan, the Director of Research and Evaluation for the International Rescue Committee and a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. Addressing an audience of over 50 NYU students, faculty and staff, as well as members from outside the NYU community, Dr. Annan discussed the topic “Women and Girls at War: Wives, Mothers and Fighters,” based on paper she co-authored on the reintegration of women and girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. The full findings of the study can be found here and challenge the conventional wisdom regarding women and war.
The overall findings of the study challenge traditional understandings of the roles of women in armed conflict and, fortunately for a Wagner audience, expand upon the policy implications in post-conflict settings. By including policy and programmatic choices that can address the experience of women at war, the conversation was very concrete for an audience of current and future practitioners.
With most demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programs tailored towards the needs to men, women are often underserved. The programs that do address women in post-conflict situations are based on assumptions that women will be marginalized and/or stigmatized upon their return and are highly exposed to sexual violence.
While not disputing that women are victims of sexual violence and do have special reintegration needs, Annan challenges preconceived notions, stressing that post-conflict programs should be tailored to meet needs based on evidence, instead of our assumptions. Dr. Annan’s work attempts to improve our understanding of humanitarian needs, both policy and programming, based on rigorous research relying on evidence.
Annan’s research arrived at a variety of intriguing conclusions: first, women abducted by the LRA are not simply sexual victims, nor are their experiences the same as men. Sexual violence is not used as a “mad theology” but rather based on strict hierarchies to increase control. For example, civilian rape is prohibited. Finally, upon reintegration into their community, women are not more disadvantaged than their male counterparts who had also been abducted, nor is either group completely marginalized by society. In fact, the level of trauma is highly concentrated in a significant minority, instead of being diffuse across the population.
Annan’s presentation ended with a particularly poignant quote from a woman who had been abducted by the LRA advising parents of other women who had the same experience: “Take good care of her. It is not the end of her life. She should forget what happened. Be a good example for her. She is still surviving. She should not see this as the end of her life. She can still continue.”
Crossposted on the Wagner Public Service Today blog
I have been giving the great opportunity to tour Israel and Palestine through the Inter-Faith Peace Bulders Deligation. This program routinely brings a diverse intergerational group of people to the region to learn about the conflict and visit many different organizations and individuals who are rarely seen in the normal media. This campaign is being sponsored by US Campaign to End the Occupation.
After being here for a few days and touring a few settlements, I already have too much to say that can condense in a digestible form. What comes immediately to mind is the degree to which the Israeli government is explicitly dealing with the Palestinian question. Settlements are a hot topic now, but when you see the tunnels and roads that bypass Palestinian communities and see the maps of how they engulf all of the contiguous ethnically homogeneous communities, you begin to see a through plan.
Nof Zion is a settlement that strategically sits looking out at prime real estate as it encroaches on East Jerusalem, an important portion of the city that the Palestinian effort deeply wishes to claim as their future capital. A woman named Sarah from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions showed us in clear terms the extent this portion of the city is being challenged by Israeli law. From the random demolitions, to the insurmountable fees for construction, you begin to forget what side of the green line this area is in. The legal structures permits relative dissolution of Palestinian neighborhoods and land. The narrative in the West about this region is that there are two different lands in conflict but the reality is that one is in the belly of the other. Only after visiting the separation wall in Abu Dis –a recent 30 foot concrete barrier that penetrates straight through a community thought as a possible secondary capital–does it begin to set in that the settlement locations and the wall are short term plans that are successful in hindering the development of a cohesive Palestinian community near and within Jerusalem. Silwan, a small Palestinian community located near the Western wall and faces constant problems with ideological settlers (a small minority to the large number of heavily subsidized settlers from all over the world claiming Israeli citizenship) is only another example of real estate interests of several different powers that jeopardize any hope of a Palestinian state.
It is very common to hear in the media about the two-state solution as a possible answer but as I see it, there is no "Palestine" outside of this growing Israel. This places a hard question to consider when the expanding Palestinian and non-Jewish population within the Israeli border outnumbers the Jewish inhabitants. This could happen within two decades. Will Israel be prepared to become less and less democratic for the sake of a Jewish Identity? I do not see a long term plan coming from the Israelis. I only see a short term remedy that involves the dehumanization of one people, and borderline racism within the nation of Israel.
Dheisheh Refugee Camp Al-Phoenix Community Center