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
On October 6, 2009 the NYU Microfinance Initiative (NYUMI) and IPSA invited Mr. Arif Islam, the Country Head of BRAC Uganda, to discuss the scaling up of microfinance in Africa. Mr. Islam played a critical role in establishing BRAC as one of the largest microfinance institutions in Uganda. Mr. Islam presented a powerpoint with the story of how BRAC Uganda grew to become one of the largest microfinance institutions in Uganda in less than three years. After a fantastic presentation, the packed crowd ensued to ask wonderful questions of Mr. Islam. He was delighted by all the questions and wanted to continue late into the evening. The event concluded with a delightful cocktail hour with mingling and networking.
Well, I didn’t get invited to the Ambassador’s Residence for the Fourth of July. And, I was informed by a fellow American that the American Recreation Association party was not open to the public. Fortunately, my housemates and I had already planned a barbecue. Even though I was in Uganda, I managed to spend the day the way the Founding Fathers intended: eating cheeseburgers and Pringles.
Any memorable stories from the Fourth of July in foreign countries?
Before leaving for Uganda, I read a piece about what to bring when you are going to a developing country for an extended period of time. One of things mentioned was a suit because you never know what you’ll be invited to. Thankfully, I took heed of that advice and brought a suit.
Last night, while chatting with some Ugandans I have befriended, I was invited to an “Introduction Ceremony” scheduled for this afternoon. Luckily, I had my suit, otherwise I would have stuck out, not only for being one of the few mzungus there, but also for being underdressed.
An Introduction Ceremony is the formal engagement of couples in Uganda, where families come together and the groom’s father offers the dowry. I’m not sure exactly what the dowry was since the ceremony took place in a tribal language, but I’m told there were, in fact, cows involved, and there were two goats present.
The bride’s guests are able to enter the house immediately, but those for the groom had to wait outside until the groom’s father asked formally asked permission for them to enter. The formality of the event was evident even though I couldn’t understand what said and only was given brief summaries of what each exchange was about.
Two lessons come from this. Always bring a suit. And, never decline an invitation to celebrations.
For more on Uganda, please check out my personal blog.
I arrived in Uganda in the evening last Friday. I was fortunate to have set up a room in a flat with two American expats before I arrived so I was able to relax once I got here. It’s been nearly a week, and I am only beginning to feel adjusted to the time difference.
I’m working with the International Refugee Rights Initiative, who I interned with in New York this spring. Most of my work will be research for a project on citizenship and forced migration in Central Africa. While the project will eventually cover a large portion of the region, this summer, we are focusing on Sudanese and Rwandan refugees in Uganda. Over the next month we will be narrowing our focus and carrying out field research in July. If all goes according to plan, I will be accompanying at least one of the field research teams.
If you are interested in hearing more, I’m blogging at christopherlindahl.wordpress.com. At least when the internet is working…