Peace Building and women; challenges and opportunities Conflict is not gendered; its fallouts and consequences are gendered

By Hajira Bano Balkhang Leh, Apr 07, 2014
Leh :
Women have a very significant role in the all-round progress and development of human society. Their participation in decision-making in all spheres including in peace process for the cause of community development is very crucial. Since time immemorial, Indian women have been playing a meaningful role in multi-dimensional aspects of human life.

“Conflict is not gendered”. This is the statement that we are brought up with and have learnt to accept, with almost an unwavering faith. The fact is conflict and its fallouts and consequences are gendered. It is often seen and portrayed as a ‘masculine affair’, something involving and affecting only men; this view forces us to believe that as men are stakeholders in conflict, they are the main party in peacebuilding too.

As such, women are comfortably excluded and therefore their views, problems and possible participation in conflict resolution are dismissed. Men feel more involved with both processes of conflict and of conflict resolution as direct partners whereas women are often perceived as ‘collateral damage’ in any conflict and especially in armed conflicts.

From right to life, the right of inheritance, freedom of movement and choice, societal restriction and the patriarchal net is spread as wide as it can get. It is therefore sad to see that the women who are half the population in any place, and suffer equally if not more in the conflict are left out of the peace discourse. Women have a greater role in peacebuilding as they bring in useful insights into the discourse of conflict. They can be trained in conflict resolution and peacebuilding as they form the centre of the basic unit of any society, i.e. the family. It is as such important to facilitate the participation of women in the discourse of peacebuilding not only to cater to the consequences of conflict but to prevent conflict as well.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir for the past two decades has seen a violent conflict that still refuses to die down. Even though the conflict has majorly been limited to the valley of Kashmir and some parts of Jammu region, the effects have been felt throughout the state. Over the years the state has seen conflicts of other kind emerge throughout the valley. Ladakh is geographically placed near the border that India shares with China and Pakistan; this strategic location presents an ever-looming threat of conflict in Ladakh, the anticipation of which has increased in the recent past with the violation of the LAC by Chinese troops.
Ladakh is not a predominantly rigid patriarchal society and girls are not as socially alienated as compared to rest of India. This paves the way for involving the women as partners in conflict resolution and peacebuilding not only at a broader level but also at the domestic and societal level. No doubt women in Ladakh enjoy a good status but yet they are left out in the decision making at the administrative level and since the inception of LAHDC Leh and Kargil, there has not been even a single women councilor in both the districts. Given the adequate resources and proper training women in our region are ideally placed to play an active role in conflict resolution and promoting peace not just through the informal channel which is, of course, an area where women can play a role much bigger than their counterparts but also informal conflict resolution mechanism and processes.

Many Non-Governmental Organization and Self Help Groups are working for empowering of the women in Ladakh. Army Sadbhavna is also playing a major role in educating the women folk of Ladakh.

What should be done?

1.Opportunity and Empowerment: I strongly believe that given ample opportunity and empowerment, women can play a very important role in peacebuilding processes in the region. Hence, creating opportunities for women remains the first step towards enhancing the involvement of women in decision making and thereby leading to them being recognized as potential peacebuilders.

2. Interfaith dialogue: Given the fragile communal structure in Ladakh, it is important to realize the role of women in building the peace that reduces the friction between communities. Greater interaction between people belonging to different ideologies is important towards building an amiable atmosphere where biases and prejudices take a backseat. To sustain peace it is important that greater interactions and exchange of ideas among women of different/conflicting faiths be encouraged.
Interfaith dialogue is critical to address the developing gaps between communities and bringing them together for dialogue that forms an important part of conflict resolution. Women need to come in contact before men and act as a buffer of the conflict-free zone between the conflicting parties.

3. A holistic approach to empowerment:Education, general upliftment of women of all communities, giving them opportunities to make decisions at family and community levels, local self-government bodies and Self Help Groups to boost their confidence and utilizing their inherently good negotiating skills will go a long way in encouraging the women to participate themselves in peacebuilding process.

The challenge is to reach out to young girls and train them in various aspects of conflicts and ways to mitigate them. And once a ‘critical mass’ of such women reach in society then I believe we can sustain it with very little effort. The Self Help Groups approach can be taken as a model for mobilizing girls and women, utilizing community-based organizations as tools for reaching out to women for training them in peacebuilding. Women can act as a buffer zone between conflicting communities and tribes. 

I will emphasise that the alternative solutions might be involving women in public democratic spaces, and transforming their positions from passive recipients in the conflict to active partners in peacebuilding.

The only way to suggest possible solutions to the challenges faced by women is by their participation in the analysis of the problem and the subsequent self-development of solutions. Only then their issues can be understood and solutions devised in partnership with them, otherwise the discourse continues to be, as we call it patriarchal.