Africa: Women in Post-War Reconstruction, 9/30/99

Africa: Women in Post-War Reconstruction, 9/30/99

Africa: Women in Post-War Reconstruction
Date distributed (ymd): 990930
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from the report of a conference in Johannesburg in July on "Women in the Aftermath of War and Armed Conflict."The pre-conference announcement can be found at:
The full conference report is available in the web version of
this posting at:

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Women in the Aftermath of War and Armed Conflict
A Report of a Conference
by Meredeth Turshen


For additional information on the conference and related workshops, you may contact Meredeth Turshen, Department of Urban Studies and Community Health, School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903; Telephone: 732 932 4101 X681; Fax: 732 932 0934; E-mail:

The Co-Chairs of the African Women's Anti-War Coalition, which also met after the conference, are Anu Pillay, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg ( or and Codou Bop, Women Living under Muslim Laws (


The conference on "The Aftermath: Women in Post-war Reconstruction" was held 20 to 22 July 1999 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It gathered together 75 activist and academic participants from 16 African countries and from national and international nongovernmental organizations as well as United Nations agencies; guest speakers came from Croatia, Haiti, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Professor Colin Bundy, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Joyce Piliso-Seroke, Chair of the South African Commission on Gender Equality, welcomed participants. Yasmin Sooka, a human rights lawyer who chairs the Human Rights Violations Committee of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Judge Albie Sachs of South Africa's Constitutional Court delivered keynote addresses. The Ford Foundation, the International Development Research Centre (Canada), and the Royal Netherlands Embassy (in South Africa) funded the conference.

The primary purpose of the conference was to develop a gender analysis of post-conflict recovery and rebuilding. Gender is an English word that does not translate well into other languages. We used it to talk about power relations between women and men as well as the roles women and men are socialized to play in family, community, and national life. Many speakers confirmed that gender roles can shift dramatically in times of conflict (including armed struggle and liberation wars) and under authoritarian and fascist regimes. These shifts often challenge power structures, especially patriarchal power structures, and they can destabilize interpersonal relations between women and men and between generations. ...

Some power shifts in gender relations give women new opportunities to train, learn skills, and imagine new-more equal-relations with men as comrades, fighters, and lovers. Yasmin Sooka, Albie Sachs, and Thandi Modise (Deputy President of the ANC Women's League) all described ANC comrades as breaking out of old molds during the anti-apartheid struggles. Sondra Hale, professor of anthropology and women's studies at UCLA and a guest speaker, described a near-idyllic world within the Eritrean People's Liberation Front-so paradoxical at the heart of armed conflict.

Speakers also talked about women stepping into violent roles traditionally played by men-women who became accomplices to rape, murder, and torture. These are not examples of power shifts, though they may involve changes in gender roles. Women who participated in the genocide in Rwanda and women who were instruments of state violence and partisan violence in South Africa were not changing or challenging the relative power of women and men. In these situations, women were instruments of an old order. ...

The speakers raised several questions: why are the positive gender shifts so fragile? Why in many cases are women's new economic, social, and political roles unsupported and so easily denied? Why are their war "gains" reversed in the aftermath of armed conflict and is the reversal inevitable? ...

Five Thematic Workshops ...

Violence Against Women [see full report]

War as Loss and "Gain" [see full report]

War/postwar Shifts in Gender Relations [see full report]

New Identities of War

The fourth workshop on identity continued the work mapped out by Martina Belic of Croatia and Lepa Mladjenovic of Serbia. Sheila Meintjes (University of the Witwatersrand), one of the South African conference organizers, asked about constructions of masculine identity in war and peace. The South African sociologist Jacklyn Cock has shown how women contribute to the construction of wartime masculinity, even quite traditional women not overtly engaged in the war effort. Tina Sideris, a South African psychologist who has worked with women survivors and victims, especially Mozambican women refugees, asked about alternate male discourses: can we think beyond conscientious objection and community service alternatives to military service? Military structures also imbue the identity of peacetime services-for example, public health workers may carry military rank, and some nursing services are violently hierarchical.

Workshop participants considered a range of issues: gender, ethnicity, and race; women's solidarity across ethnic and religious lines; psychosocial and political models of healing; and the roles in healing of truth and reconciliation commissions, international tribunals, and national courts. They concluded that identities are not singular or fixed in time and space, but multiple, gendered, and contextual. War decimates men's as well as women's identities, and men may have fewer alternative empowering identities to draw on (for example, has recent work on fatherhood provided men with a positive identity in the way that new thinking about motherhood has done?). Women's and men's identities are not defined in binary opposition to each other, nor is women's empowerment a zero-sum game. We should look at how alternative identities are created (for example, by examining aspects of lesbianism).

Context, strategies, and available resources all shape our understanding of violence as well as our comprehension of the parts our identity being violated. The group reconsidered the meaning of violence against women. Understanding violence against women as private and individualized is a formalistic response. This is a crucial point for the whole conference, and it also affects our understanding of feminism. Accepting that violence is socially and structurally produced and sustained can result in politically transformative responses. High levels of violence as in war can hide the effects of gender violence, which predates war and continues in peacetime. As Anu Pillay, a South African conference organizer said, "There is no aftermath for women."

Healing is a multi-dimensional process and needs a multi-pronged approach. Healing is also anchored in a context, and approaches developed by one society are not necessarily appropriate for others. Women are not just victims of war, as some aspects of their experiences are empowering and can be used as a resource for healing and transformation. Healing should not become an additional burden for women: their role must be recognized as a resource, just as women's resilience must be acknowledged. Women's roles in the survival and reconstruction ofsociety should be identified and documented. We need to empower women's access to different points of healing and to cultural resources. We should also plan for future generations because one consequence of war is that violence leaves scars and shapes the identity of future generations. War's impact is felt beyond immediate survivors and can become part of a people's identity (for example, being Jewish or South African or of a "race"). ...

State-society Relationships

The fifth theme, the relation of state to society in the aftermath, was tied to one of the main conference objectives, which was to develop policies and strategies to influence the process of democratic representation of women's interests in the aftermath. The South African example, as presented by Thandi Modise, is exceptional in Africa because a strong state emerged from the anti-apartheid struggle. More typical is a weakened state after civil war, or a state with few resources, or in the case of Somalia, no state at all. What are the chances of transforming gender relations in state and society in these varied circumstances?

The participants believed it necessary to ensure the representation of women and women's organizations in peace negotiations. They pointed out that women living in exile had a role to play and a special contribution to make. The group noted that women's expectations in the aftermath differed according to their experiences and engagement in the conflict-for example, some women were combatants or had sustained male combatants; many were refugees and internally displaced while others remained in urban or rural areas. Participants emphasized the importance of post-conflict demilitarization of society (not just demobilization of combatants) in establishing a culture of peace, and they identified constitutional and economic issues as part of integrating gender into post-war reconstruction strategies and policy. They considered new legal and service structures such as legal reform of women's access to land and access to public health services.

The identification of all stakeholders-internal and external, public and behind the scenes-and naming what each stands to gain from peace are necessary if women are to participate effectively in the peace process. Internal stakeholders include warring parties; political parties and opposition groups; combatants (male and female); organs of civil society (for example, women's groups within refugee camps and internally displaced persons' camps; traditional groups in rural and urban areas, including religious communities); black marketeers; illegal traders in guns, drugs, and prostitutes; and exiled intellectuals and groups. External stakeholders include companies and corporations, arms and drugs dealers, international mafia, and mercenaries. Regional players include peacekeeping forces and peace brokers, and international players include UN peacekeepers, the UN Department of Political Affairs, the Security Council, NATO, OAU, IMF, and the World Bank. Key countries are (usually) the USA, France, UK, and members of the European Union. The media (local and international) may also be stakeholders. ...

The group made the following recommendations: that there be full participation of civil society at the negotiating table, that government transparency be ensured, that user friendly institutions be created, that checks and balances be instituted, that the efforts of groups like the African Women's Anti-War Coalition be recognized, that all policy reflect a gender perspective on all issues (not just women's issues), that all laws to protect women and children be respected and enforced, that independent women's organizations formulate a women's manifesto at country level and present it to their governments, that there be new mechanisms to train women leaders, that research and theorizing on gender and the interrogation of ideologies of gender be encouraged, and that women be encouraged to find governmental allies (women in government and women in civil society).

The following demands were made to governments (North and South): end conflict; exhibit utmost transparency; enforce all laws that protect women and children and establish relevant statutory structures for monitoring and protecting their rights; recognize the efforts of organizations of civil society such as the African Women's Anti-War Coalition (which should have observer status or some representation); reiterate AWAC's Dakar recommendations; and take responsibility for reconstruction.

Additional demands were addressed to international agencies and northern industrial governments: acknowledge your role in conflict; compensate war victims; prevent new conflicts; find mechanisms to implement and evaluate implementation of gender-specific guidelines and policies; give a gender perspective to the work of early warning monitoring organizations; and identify allies abroad to lobby on behalf of women at the national level (for example when representatives from their countries pay diplomatic visits-or other way around).

For the organizations of civil society working with governments, the group recommended that they focus on the work of reparation, justice, social reconstruction, and the prevention of renewed conflict. A specific recommendation was made regarding funding: that funding be sought to enable AWAC to insert itself in the dialogue to end specific crises such as the current one in Congo-Kinshasa.

Regional Workshops

On the last day of the conference, three regional workshops were convened covering southern Africa, western Africa, and a combined group for eastern and central Africa. Their purpose was to create regional networks that could map the way forward. The need for regional solutions to problems of the aftermath is directly tied to the ways war and armed conflict have developed and spread throughout the continent. Conflicts are clustered and spill over into neighboring countries. Arms and combatants move from one country to another. Even liberation movements are supplied by criminals trafficking arms and drugs-and of course sex, or rather women. ...


Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <> Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 09:39:36 -0500 Subject: Africa: Women in Post-War Reconstruction

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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