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Gender Equality: Striving for Justice in an Unequal World


From Chapter 14 – After conflict: Women, peace building and development

The lack of separation between the “war front” and the “home front” which characterizes so many of today’s armed conflicts has important implications for the onset of peace. This rarely derives from a climactic defeat or victory by military forces, yielding to a state of tranquillity in which the regular apparatus of the state reassumes control. Formal hostilities may end because military commanders flee or capitulate, or peace accords are signed; but armed violence continues within disputed terrain, urban neighbourhoods and even in households. The hold and reach of the civilian authorities may be weak, and their legitimacy may continue to be challenged by groups unready to accept a final outcome. In these circumstances, the insecurities and deprivations experienced during conflict may continue, and their pattern remain as unpredictable as during actual war.

Thus the postconflict environment cannot be characterized as one in which life for women invariably returns to “normal”—even if a return to previous patterns of gender and social relationships, as if no war had occurred, were desirable or even possible. The upheaval of war, in which societies have been transformed and livelihood systems disrupted, in which women have assumed certain roles for the first time or come into contact with new ideas, has its own impact on intrapersonal relationships and societal expectations. But beyond these well-established historical patterns, evidence emerging from gendered analysis of postwar situations in the former Yugoslavia, sub-Saharan Africa, Cambodia, East Timor, Colombia and elsewhere shows that women not only face a continuation of aggression endured during the war, but may also face new forms of violence.

Furthermore, in the design of policies for postwar reconstruction, women’s needs may be systematically ignored, and even deliberately marginalized. This may carry forward echoes of past situations and power relations, but there can also be a new edge of aggression against women. Together, the continued and new forms of violence, and the attacks on women’s newly assumed rights and behaviours, constitute what frequently amounts to a postwar backlash against women.

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