1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009), Special Events (2000 - 2009)

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord and After: Gendered Dimensions of Peace (Draft)



In most societies conflicts are a common feature of everyday life. They range from conflicts arising over the allocation of resources, to conflict based on rivalry between different ethnic, linguistic and/or religious groups as well as class conflict. Such conflicts may not always create great disturbances or upheaval in the way that society functions. Indeed sometimes conflict is sometimes perceived as taking a society to a higher plane. This is the case with class struggle, with democratic challenges to despotism, and with women’s challenges to patriarchy and fundamentalism. But it is also fair to say that certain low intensity conflict can result in economic and social stagnation, which in turn can intensify and aggravate the inherent tension.

It is when the elements of violence dominates and overwhelms such situations, often manifesting itself in armed conflict, that the normal day-to-day functioning of a society is threatened. The nature of armed conflict has features which greatly affect processes of democratization, the formation of civil society, the conduct of good governance, and ethnic and gender relations embedded in a society. This is precisely why it has become imperative to look at conflict situations in a broader social context.

Situations of armed conflict, whether internal or between states, interfere with or destroy altogether the normal conduct of statecraft or governance. This is precisely why protracted armed conflict can cause great damage and harm to individual psyches and/or to institutions and practices of democracy and civil society. This is especially true in cases where war is waged against a particular ethnic or religious group or segment of the population. Socio-cultural values such as tolerance and justice are undermined, resulting in the general undermining of democratic norms
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This process has a gendered dimension. The mobilization of young men and their conscription into armies fuel the mechanisms of a militarised society. Women during wartime are often left behind to tend the day-to-day affairs of the family and state. In this sense they form the last vestiges of civil society. Their peculiar position in times of armed conflict has had a dual effect on the perception of their role in conflict situations. On the one hand they are made targets of the opposition forces. Rape or even the threat of rape is used as an instrument of war – an attempt to dismantle even peoples last attempt to survive with dignity. At the same time however, women in conflict situations may possess immunity as ‘political innocents’. This enables them to move more freely in the marketplace and gives them greater access to officials and more scope for taking care of their children and family. This last feature has often placed women in a privileged position from which they can negotiate peace between conflicting parties or even develop alliances across social and political boundaries. The potential of this position is usually not recognized by official peace-makers, perhaps because often what a woman reads into peace-building has to do with how she herself experiences oppression and discrimination at home and in public life. This particular angle often puts women’s perception of a just peace at loggerheads with official views of reconciliation and diplomacy.

The cessation of hostilities negotiated through a peace accord is thus merely the first step towards normalizing the situation and restoring governance and democratic practices to war-torn regions. Much will depend on how trauma and inter-factional rivalry are dealt with, how local development needs are addressed, and on how institutional capacity-building takes place in the post-conflict situation.

It has been seen therefore that peace accords reached between belligerents often evade or fail to address the issues that have been at the core of the conflict, for example disputes over distribution of land and other resources, or policies of ethnic or religious discrimination. But if issues are bypassed, the roots of the conflict will continue to fester beneath the surface, thus endangering any peace-building process. (RAWOO, 2000)

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