Development in Conflict: The Gender Dimension

Development in Conflict: The Gender Dimension



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Development in Conflict: The Gender Dimension by Judy El Bushra, Eugenia Piza Lopez

This paper is intended for development workers who need clearer practical and theoretical insights into the problems of integrating a gender perspective into conflict-related work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780855982942
Publisher: Oxfam Publishing
Publication date: 11/28/1994
Series: Oxfam Working Papers Series
Pages: 106
Product dimensions: 8.25(w) x 11.75(h) x (d)

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1.1 Introduction

Development agencies have been responding to the plight of civilian populations affected by conflict since the beginning of their existence. Indeed, many — like Oxfam itself — originated in the need to support refugees from war situations. So why has the issue of conflict and development taken on a renewed urgency in the 1990s?

First, conflict is no longer an exceptional circumstance. During the 1970s and 1980s, structural poverty deepened in the Third World, and the ending of the Cold War opened up outlets for local animosities, frustration, and rebellion, to be violently expressed in country after country. Increasingly, those involved in Third World development are finding their efforts checked by the impact of war. More and more, development workers are discovering the need to understand and address the root causes of conflict as well as to provide immediate assistance to those affected.

Secondly, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are becoming increasingly aware that conflict is not an isolated issue; rather, it feeds off, and in turn nourishes, other factors of turbulence which have also become pervasive elements in the development landscape. These include environmental degradation, political inequality and repression, economic decline, and the growing scarcity of subsistence resources. Similarly, the complexities of conflict must be understood in the context of interrelationships within regional and global political systems, and wider world events. Armed conflict, then, currently stands at the centre of the concerns of agencies working with issues of poverty and injustice.

Finally, it should be noted that warfare in the latter half of the twentieth century has involved increasingly high levels of civilian casualties. UN estimates put the proportion of civilian casualties globally since the end of World War II at 95 per cent, compared to 5 per cent in World War I and 50 per cent during World War II. Warfare used to be waged between the professional armies, in formal battlefield settings with regulated rules of engagement; in contrast, most of the 150 or so wars that have taken place since World War II have been internal conflicts in Third World countries. These conflicts are characterised as expressions of competition over shrinking resource bases in the context of the declining power of marginalised, impoverished states. Violence is, in this context, a means whereby groups express their cultural identity and aspirations.

This shift towards the involvement of non-combatants in warfare can be seen both in the technologies of war (the scatter-bombs, the mustard gas, the anti-personnel mines) and in the growing use of anti-humanitarian practices of war. Of these practices, the denial of food, the destruction of agricultural land and other environmental resources, forced migrations, and 'ethnic cleansing' are among the most dramatic examples. Rape, which has been used over many centuries as a deliberate strategy in war, has now been recognised as a major abuse of human rights, both in conflict and in peace-time. Yet rape in contemporary conflicts is occurring on an unprecedented scale.

Conflict leads to the breakdown of political structures and of economic systems, to productive land lying idle and cattle destroyed, to flights of displaced people and refugees. It is a process that heightens women's vulnerability. Development workers are faced with the consequences of conflict for the communities that are engulfed in such crises, and have to try to work with them in seeking innovative and creative solutions to the massive problems that they face.

This report seeks to offer insights into the connections between conflict and gender at the end of the twentieth century, arguing that such a gender analysis of conflict can contribute in two ways to our hope of understanding what prospects exist for future peace.

First, there needs to be a sustained effort to clarify the broad analysis of conflict processes and the factors affecting it at a global level. Gender approaches offer insights into this, addressing questions of power, control, competition, and models of development in economic, cultural, and political terms.

Secondly, there must be a clearer focus on the individuals and communities that are caught up in such conflicts: their motivations and reactions, their survival strategies, and the ways in which they manage to rebuild their lives and restructure their communities. Gender considerations are critically important here, helping to synthesise the analysis of the private (individual and household) and the public sphere (community and state).

Finally, it should be emphasised that looking at conflict through the eyes of women (as well as men) is essential in understanding the social network of survival and reconstruction in the aftermath of war, and in helping NGOs determine how — and in support of whom — they should respond to conflict. Gender analysis can operate at three levels: firstly, the theoretical approach of identifying gender differences; secondly, the practical focus on specific forms of gender imbalance and ways of righting them; and, thirdly, the strategic transformation of gender relations to provide a basis for justice and equity, not just between men and women but between different groups within society. Armed conflict can be pictured as a fault-line running across the evolution of a society, expressing injustice and grievances and often indicating where transformation is most sorely needed. At the same time, conflict and its aftermath may open windows of opportunity, enabling women and men to redefine the parameters of their lives, and put the past behind them.

1.2 Analysing conflicts

a. Historical factors

During the workshop it was possible to look at the root causes of armed conflicts in eight countries. It became clear that the conflicts currently causing concern have their roots in a very varied range of trends and movements originating in the recent or distant past. Three key historical factors can be discerned which have had a near-universal impact, albeit one that has taken different forms in different regions of the world.

i. Colonial expansion

Colonial movements in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries represented radical realignments in the control of the world's resources. Most of the world's current conflict spots have been colonised in the past, and many have seen multiple waves of colonisers. Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict originated in the political structures which were the legacy of the British colonial regime. The Philippines has been colonised at different times by Spain, Japan and America; Vietnam by France, China and America. Colonisation gives rise to the extraction of resources to power blocks outside the country, to the creation or strengthening of elites with the power to exclude others from access to the dwindling economic resources, and to the deepening of divisions between different population groups within the country.

ii. Superpower involvement during the Cold War period

During the Cold War, the United States, the Soviet Union and China pursued their strategic interests through the establishment of spheres of influence in weaker regions and countries, often fighting each other through the medium of more localised conflicts. Vietnam and Cambodia were focal points in this tripartite struggle, while Afghanistan and the Philippines were both, in different ways, used as theatres for proxy superpower wars. The Lebanese civil war has likewise been a focus for proxy conflicts waged by regional superpowers, as was also the case in Central America.

iii. The end of the Cold War

The collapse of the Soviet Union, bringing an end to the global rivalry between it and the US, has had a different impact in different regions. In several South and Central American countries, it has led to a rapprochement between internal factions, between whom rivalries and conflicts had often been promoted by the US. Such healing processes have been strengthened by renewed aid flows from the US, which is no longer prepared to have civil wars raging on its doorstep. In Africa, despite some moves towards internationally-brokered peace settlements, such as those in Namibia and Angola, the overall trend has been towards the destabilisation and decay of centralised states previously propped up by strategic aid. This has resulted in a descent into fragmentation in countries such as Somalia, Zaire and — again — Angola. Similar trends can be seen in some Asian countries such as Afghanistan. In Europe the downfall of communism has led to a collapse of the ideological divide between East and West; however, it has also given rise to the disastrous fragmentation of several Eastern states.

In contrast, the Western powers continue to have strong economic reasons for wishing to maintain their influence in South-East Asia. Hence, there is continued support for repressive governments from Western business and military interests. The support of the West for reconstruction in countries such as Vietnam, which are still recovering from past wars, may be tied to the introduction of Western-advocated political structures, and economic policies which open up new opportunities for Western interests.

b. Economic factors

The depletion and over-exploitation of natural and human resources is a major factor in the rise of violent conflict. There is a complex relationship between conflict, and economic and environmental resources. As previously viable modes of production become increasingly unstable because of factors including drought, soil depletion, and political restrictions, competition between different resource users increases, and conflict between them becomes a struggle for the very integrity and survival of the group. The conflict in Somalia, in common with numerous other African examples of 'green wars', can be seen in such a light. Similarly, the problem of land and the erosion of use rights over it lies at the heart of many violent struggles. As can be seen in Sri Lanka's case, expulsion from the land limits people's chances of a future return to economic viability, fuelling the fires of despair, and adding in turn to the cycle of violence. Competition over major water resources may also give rise to political tensions; for instance, the Nile and Jordan valleys are both areas where observers have warned of the possibility of violence.

While it is true that depletion of the environmental resource base is a powerful spur to the emergence of violent conflict, it should also be emphasised that many of the root causes of environmental decline are themselves political. Conflict itself degrades the environment, and indeed deliberate destruction of one's opponent's environmental resources has throughout history been used as a weapon of war. Methods employed range from the burning of farmland and the slaughtering of animals, to aerial bombing with napalm, as used by the US in Vietnam or Ethiopia in Eritrea.

The struggle for control of economic resources may involve intangible factors such as contacts and influence. These were major factors in conflicts in many Central and South American countries during the 1970s and 1980s. An example is El Salvador, which was dominated by an alliance between the government, the military, and the business elite, all of whom had strong international links. In the context of a huge economic gulf between the elite and the ordinary citizens, and a state ideology which brooked no dissenting voices, corruption and human rights violations resulted in protest which was violently suppressed. The subsequent emergence of a socialist liberation movement was viewed by the superpowers as justifying their provision of military aid and propaganda to combat what they saw as the 'enemy within'. Foreign investment increasingly shifted control of the country's resources away from the people. Many countries in South-East Asia, and in the Third World as a whole, show trends similar to those of Central America. In such economic inequities lie the seeds of conflict.

c. Political factors

Political ideologies play an important role in determining the degree to which a community or nation is able to maintain cohesion. Governments which retain a commitment towards equal representation of and sharing between different interest groups may be able to withstand the potentially divisive impact of structural poverty and environmental decline, as has been seen in the case of Tanzania. Many observers attribute the optimism which greeted the newly-created nation of Eritrea to the ideology of popular participation espoused by the leaders of the liberation struggle throughout the privations of the war years. Policies included actively encouraging women to take part in agriculture, politics, and the military struggle, and discouraging such factors as repressive marriage laws, which may inhibit women's full self-expression and participation.

On the other hand, where the driving force behind government actions is the need to maintain the status quo, the subjection of minorities and political opponents to repression and abuse is often unrestrained, until challenged by insurrection.

Unclear or changing ideologies may increase the risk of destabilisation, especially to governments trying to maintain cohesion in transitional periods. In Vietnam, for example, the current regime is trying on one hand to maintain unity between the northern and southern halves of the united country, and on the other to normalise relations with its former enemies and with other countries in the ASEAN region. Centralised political power has facilitated social and economic recovery and reconstruction, but has also led to opposition from those wishing to see a more individualistic economic regime. A move in 1988 towards a more open economy has only partially helped to defuse this opposition, and in addition has encouraged both capital outflow and political corruption, leading to a loss of confidence in the government.

d. Military factors

The economic and political factors described above have not only led to an increased incidence of conflict in the Third World. Allied to technological developments in modern warfare, these factors have also contributed to changes in the way wars are conducted. Armed conflict is becoming increasingly deregulated; its impact can no longer be contained within the bounds of formal armies and battlefields, but is played out in the homes, fields and forests of ordinary families and communities. Civilians provide marauding armies with resources ranging from food, transport, and information, to sexual favours.

The importance, in present-day conflicts, of sapping the enemy's morale, as opposed to merely destroying its military power, results in the use of food denial and environmental destruction, as weapons of war. Such practices have been often referred to in relation to Somalia, but are in fact a feature of conflict situations throughout the world. They are not confined to informal, internal conflicts but have also characterised a number of international wars during the latter half of the twentieth century, notably the US war in Vietnam and the US-led attacks on Iraq in the Gulf War. NGOs providing relief supplies may be caught up in the tendency of warring parties to use the withholding of food and other critical basic needs as weapons of war.

While the increasing desperation, impoverishment and cynicism, as well as the mobility, of armed forces promotes the increasing utilisation of ordinary men and women as providers of resources, more sinister still is their use as pawns in the strategic power games of their leaders. The most appalling example of this is the use of gender-specific violence as an attack on morale. Rape is employed as a means of degrading 'enemy5 women, or women in occupied territory, and is currently being used extensively in Bosnia. Violence against men is exemplified in the phenomenon of 'disappearing' men in Central and South America.

Governments faced with incipient civil war which they aim to quell through repression have similarly developed the use of terror tactics. In the case of the Philippines, the government strategy for dealing with insurgency relies on provincial 'strike units' which operate secretly, unpredictably, and indiscriminately. Arbitrary arrests and killings are common, and community leaders, whatever their allegiance, are vulnerable. The strategy aims overtly to turn communities into battlefields. People living in communities affected in this way have no choice but to leave their homes, for their own protection. An estimated 200,000 internally displaced people in the Philippines, mostly women and children, have been obliged to move to controlled hamlets, living there under military supervision.


Excerpted from "Development in Conflict: The Gender Dimension"
by .
Copyright © 1994 Oxfam UK and Ireland.
Excerpted by permission of Oxfam Publishing.
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Table of Contents

Foreword, v,
1 Understanding Armed Conflict, 3,
2 The Gender Dimensions of Armed Conflict, 19,
3 Implementing Gender-Sensitive Responses to Conflict, 39,
A. The Impact of Armed Conflict on Gender Relations, 55,
B. The Effects of Conflict on Women, 67,
C. Meeting the Support Needs of Women in Conflict Situations, 79,
D. Working with Partners on Gender Issues in Conflict Situations, 85,
E. The Evolution of Oxfam's Gender Strategy in Conflict, 95,

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