By Syed Shubeena Yaqoob
The narratives of the conflict are numerous and their impact is multidimensional. Conflict impacts every aspect of life- psychological, physical, economic, social and political. In the days of yore, due to lack of understanding and information, conflict was seen only in terms of deaths and injuries leaving aside the other long term debilitating impacts that it had on society and its constituent parts. Since conflict and wars were held to be the exclusive domain of men, the narratives of the conflict reflected the attitude of men towards wars and conflict. It is the reason why there is a “masculine” image attached to wars, conflict and armed resurgence.
Over the years, however, researchers have discovered found that wars, conflict and armed resurgence have different and differing impacts on society. The impact depends on poverty, class, group, minorities and importantly gender. Men and women suffer differently through any sort of violence that creeps in society due to established patriarchal social order.
Women lack control over economic, social and political resources in comparison to men. Their “Agency” and “Collective Voices” are inhibited by public patriarchy which renders their voices negligible. As against this, men have a dominant role in all forms of media-be it electronic or print which allows their voices to be heard. Media has to be streamlined to take into consideration the needs and problems that women face in day to day conflict. Although books, articles, research papers are written on women, it forms a negligible portion of the overall flow that enters the market.
This lack of information about women/girls renders the state, non-profit and charitable organisations without any basis on which coherent policy could be established to cater to their needs directly. For example, lack of information renders social policies gender neutral. In the short run as well as long run, this approach or policy paradigm proves to be ineffective. In terms of remuneration, although some women do get it from the state, however, it is either is small or is conditional on how the circumstances of her spouse’s death. The state discriminates between women, leaving some with a lot of money and other with none.
State policy towards women in conflict has to be universal without any regard to how her relative died and in what conditions. Jammu and Kashmir is a prime example of this pathetic condition. Some women, for instance, are denied social security benefits because of the involvement of her relative(s) or husband in militancy related activities. Fairness and justice make it is imperative upon the state, NGO’s and other charitable organisations to take into consideration the day to day needs of women who are vulnerable to conflict-related problems.
This very vulnerability is further entrenched by the fact that women at individual level lack economic resources like titles to land, house and guardianship. Consequently, women become highly susceptible to sexual harassment and exploitation. Both state and non-state actors are found, all over the world, involved in this gruesome activity. In these conflict areas, rapes are common and also have been used as weapons of war to humiliate the opponent.
The data about the magnitude of rapes, sexual harassment goes under reported due to stigmas attached to it. Women don’t come out due to fear of social stigmas which, among other things, renders it impossible to punish the culprits. This phenomenon of sexual violence against women leaves a long-term psychological impact which keeps them in the state of perpetual insecurity and fear, and decimates their hope and prospects of happy and successful lives.
Despite all these odds, women have come out to assert their rights as human beings. In conflict areas, women have found groups which articulate their rights and demand due redress.
Moreover, some studies have found that women play a crucial role in conflict situations. In Kashmir, for example, women actively participated in protests against the government and , under certain circumstances even provided logistical support to militants. This is a paradox given that conflicts and armed struggles cause immense pain and sufferings to women. However, conflict created spaces for women to assert themselves and actively reshape their personal and social relationships. It may then be inferred there that Kashmiri women, by and large, have traditionally been placed in paradoxical positions with regard to social opportunities and exposure on account of the conflict.
However the presence of private, public patriarchy, lack of knowhow of organisations, patterns and dearth of economic resources has made it difficult for women to make their voices heard to the extent they should be articulated and heard. Women’s engagement with domestic chores has been the most significant cause of non-participation in public activities. While men are held responsible for the earning, women are held responsible for home or domestic affairs, in an entrenched division of labour. Conflict further entrenches this phenomenon through less or limited immobility among other things.
In sum, the deep and numerous tentacles of conflict makes women the worst hit. It is imperative that new structures establish policies with specific needs and aspirations of women. One way out is mainstreaming Gender and Gender Budgeting. Although these have been implemented in some instances and have proved beneficial but only up to a point. The need of the hour is to change and develop institutional arrangements whose nature should be aligned and be sensitive to to women vulnerable to conflicts. It is about time that then we do not make our policies gender neutral. One size shoes doesn’t fit all!
—The author is a pursuing Masters in sociology at the University of Kashmir and can be reached at: [email protected]