War has numerous physical, psychological, social, and economic impacts on the lives of a nation. Women and men, girls and boys, all suffer when exposed to conflict. However, several studies on war and peacebuilding have revealed that the impact of war translates differently in regard to gender. The UN Plugom for action (1995) described how girls and women are especially affected by armed conflict because of their unequal status in society and their sex.
For instance., the last 40 years of war in Afghanistan have left an ample number of widows and orphans faced with rebuilding their lives alone, many wives and mothers confronted great emotional and financial hardship. Losing a husband in Afghan society means losing your social status. This gender-specific effect of war have are the lifelong social, economic, and psychologically traumatic consequence for women.
I have heard many stories of war and women who have lost their children or husband to war. Two of those women happen to be my both grandmothers who have lost their husbands and sons at a young age. Their miseries have always pushed me to question the gendered nature of war. My paternal grandmother lost two of her young sons and my maternal grandmother lost one of her young sons. The pain of losing their loved once never let them alone. Being the oldest granddaughter, I was close to my paternal grandmother. I often comb her hair and cut her nails and message her whenever she needed. Sharing a close bond with her and whenever I was combing her hair, she will often talk about her lost sons. Losing two young sons caused her unimaginable pain, stress, and trauma yet she stood strong and did not let the crisis unfold further for her family. She maintains the fabric of her home. She moved from a village to the city in order to send the rest of her children to school. She begins to advocate for peace and often would tell others about the miseries that war causes. Losing her husband at a very young age she often promoted that how important it is for a woman to be educated and independent
My grandmother could be an example of hundreds of women in patriarchal society who saw their children, their husbands being killed. According Lerner (1987), patriarchy is the institutionalization of male dominance over women and children both within the family as well as in larger society. Similarly, in patriarchal society gender identity is performed differently in different cultural contexts. For instance, in Afghan society, the life of a woman is defined by the cultural notion of honor.
Living in a patriarchal society and having heard the story of my grandmother influenced me to investigate the gendered nature of war, its impact on women, and their role in peacebuilding. Luckily, I got an opportunity to study the literature during my stay at Erfurt University in Germany. I did a diploma in peacebuilding Erfurt University in Germany. Peacebuilding is a long-term collaborative process. The main objective of this process is to prevent the outbreak and escalation of violence during and after conflicts. It also involves changes in attitudes, behaviors, and norms. I chose Kosovo as my case study project to fulfill my degree requirement. Kosovo is like Afghanistan where many women lost their husbands and children during the armed conflict from 1998- 1999. Rapes and other forms of sexual violence were reported. Women and girls were pulled from lines of refugees and sexually assaulted, sometimes in front of other refugees. I presented the role of women in peacebuilding in Kosovo that resulted in a study trip to Kosovo along with six other fellows. During my time in Kosovo, we met policymakers, government officials, and civil society members. We visited an NGO that supports women through interventions in the areas, income-generating activities, skill-building, literacy, entrepreneurship, and development.
Acquiring a field knowledge and having visited a country of successful peacebuilding had inspired me to write my master’s thesis on the role of women in peacebuilding in Afghanistan. Due to the lack of available data on peacebuilding in Afghanistan, I used Liberia and Somalia as my case studies to show the role of women in peacebuilding and draw my recommendation for women of Afghanistan and their role in peacebuilding. In my research, I came across a parallel story of my grandmother where a woman wrote that the war came without anyone knowing what it meant, during the war, everyone started looking for places to hide. My sister lost her eldest son. We do not know if he is dead or alive, Goyol, Y. I. (2019). Women did not get support during the war. Women were sex slaves to warlords, lost their children, and were treated like nothing during the war. Soldiers could just take women as wives. Women could not refuse because the soldiers had guns (Sewell, 2007: 15)
Most conflicts involved strictly gender roles where women are the victims, while men are viewed both as perpetrators and the peacemakers. While the gender-based literature on wars and other forms of social conflict that building on women’s stories, work, resilience, and initiatives are essential in determining the country’s future and building peace. For instance, Ruth Cesar, a former member of Liberia’s House of Representatives and active member of Mano River Women’s Peace Network elaborated that they started off as the right to survive. They said, “Enough was enough.” Women saw their children and their husbands being killed and slaughtered. They saw their relatives dying. She added, we ourselves were struggling and internally displaced persons but we have a natural-born instinct to protect the family, to protect our children, when our families are in danger, our lives are also in danger; it was just to survive, to protect the family. The women had to come together to see how to stop the war and to advocate against it. The women were brave enough to seek out the fighting parties, meet church leaders, and international peacekeepers. To meet them to say enough is enough and we want the war to stop (Goyol, Y. I. 2019).
Afghan women, like the Liberians, were trapped in a vicious cycle of violence for years they were banned from going to school. Since 2001, the government and the international community have been actively engaged in promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan. In the recent peace deal between the United States of America and the Taliban, women were excluded. This reminds me of my grandmother who lost her sons and husband to the war. Moreover, Afghan society sees women as lacking skills, knowledge, or social status needed to bring about change in post-conflict environments. Women’s involvement in peacebuilding is as old as their experience of violence, therefore participation of women in peacebuilding holds great promise for enriching the entire process. If women are excluded from participating in community decisions and leadership, It would mean that talents, experiences, and wisdom of half of the population will not contribute to community life.
McKay, S. (1998). The effects of armed conflict on girls and women. Peace and Conflict, 4(4), 381-392.
Goyol, Y. I. (2019). The role of women in peace-building: Liberia in perspective. International Journal of Development and Management Review, 14(1), 123-135.
Sewell, Erica K. Women Building Peace: The Liberian Women’s Peace Movement. Diss. George Mason University, 2007.
About the writer:
Huma Nasery teaches at Durham College in the school of interdisciplinary studies. She continuously writes for online news portals on culture, politics, foreign affairs, and social issues. She has presented her research at international and national conferences. Her interest in writing led her to blog where she writes about anything that fascinates her. Additionally, Huma also writes poems.
Huma graduated from Erfurt University with a Master of Arts in International Relations. After obtaining her degree, she did a diploma in college teacher training from George Brown College. She has recently graduated from the University of Toronto with ME.d in educational leadership and policy. In addition to writing, Huma enjoys teaching general education courses in community college and volunteer for community outreach efforts. She loves learning about cultures and meeting people.