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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Women in Post-War Reconstruction

Africa: Women in Post-War Reconstruction
Date distributed (ymd): 990930
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+ +gender/women+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains the report of a conference in Johannesburg in July on "Women in the Aftermath of War and Armed Conflict." The pre-conference announcement can be found at:

For additional information on the conference and related workshops, you may contact Meredeth Turshen, Department of Urban Studies and Community Health, School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08903; Telephone: 732 932 4101 X681; Fax: 732 932 0934; E-mail:

The Co-Chairs of the African Women's Anti-War Coalition, which also met after the conference, are Anu Pillay, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg ( or Codou Bop, Women Living under Muslim Laws (

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Women in the Aftermath of War and Armed Conflict

A Report of a Conference
by Meredeth Turshen

The conference on "The Aftermath: Women in Post-war Reconstruction" was held 20 to 22 July 1999 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It gathered together 75 activist and academic participants from 16 African countries and from national and international nongovernmental organizations as well as United Nations agencies; guest speakers came from Croatia, Haiti, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United States. Professor Colin Bundy, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Joyce Piliso-Seroke, Chair of the South African Commission on Gender Equality, welcomed participants. Yasmin Sooka, a human rights lawyer who chairs the Human Rights Violations Committee of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Judge Albie Sachs of South Africa's Constitutional Court delivered keynote addresses. The Ford Foundation, the International Development Research Centre (Canada), and the Royal Netherlands Embassy (in South Africa) funded the conference.

The primary purpose of the conference was to develop a gender analysis of post-conflict recovery and rebuilding. Gender is an English word that does not translate well into other languages. We used it to talk about power relations between women and men as well as the roles women and men are socialized to play in family, community, and national life. Many speakers confirmed that gender roles can shift dramatically in times of conflict (including armed struggle and liberation wars) and under authoritarian and fascist regimes. These shifts often challenge power structures, especially patriarchal power structures, and they can destabilize interpersonal relations between women and men and between generations.

Some gender role shifts (for example, when women become heads of households) leave women defenseless, prey to male predators and rapists, vulnerable to the worst kinds of social and economic exploitation. Marionne Benoit, a guest speaker from the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, graphically described the sorts of degradation women suffered after the 1991 military coup in Haiti: "Women, sometimes in their own right, and sometimes because their husbands were suspected of supporting Aristide, were beaten, injured, raped, and disappeared. The military instituted a reign of terror, practiced torture, forced boys to rape their mothers, and themselves raped women and young girls. They also burned houses and rendered women and children homeless."

Some power shifts in gender relations give women new opportunities to train, learn skills, and imagine new-more equal-relations with men as comrades, fighters, and lovers. Yasmin Sooka, Albie Sachs, and Thandi Modise (Deputy President of the ANC Women's League) all described ANC comrades as breaking out of old molds during the anti-apartheid struggles. Sondra Hale, professor of anthropology and women's studies at UCLA and a guest speaker, described a near-idyllic world within the Eritrean People's Liberation Front-so paradoxical at the heart of armed conflict.

...the EPLF is said by nearly everyone to have moved beyond the tokenism of viewing women as merely the supporting chorus. In the field women were not only 40% of the fighters and 30% of the combat force by the 1980s, they were over 80% of the dentists, some 30% of the transportation electricians, and 43% of the barefoot doctors. There were women commandants, political educators, and representatives on the Organizational Congress. Perhaps most significantly, when parts of the military movement had to move into the bunkers and/or related shelters literally underground, women and men lived communally with little or no privacy. They shared in all of the domestic tasks and enjoyed a large measure of camaraderie. Such communes were practice for socialist communes in civilian life.

Speakers also talked about women stepping into violent roles traditionally played by men-women who became accomplices to rape, murder, and torture. These are not examples of power shifts, though they may involve changes in gender roles. Women who participated in the genocide in Rwanda and women who were instruments of state violence and partisan violence in South Africa were not changing or challenging the relative power of women and men. In these situations, women were instruments of an old order. Lepa Mladjenovic of Women in Black against War, an invited guest from Serbia who was denied a visa by the South Africa government, showed this in her written communication, which was read by Martina Belic of Croatia.

Sentimentalizing women has always been part of peace movements. Usually we hear that women are peace keepers and life savers. Mothers have been depicted as anti-war agents in many wars. In the case of former Yugoslavia we have seen that the gender of Mother as a resisting force is not enough. >From 1991 on, Mothers in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina often came out with arguments demanding that the lives of their sons be spared. This is what happens most of the time: the moment Mothers organize a protest and demand life for their sons, the army chiefs immediately come on the scene to respond with their Father language. The generals then try to convince Mothers that there is something beyond the reach of the Mothers' language, that the State and Army have secrets they are never able to understand, and that Mothers have first of all a duty toward the nation and the state, and then toward their sons. In this case both sides remain inside the so-called "biological roles" and men always win. The courage of women to come out in the streets is either glorified or minimised.

Unless women who are in the role of Mother develop a clear political position on their resistance, the sole fact of being a Mother cannot oppose the state's logic of war; on the contrary most Mothers, in the cases of Serbia and Croatia, were afterwards used by the same army-fathers for the aims of defending the nation.

The speakers raised several questions: why are the positive gender shifts so fragile? Why in many cases are women's new economic, social, and political roles unsupported and so easily denied? Why are their war "gains" reversed in the aftermath of armed conflict and is the reversal inevitable?

Some critical elements emerged from the discussion that enabled the participants to theorize answers to these questions. One element is social class: war enriches some men-and some women-and impoverishes many others; it destabilizes social class hierarchies, displaces elites who flee the fighting, and creates new powerhouses. War also enriches some states while pulverizing and plundering others. Martina Belic of B.a.B.e. (Be active, Be emancipated) described this situation graphically when she spoke of her visit to Mostar, a divided Bosnian city in which one part had been spared and the other destroyed, including the famously beautiful 16th century bridge that connected the two.

Another element, raised by Yasmin Sooka, is the international framework that contextualizes war and the aftermath. She spoke of the debates taking place in the world around the question of amnesty and whether truth commissions could deal effectively with questions of accountability and truth seeking at the time when the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established. She compared South African women's experiences with those of other women internationally and was struck by the similarities of the situations.

Even though the Tokyo war trials [after WWII] explicitly recognised rape committed in a systematic manner as a war crime and a crime against humanity, together with enforced prostitution, it could not be construed other than as a step backwards when those who negotiated the statute regarding the Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ignored the crime of rape in the paragraph dealing with war crimes. It was only in 1992, as stories of mass rape in the former Yugoslavia filtered through in the media that the world again became conscious that women are the first targets of war and the major victims.

...It would be fair to say that we [at the TRC] were so overwhelmed by our task that none of us at the outset considered the gender issue. Through the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at [Wits] University, who prodded us into looking at the issue, we were able to begin looking at how the question of gender would be factored into our work. As a result of the initial workshop held by CALS, the Commission held two major workshops for NGOs working on gender issues, to discuss how we could best factor and deal with the question of gender in a sensitive way which would allow us to learn more about women's experiences that are different. The women component of the Commission together with these NGOs decided to hold special hearings, which would focus on the special experiences of women and explore the violations of women and their gender specificity. This position was accepted by the men in the Commission, with amused condescension. It was a case of let's "humour the women".

Civil wars involve many other countries, and in many places the aftermath is determined as much by external powers and their NGO "fronts" as by nationals. On the other hand, some wars drag on interminably because international mediators neglect them, as Lona Lowilla of Sudan reminded us. "There are wars forgotten because the country holds no political or economic interest. In Sudan we have been at war for 43 years and the world is silent. Even our neighbours aren't concerned. Is it because we don't have minerals or oil?"

A third element, which Thandi Modise gave us, is the fragile solidarity of women, the political loyalties to parties that divide them: "In South Africa, just before the 1994 elections, the Inkatha Freedom Party Women's League and the ANC Women's League were coming together. But this was suspended because of the elections. So women retreated and there was more violence and rape. This shows the kinds of tension that can run within an organisation: i.e. where do our loyalties lie? Do we organise along party lines (ANC/Inkatha/UDM) in an "us and them" way? ... The point is we do not get beyond political, ethnic, and religious divisions. We have to achieve a definition of peace that is common to all." Myriam Merlet of ENFOFANM, Haiti, pointed out the economic violence that undermines women's mutual support. "Women always speak first of the economic problems they experience. They speak about the absence of economic support. The burden of survival in underdeveloped countries is very hard for women, very heavy." There are many feminist movements in Africa and elsewhere, and no one definition of feminism, which leads to the question whether the consolidation of transformative gender shifts in the aftermath depends on women's unanimity.

Five Thematic Workshops

On the second day, the conference participants broke into five thematic working groups with the goal of moving from example to theory, incorporating the evidence presented on the first day.

Violence Against Women

The first group on violence used a gender analysis to understand, not only social, psychological and interpersonal violence, which renders women passive in the aftermath, but also the economic violence of military budgets that deprive women of education and health services, and the violence of the state's failure to recognize and return women's financial contributions in the form of pensions and other benefits. Political violence is done to women parliamentarians who become honorary men; and making token appointments of women undermines equality. Cultural violence is the use of religion, tradition, and custom to deprive women of new liberatory identities, the symbolic meanings that enrich their lives, and the security that makes creative life possible.

Gender analysis helped explain recurrent cycles of political violence and enabled participants to formulate policies that might break the pattern. The group divided policy recommendations into three levels--macro, meso, and micro: at the macro level, they envisaged changes in government policy, mobilizing international protest, and targeting UN agencies and donors; at the middle level, they sought to impact projects and activities and to target NGOs, faith-based groups, the media, and elites; and at the micro level they aimed to change attitudes and behaviors at the grassroots, in the family unit, and in community groups.

The participants itemized a number of strategies focusing on gender sensitization, education, networking, and training in such areas as negotiation skills, self defense, and use of the law. One aim was to break the silence surrounding violence against women. Another was to oppose war and the ideology of war by educating people about class imperatives in war, revealing war as a money-making racket, and by replacing masculine images of "security" with feminine ideals.

War as Loss and "Gain"

The second workshop on transforming women's wartime experiences into positive democratic institutions used a gender analysis as well as class and race analyses. The participants tried to answer questions about why some women lose so much during wartime-property, status, homeland, identity, loved ones-while others seem to gain new skills, new confidence, new positions. What determines these losses and gains? Is the status quo ante-bellum inevitably women's lot in the aftermath? Codou Bop (Women Living Under Muslim Law-Senegal), who chaired the discussions in this workshop, reminded us that not all wars are liberation struggles and that the transformation of society is not the purpose of most conflicts. Few wars are about the losses of the powerless classes in either political or economic terms. Although in a liberation struggle women as a group can make a lot of gains, in other conflicts individual women may improve their situation. Heike Becker ("Sister Namibia") questioned the accuracy of the binary contrasts often drawn between so-called progressive women in liberation movements and traditional women left behind in rural areas who, it is supposed, don't want to change. Shireen Hassim (University of the Witwatersrand) observed that women's struggles are related to other contemporary struggles, raising the need for engaged, autonomous women's organizations.

The working group decided that the concept of change was more useful than loss and gain and it looked at positive and negative, physical, spatial, and personal changes. The participants named changes in security, livelihood, location (leading to displacement), coping mechanisms, identity, the incidence of violence against women, and value systems. They noted breakdowns in social, family and personal structures, and they saw shifts in women's lives from private to public sphere and vice versa. Many women mentioned massive population movements from rural to urban areas, as people sought security in cities and towns during the fighting.

The group listed the following key issues: women's leadership; women's participation and involvement in decision-making; accountability by those in power to citizenry, particularly women; capacity building and enhancement of women's skills so they can have influence; critique of militarism and peace education; building solidarity; and negotiating culture and stereotypes. They suggested a set of strategies for all levels (local, national, regional, international), which involved social mobilization; networking; lobbying institutions and governments; mass campaigns (choosing an issue, deciding the message, and targeting the audience); education and awareness raising; implementation and enforcement of laws and treaty obligations (reparations, justice); economic and social policies favorable to women in the aftermath; and practical mechanisms for ensuring women's participation.

War/postwar Shifts in Gender Relations

The third workshop pursued an understanding of war/postwar shifts in gender relations by looking at several other dimensions of reconstruction and transformation, in addition to the demobilization and integration of fighters discussed by Sondra Hale. The participants examined the impact on gender relations of the dramatic demographic shifts that occur in wartime. For example, the ratio of men to women changes as more men than women die; the age structure of the population alters as more younger than older adults die; the number of widows and women-headed households increases; and in the aftermath there is often a rise in polygamous marriages and the birth rate. Economic changes can be equally dramatic-changes in the Gini coefficient showing greater inequality, the growth of landlessness especially among women, and the expansion of the informal sector as the formal sector and the number of jobs shrink. This terrain is especially fruitful for socially imaginative policy making.

The group noted that, while common practices and experiences united women, positive transformations occurring during war did not necessarily continue in the postwar period. Several factors acted as obstacles to the transformation of wartime experiences into peacetime empowerment. First, women's issues were not on the national agenda; second, war compromised women's ability to communicate and be represented; and third, bureaucratic sabotage hindered women's advancement. The participants confirmed what others have noted- that education is a key to empowerment-but they found that, while information could be empowering, male control of information can negatively affect women. A related issue is men's misunderstanding of security-it is not protection from harm but rather encompasses development. Women's access to productive resources is therefore as much a security issue as landmines, which affect reconstruction and healing initiatives.

To combat the observation that women's organizations are not prepared to meet many of the postwar challenges, the group developed a set of strategies focusing on making women agents of change. They recommended leadership workshops, certification of skills gained during war (such as learning to drive trucks), the creation of women's empowerment units in government, and new land legislation that would give women equal property rights. They wanted to see campaigns led by national anti-landmines committees to implement and ratify the new international treaty, and they debated a new framework for human security based on human needs, the environment, human rights and dignity.

New Identities of War

The fourth workshop on identity continued the work mapped out by Martina Belic of Croatia and Lepa Mladjenovic of Serbia. Sheila Meintjes (University of the Witwatersrand), one of the South African conference organizers, asked about constructions of masculine identity in war and peace. The South African sociologist Jacklyn Cock has shown how women contribute to the construction of wartime masculinity, even quite traditional women not overtly engaged in the war effort. Tina Sideris, a South African psychologist who has worked with women survivors and victims, especially Mozambican women refugees, asked about alternate male discourses: can we think beyond conscientious objection and community service alternatives to military service? Military structures also imbue the identity of peacetime services-for example, public health workers may carry military rank, and some nursing services are violently hierarchical.

Workshop participants considered a range of issues: gender, ethnicity, and race; women's solidarity across ethnic and religious lines; psychosocial and political models of healing; and the roles in healing of truth and reconciliation commissions, international tribunals, and national courts. They concluded that identities are not singular or fixed in time and space, but multiple, gendered, and contextual. War decimates men's as well as women's identities, and men may have fewer alternative empowering identities to draw on (for example, has recent work on fatherhood provided men with a positive identity in the way that new thinking about motherhood has done?). Women's and men's identities are not defined in binary opposition to each other, nor is women's empowerment a zero-sum game. We should look at how alternative identities are created (for example, by examining aspects of lesbianism).

Context, strategies, and available resources all shape our understanding of violence as well as our comprehension of the parts our identity being violated. The group reconsidered the meaning of violence against women. Understanding violence against women as private and individualized is a formalistic response. This is a crucial point for the whole conference, and it also affects our understanding of feminism. Accepting that violence is socially and structurally produced and sustained can result in politically transformative responses. High levels of violence as in war can hide the effects of gender violence, which predates war and continues in peacetime. As Anu Pillay, a South African conference organizer said, "There is no aftermath for women."

Healing is a multi-dimensional process and needs a multi-pronged approach. Healing is also anchored in a context, and approaches developed by one society are not necessarily appropriate for others. Women are not just victims of war, as some aspects of their experiences are empowering and can be used as a resource for healing and transformation. Healing should not become an additional burden for women: their role must be recognized as a resource, just as women's resilience must be acknowledged. Women's roles in the survival and reconstruction of society should be identified and documented. We need to empower women's access to different points of healing and to cultural resources. We should also plan for future generations because one consequence of war is that violence leaves scars and shapes the identity of future generations. War's impact is felt beyond immediate survivors and can become part of a people's identity (for example, being Jewish or South African or of a "race").

The group also considered strategies, which must be contextual and cannot rely solely on the model of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The strategies include: different levels of support and solidarity in the country, regionally, and internationally; forming social movements leading to support and solidarity networks at national, regional, and global levels; a feminist consciousness (the term is left open to debate, so long as it raises questions of gender and power relations); tribunals and commissions or any other appropriate techniques that will make women's experiences visible; recognizing grassroots healing, and recognizing women's role in reconstruction; and the need for international protocols that can be used.

State-society Relationships

The fifth theme, the relation of state to society in the aftermath, was tied to one of the main conference objectives, which was to develop policies and strategies to influence the process of democratic representation of women's interests in the aftermath. The South African example, as presented by Thandi Modise, is exceptional in Africa because a strong state emerged from the anti-apartheid struggle. More typical is a weakened state after civil war, or a state with few resources, or in the case of Somalia, no state at all. What are the chances of transforming gender relations in state and society in these varied circumstances?

The participants believed it necessary to ensure the representation of women and women's organizations in peace negotiations. They pointed out that women living in exile had a role to play and a special contribution to make. The group noted that women's expectations in the aftermath differed according to their experiences and engagement in the conflict-for example, some women were combatants or had sustained male combatants; many were refugees and internally displaced while others remained in urban or rural areas. Participants emphasized the importance of post-conflict demilitarization of society (not just demobilization of combatants) in establishing a culture of peace, and they identified constitutional and economic issues as part of integrating gender into post-war reconstruction strategies and policy. They considered new legal and service structures such as legal reform of women's access to land and access to public health services.

The identification of all stakeholders-internal and external, public and behind the scenes-and naming what each stands to gain from peace are necessary if women are to participate effectively in the peace process. Internal stakeholders include warring parties; political parties and opposition groups; combatants (male and female); organs of civil society (for example, women's groups within refugee camps and internally displaced persons' camps; traditional groups in rural and urban areas, including religious communities); black marketeers; illegal traders in guns, drugs, and prostitutes; and exiled intellectuals and groups. External stakeholders include companies and corporations, arms and drugs dealers, international mafia, and mercenaries. Regional players include peacekeeping forces and peace brokers, and international players include UN peacekeepers, the UN Department of Political Affairs, the Security Council, NATO, OAU, IMF, and the World Bank. Key countries are (usually) the USA, France, UK, and members of the European Union. The media (local and international) may also be stakeholders.

After identifying stakeholders, the group went on to talk about the differences between weak states with no infrastructure and stronger states with capacity to rebuild; it also discussed women's representation and how to define and legitimize representation. Participants noted the need for sensitization to gender issues at every level and across all sectors. They recognized the political economy of war, in which there are vested interests that profit from and work to sustain chaotic conditions, and some women said that war is gendered because the implications for women are different from those for men.

There was an interesting discussion on what constitutes normality and how to renegotiate a more equitable situation for women in the aftermath. Some said there is an overwhelming tendency to re-establish prewar conditions because of insecurity. Others noted that the transition period gives women an opportunity to educate, galvanize, and mobilize civil society; the challenge is how to use the opportunity before new policies are set in law.

The group made the following recommendations: that there be full participation of civil society at the negotiating table, that government transparency be ensured, that user friendly institutions be created, that checks and balances be instituted, that the efforts of groups like the African Women's Anti-War Coalition be recognized, that all policy reflect a gender perspective on all issues (not just women's issues), that all laws to protect women and children be respected and enforced, that independent women's organizations formulate a women's manifesto at country level and present it to their governments, that there be new mechanisms to train women leaders, that research and theorizing on gender and the interrogation of ideologies of gender be encouraged, and that women be encouraged to find governmental allies (women in government and women in civil society).

The following demands were made to governments (North and South): end conflict; exhibit utmost transparency; enforce all laws that protect women and children and establish relevant statutory structures for monitoring and protecting their rights; recognize the efforts of organizations of civil society such as the African Women's Anti-War Coalition (which should have observer status or some representation); reiterate AWAC's Dakar recommendations; and take responsibility for reconstruction.

Additional demands were addressed to international agencies and northern industrial governments: acknowledge your role in conflict; compensate war victims; prevent new conflicts; find mechanisms to implement and evaluate implementation of gender-specific guidelines and policies; give a gender perspective to the work of early warning monitoring organizations; and identify allies abroad to lobby on behalf of women at the national level (for example when representatives from their countries pay diplomatic visits-or other way around).

For the organizations of civil society working with governments, the group recommended that they focus on the work of reparation, justice, social reconstruction, and the prevention of renewed conflict. A specific recommendation was made regarding funding: that funding be sought to enable AWAC to insert itself in the dialogue to end specific crises such as the current one in Congo-Kinshasa.

Regional Workshops

On the last day of the conference, three regional workshops were convened covering southern Africa, western Africa, and a combined group for eastern and central Africa. Their purpose was to create regional networks that could map the way forward. The need for regional solutions to problems of the aftermath is directly tied to the ways war and armed conflict have developed and spread throughout the continent. Conflicts are clustered and spill over into neighboring countries. Arms and combatants move from one country to another. Even liberation movements are supplied by criminals trafficking arms and drugs-and of course sex, or rather women.

The regional workshops took up the regional issues that emerged from the thematic workshops. The violence workshop pointed out that war and armed conflict in a region can legitimate violence and encourage the social acceptance of violence at all levels of society. Men use violence, especially violence against women, to compensate for their lack of power when they are not dominant, and this too is a consequence of both the regional spread of war and war's disruption of regional economies and societies.

Economic violence against women-the failure to recognize, value, and account for women's economic contributions-escalates in wartime when the economy goes underground and rebel male soldiers "live off the land," which is to say that they survive by preying upon, stealing from, and dispossessing women. This becomes a regional problem when combatants cross national borders. Political violence against women and children, who can be rendered stateless by armed men killing their male kin, is a regional issue when refugees overwhelm neighboring countries.

The second thematic group on women's war experiences also named strategies that require regional cooperation to end armed conflict, to demilitarize societies, and to prevent the recurrence of war. Outstanding were the recommendations to campaign against landmines and to demand debt relief, as well as to implement and enforce existing treaties, many of which are regional agreements. The issues of reparations and holding governments accountable for their part in the destruction of neighboring countries are also regional issues.

Group three, in considering war and post-war shifts in gender relations, raised an interesting point around women's redefinition of security. Some participants argued that a new understanding of the basic needs dimensions of security should be taken to the regional level where regional security treaties must be redefined in this light. The group also provided new insights into women as agents of change and suggested that refugee women could bring about gender transformation.

Group four examined new gender, ethnic, and racial identities, reminding us of the many reasons to oppose war. In this context, again, regional wars require regional responses in the aftermath, if part of the healing process is for women to work with each other, not only across internal racial, religious, and ethnic divisions, but also across national boundaries in war-torn regions. Strategies for regional solidarity networks, regional truth commissions, regional approaches to healing through religious movements that are international in character are all areas to explore.

Group five tackled state/society relations through the lens of political economy. It was a wide-angle lens, which revealed that even internal conflicts involve many stakeholders from abroad. How do we control mercenaries who move from one conflict to another? Is it possible to envisage a positive regional economy for demobilization-after all, wasn't the creation of a regional economy one aim of the Frontline States against apartheid South Africa (later SADCC)? Are there models of transparent governance to be developed at the regional level? Are the international agencies, and especially the international financial institutions, able to impose conditions because they deal with weak individual states rather than strong regional groupings? Is it possible to envisage strong regional women's groups that develop regional solutions to meet basic needs in the aftermath, or regional women's organizations that would monitor the implementation and evaluation of gender-specific international guidelines and policies (for example on refugees)?

The power and visibility of regional support will increase women's effectiveness in applying pressure on their governments and in using the media. The conclusions of the regional groups are presented in summary form.

East and Central Africa

The issue of refugees and their status was especially important to this group, which included delegates from Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda. A representative of UNHCR defined the concepts of refugee, displaced person, and returnee and highlighted their status in Africa, which has 7.4 million refugees and internally displaced people. Most countries have ratified the 1951 UN convention on refugees and the 1969 OAU agreement. Participants asked why there are different standards of treatment for African and European refugees and raised questions about the protection of Somali women in Kenyan camps. UNHCR has developed and used new guidelines on violence against women. Also discussed were the treatment of traumatized refugees in camps administered by UNHCR, and the right of refugee children to education. The group noted that shifts in gender relations can occur in refugee camps and that racial and ethnic identities can be less important when people are forced to live cooperatively, and it resolved to build on these positive developments.

Suggested strategies included: thinking of ourselves as women first and recognizing our need for respect, acceptance, and security; developing internal legal structures and lobbying national legislatures to recognize refugees; sensitizing the population and officials (stakeholders in respective countries) to the problems of women refugees; stigmatizing state and non-state belligerent actors who target civilian populations; supporting courageous individuals who are strategically placed to change policy; developing group dynamics that allow women to talk about their strategies; developing inclusive agendas (for example, the African Women in Crisis Forum); identifying other organizations and networks already in place (for example, the NGOs and civil society already existing, as well as other sub-regional initiatives); creating strong women's groups or a coalition for the region; and organizing regional forums (learning from SADC and EAGAD) to develop common strategies.

A second theme was landmines, as anti-personnel mines are a problem in many parts of East Africa. The group proposed a campaign to: stigmatize all forces that use landmines, using the media and websites to disseminate information and expose and embarrass them; support the strong anti-mine campaign by creating national campaigns, linking countries and making them accountable; lobby defense and security agencies within our own countries; pressure governments to support agencies dealing with rehabilitation therapy; make manufacturing countries contribute to the fund for reparations and rehabilitation; and direct some money from debt relief to landmine relief in affected countries.

Southern Africa

This group concentrated on four issues: meeting basic needs, stopping regional wars, transforming identities, and protecting the environment.

To meet basic needs, the group suggested the formation of regional coalitions, performing gender analyses in each country, supporting the Jubilee 2000 campaign, wide-scale dissemination of information to the public, mobilizing from the ground up, and creating mechanisms for the free flow of information.

To stop regional wars, the group proposed analyzing the costs of war, accessing existing research on regional arms production and distribution, accessing international organizations, recommendations, and action groups, supporting and facilitating mechanisms that oppose war, and targeting regional meetings of governments and leaders.

To transform identities, participants identified the need to: build a consortium of educators in the region (regional training and certification), establish longitudinal studies and record experiences of war and aftermath, establish the impact of war on violence against women and sensitize networks that oppose violence against women to the role of war, establish a regional peace institute with gender emphasis (possibly on the Internet), explore partnerships with men to end violence against women, specifically include same-sex relationships, mainstream gender studies in education at all levels, and sensitize media to gender issues nationally, regionally, and internationally.

To promote the protection and preservation of the environment, the group considered environmental issues through a gender lens and asked for regional information sharing on environmental issues, an end to Northern exploitation of African resources, and the recognition of traditional practices and knowledge.

West Africa

The group outlined regional strategies in eight areas: violence against women, child soldiers, refugees and displaced people, reparations and compensation, good governance, landmines, mercenaries, and promotion of a culture of peace and tolerance. Civil society is the principal player in all strategies, particularly women's organizations and groups that defend human rights. Some strategies are to be implemented at the national level first and later at the regional level.

With respect to violence against women, the group suggested sensitization of women's associations and human rights groups to the problem; implementation of international laws aimed at suppressing sexual and all kinds of violence; harmonization of national legislation with international conventions; sensitization of people on issues of violence during reconciliation; develop networking between women's and human right's organizations; develop partnerships within civil society, with donors, and with northern and southern countries; ensure that regional institutions pay attention to sexual violence against women and children and if structures are not present, that advocacy exists at all levels to set up institutions; strengthen institutions through funding at all levels of regional machinery, regional coalitions, peace and development institutions by the OAU, the UN, and northern countries.

In regard to child soldiers, pressure rebels to end their use of children as soldiers, use traditional and religious leaders to encourage the return of the children to families, ensure demobilization, and train children for re-entry into society.

To support refugees and displaced people, the group suggested: mounting campaigns to protest against unequal treatment at international level, providing essential aid to refugees and displaced people while taking into account the differences between the sexes, and pressuring governments to implement international laws on the status of refugees and their return to their countries.

On the issues of reparations and compensation, the group proposed an advocacy strategy to persuade countries to recognize their responsibilities in cases of massive human rights violations against women, to ask for pardon and offer compensation to victims; participants thought the strategy should be aimed at regional mechanisms to see that victims are compensated in the right way, and that other strategies should aim to increase awareness in civil society of the need to participate in assistance by offering legal, psychological, material, and religious support.

Good governance was defined as government that ensures women's presence in every national and regional decision-making body, that ensures women's proportionate influence, and that makes states accountable to their people. The group wanted to press donors and the international financial institutions not to lend money to countries that violate women's human rights during conflict, and it wanted to ensure an embargo on the sale of arms and bombs, as well as on exports from embargoed countries. Specifically with regard to landmines, the group urged the signing and ratification of the Ottawa Convention, the clearing of mined areas, and the care of victims.

On mercenaries: crackdown on mercenaries by integrating clauses that ban them into regional and international conventions and treaties. On demobilization the group proposed a framework: give soldiers training about civil society and assist their reintegration by promoting income-generating activities.

Finally, the participants wanted to sensitize civil society and encourage a culture of peace and tolerance.

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