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Whom the Goddesses would destroy, they first make unaware
by Rene Wadlow
2008-03-08 09:04:40
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The goddesses have a sense of tragic irony by bringing together anniversary dates with events which highlight the opposition to the values being celebrated. Thus this year, with ironic timing, the world marks March 8th as International Women’s Day celebrating respect and equality of women with a new round of fighting in Darfur, Sudan in which women are special targets.

Violence against women has taken the form of ethnic displacement, of mass rape, and constant insecurity in refugee and internally-displaced camps. The Darfur conflict has crossed frontiers into Chad and the Central African Republic where it has blended into other conflicts within these two countries. More and more people, especially women and children are displaced, and the infrastructure of life — homes, fields, wells and animals are destroyed.

The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur and the European Union protection forces in Chad and the Central African Republic are as yet unable to provide adequate protection or relief. In fact, there are credible reports that renewed fighting is underway in order to prevent the peacekeeping forces from acting. We are a long way from the disarmament, demobilization, and re-integration of militias called for by the UN Security Council. Nor is there much hope of seeing those who have committed crimes and especially those who ordered these policies put on trial, although investigations by the International Criminal Court are being carried out and need to be encouraged.

The uneven and unsuccessful negotiations on the future of Darfur have been carried out largely without women. Neither the Government of Sudan nor the various opposition militias of the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army have had women in key negotiating roles. Yet without the contribution of women, a stable peace process cannot be undertaken.

Reconciliation among ethnic groups and reconstruction of the economy will be a long and difficult process. Women will important agents of the reconstruction process. Thus we need to look at the gender dimension in the Darfur conflict. Gender is often a difficult idea to pin down. Basically the word sex relates to biological characteristics, while gender refers to socially constructed roles for women and men. If gender is constructed, then it must be dynamic, changing, and diverse within each society. Thus gender needs to be seen in the experiences of people, as a series of choices made in a specific situation. We need to pay attention to a detailed analysis of the socialization process in a given society. Transforming gender relations requires an understanding of the socialization process of boys and girls, of the constraints and motivation which create gender relations.

Thus for Darfur, we need to look at how pre-existing tensions among ethnic groups degenerated into pervasive, mass violence, generating new crises and especially a new scale of violence. Uncovering the gender differences of a society will lead to an understanding of power relations in general within that society. Gender relations help us to illuminate other contradictions and injustices inherent in those relations.

After this degree of violence in Darfur, can a community pull itself out from the cycle of violence and set up sustainable ways of living in which different categories of people may all be encouraged to contribute to the process? We need to be more fully aware of the role of women in specific conflict situations. Women should not only be seen as victims of war; they are often significantly involved in taking initiatives to promote peace. Some writers have stressed that there is an essential link between women, motherhood and non-violence, arguing that those engaged in mothering work have distinct motives for rejecting war which run in tandem with their ability to resolve conflicts non-violently. Others stress that the same continuum of non-violence to violence is found among women as among men.

In practice, it is never all women or all men who are involved in peace-making efforts. Sometimes it is only a few, especially at the start of peace making. The basic question is how best to use the talents, energies, and networks of both women and men for efforts of conflict resolution.

The vast majority of women do not take up arms but are desperately trying to survive. Internal, community-based efforts of peace can be led by women who are committed to finding alternatives to violence. Such efforts are often responded to with contempt and derision by male leaders from all sides and can be met with overt hostility and misogyny.

In Darfur, we see the breakdown of the positive structures of the State: education, health, socio-economic development. We also see the inability of traditional clanic leadership to fill the void. It is probable that only civil society will be able to provide new, creative structures. Men are too marked by the old patterns of power and division. It will not be easy to create new structures, but women, because they had relatively little power either in the structures of the State or in traditional clanic leadership, may be a new pool of talent able to think outside the existing patterns.

We must not let the rhetoric of International Women’s Day mask the day-to-day reality of violence and repression in Darfur. We can mark the day with a call to all parties in the conflict to sincere negotiations so that the welfare of all may be found.

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Alexandra Pereira2008-03-08 14:58:21
Very wise article.

Emanuel Paparella2008-03-08 15:55:23
As the title aptly intimates, to commemorate without remembering and then applying the lessons learned from that remembering is equivalent to what Tony Judt dubs "misremembering."

Alexandra Pereira2008-03-09 19:52:51
Indeed, without the respect for and participation of women, no peace is achievable.

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