Nepali women's needs are apt to be forgotten when peace returns if this country follows trends set in post-conflict societies in Africa, warned women activists here for an international meeting last weekend.
"The whole preoccupation with reconstruction takes centrestage and doesn't take into account the needs of female ex-combatants or even the needs of ordinary women," Betty Kaari Murungi, director of the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights (UAF) Africa told us.
One humorous but telling example is a disarmament, demobilisation, and
reintegration (DDR) pack given to ex-combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It included $100, toiletries and underwear-men's only. "That tells you that there was no thought given to the demobilisation of women," declared Murungi during a break in UAF-Africa's board meeting in Kathmandu earlier this week.
UAF-Africa was spun off from the original Urgent Action Fund in 2001, an
organisation set up to support women's activism with small grants that could be awarded quickly.
Nepal activist Rita Thapa is vice-chair of the UAF board of directors and helped bring both organisations here for the meetings.
When war ended in Zimbabwe "the men who went back to their villages called the women prostitutes because they said they didn't know what they had been doing while they were away. They abandoned their children. A lot of women had nervous breakdowns," said UAF-Africa's chair Hope Chigudu.
Because women don't have a place in the structures set up to deal with many nations' transitions from war to peace, such problems are rarely officially noticed, she added.
"Lasting peace will never be achieved unless positive action is taken to guarantee women an equal position in the development of peace agreements and in all post-agreement political and civic institutions," said researcher Margaret Ward, one author of Re-Imagining Women's Security: a Comparative Study of South Africa, Northern Ireland and Lebanon, released last week at the United Nations in New York.
The study on the role of women in peace processes in South Africa, Northern
Ireland and Lebanon reported that women in the latter two countries said that "gender-based violence had increased" after peace deals were signed.
Also, prisoners released from Northern Ireland jails returned to find women more empowered. While some of the men accepted this, "others came back very resentful," added Ward.
Such a scenario is possible here. A report released last year by Samanata found that Nepali women had become empowered in the absence of their husbands as they were forced to take on more family tasks. (see 'Man's inhumanity to woman', #281)
There is a need "to decommission mindsets, not just hardware," Ward's co-researcher Monica McWilliams told a UN media conference.
Murungi said that Rwanda is trying to do that in its Ingado Solidarity Camps, which are compulsory for ex-combatants. "They're taught values of reconciliation and how to exorcise the genocide ideology. Whether they'll work in the long run is still to be seen."
Fast action for women
Members of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq now know how to defend themselves against physical attacks, check if their vehicles have been tampered with and plan safer travel routes, thanks to an Urgent Action Fund 'rapid response grant' that enabled them to get security training.
UAF was started in 1997 by US activists who glimpsed a need for small grants that would be available much faster than traditional donor agencies could provide. The result was an international organisation that provides about 100 grants of up to $5,000 annually-most within a month of applying-for three types of activities: 1. intervening in situations of armed conflicts, 2. protecting women human rights defenders, 3. precedent-setting legal or legislative action.
In 2005, 40 percent of UAF's grants were for security and protection compared to just 23 percent in 2004. Growing religious fundamentalisms, a push towards conservatism, and the misuse of anti-terrorism policies were some of the reasons why, it says.
Nepali grantees included the Blue Diamond Society (treatment for an activist who was assaulted) Nagarik Aawaz (networking of groups working for peace) and Shantimalika (publicity for a call to include women in the peace process).