Research Article: It Was the Women Who First Broke the Silence

As gender studies continue to draw more attention in academia and Western society, we begin to understand how gender roles play in integral role when it comes to policy, justice, and overall rebuilding of post-conflict states. "According to the National Center for Education Statistics, since 1990, the number of women’s and gender studies degrees conferred has increased by more than 300 percent" (Fletcher, 2017). Rutgers University Professor, Mary Hawkesworth, speaks on behalf of their Department of Women’s and Gender Studies program: “It adopts a wonderful matrix of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ethnicity, ability, disability, nationality and geopolitics as categories for analysis. It really enriches how we understand social, cultural, economic, historical and political life, and it relies on interdisciplinary inquiry, which means that students learn to think across disciplines” (Fletcher, 2017).

Peacebuilders, policy makers and scholars, alike, consider all of the issues Hakesworth mentions when brainstorming post-conflict solutions. The relationship between, and amongst, men and women within these regions--along with outside governments coming to their aid--are an integral component. Gender cannot be overlooked when it comes to rebuilding a post-conflict country, particularly the examination women’s roles and how they contribute to the reconstruction and future sustainability. Furthermore, as struggling countries look to the United States and other leading nations for aid and leadership, it is crucial that post-conflict influencers prioritize gender equality in the policy making process. "We do not need to be bystanders. Our support for change can be decisive. But we will need not just a more intelligent approach to aid but complementary actions using instruments that have not conventionally been part of the development armory: trade policies, security strategies, changes in our laws and new international charters" (Collier, 2008).

Women have contributed greatly to post-conflict rebuilding and reconciliation. Raijaa Altalli, Co-founder of the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria shares insights into women’s roles regarding the Syrian crisis: “They are the role models, working non-stop to improve the situation of the Syrian people. Not only inside Syria but also outside Syria for IDP’s, for the refugees, in besieged areas, everywhere. Syrian women have been the agents for positive change. They are the advocates for sustainable peace” (Altalli, 2017).

Women in post-conflict states have assumed job responsibilities in a variety of areas such as agriculture, petty trade, small-scale business and others that have economically influenced the post-conflict rebuilding process. They are known to make trade journeys, crossing borders for commerce known as the “attack trade” that has been known to help reconcile and mend relationships with neighboring countries. "The attack trade not only provides the individual woman and her family with a good income; it also plays a significant role in the economic rehabilitation of the country and the consolidation of peace" (Sørensen, 2018). Sierra Leon was a country that benefited from the attack trade, as women crossed into enemy territory and began to help support commerce efforts.

Women also initiate grassroots justice efforts and uncover truths within their post-conflict communities. "Women in Argentina started Las Madres de Plaza de Mayoin 1977, which began as a group of mothers looking for their kidnapped children. It was the women who first broke the silence" (Rigby, 2001). The numbers grew and was recognized by the government who tried to break their stance by creating the Ley de Olvido, or Law of Forgetting. "The weekly silent protests of these women spread from the capital to most of the major cities and became an international symbol of the struggle against human rights abuses and state terror in Argentina" (Rigby, 2001).

However, in order to stop repeating destructive patterns for conflict-prone regions, failing states must be willing to adopt new laws across the board that would inevitably include gender issues. Global leaders must continue to encourage rebuilding states’ efforts to improve, and support justice, for areas of gender inequality. This involves creating and furthering laws against archaic practices like genitalia mutilation and child marriage. This would not only help on a humanitarian level, but it would also alleviate budget pressures:

"Ending child marriage in Niger could save the country more than USD 25 billion by 2030. Delaying marriage would have a large positive effect on the educational attainment of girls and their children, contribute to lower population growth, and increase women’s expected earnings and household welfare. Moreover, closing gender gaps in labour force participation would have significant macroeconomic consequences, with substantial income increases ranging from 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) in Ghana and Liberia to 31% of GDP in Nigeria" (Development Matters, 2018).

Women still face many challenges in overcoming discrimination and oppressive cultural norms, and there continue to be very few women in high ranking positions, specifically in regard to failing countries. "Africa has seen three female heads of state in the last decade, women deputy Presidents, ministers, parliamentarians, special rapporteurs among numerous other positions of leadership" Chigudu, 2016). Yet, given the opportunity, women could potentially create a change in post-conflict countries’ policies. "Research shows that education features high on the agendas of women for post conflict reconstruction, and it is the main field of activity for most of the women’s grassroots organizations…involvement may strengthen their skills and organizational capabilities, which motivates them to organize and take on more public roles during or after conflict" (Bouta et al., 2015).

All in all, working to incorporate women in post-conflict laws and policies is integral for our collective future. Post-conflict democratic leaders, Western leaders and the world in general can’t afford to not make changes when it comes to failed states’ approaches, as we’ve seen the global price tags and overall repercussions of conflict. "All in all, the cost of a typical civil war to the economy and its neighbors can be put at round $64 billion" (Collier, 2008). Furthermore, by not prioritizing gender equality, post-conflict states are leaving out halfof their population when it comes to rebuilding, creating a new democracy, developing opportunities for education (and global markets), policy making, and diversifying trade and commerce. The World Bank released a study in 2017 showing that women make up roughly 50% of the population in most countries, failing states included (World Bank, 2017). Conflict regions are places that have, or currently are, losing males to warfare and outside educational opportunities. "These countries will hemorrhage their educated people to a far greater extent than their uneducated people…the brightest and the best will have most to gain from moving" (Collier, 2008). For leaders providing aid and assistance--limiting female options and involvement puts a ceiling on aid efficiency and donor expansion.

By outlining some clear polices and norms with developed nations, ones that prioritize gender equality, collapsed states have the opportunity to move upwards. There is truly no progress if we cannot rebuild and reshape countries to exist for both genders—not just males. There is a desperate need for innovative shifts, and the international community understands more fully how women contribute to transitional justice, truth seeking, and rebuilding a post-conflict state. Structuring new policies and standards that prioritize women can make a difference for the future of collapsed states and developed countries alike.


Citation Index:

Fletcher, Emma. "Involvement in Women's and Gender Studies Programs Has Increased by over 300 Percent Nationally." The Daily Targum, March 21, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2018.

Collier, Paul. 2008. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, p 192. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Altalli, Rajaa. "SDG Studio UN Geneva - SDG 5 - Rajaa Altalli." Speech, SDG Studio Geneva Feature, United Nations Office, Geneva. April 28, 2017. Accessed September 27, 2018.

Sørensen, Birgitte. "Women and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Issues and Sources." Social Dimensions of Sustainable Development | Research | UNRISD. June 1, 1998. Accessed September 27, 2018.

Rigby, Andrew. Justice and Reconciliation: After the Violence. Boulder (Colo.): Lynne Rienner, 2001, 67-68.

Development Matters. "Gender Equality in West Africa? The Key Role of Social Norms." Development Matters. March 12, 2018. Accessed September 27, 2018.

Chigudu, Hope. "Women's Leadership in Post-Conflict Settings." Amplifying Women's Voice and Power. 2016. Accessed September 27, 2018.

Bouta, Tsjeard, Georg Frerks, and Ian Bannon. "Gender, Conflict, and Development." 2015. Accessed September 27, 2018.

Collier, Paul. 2008. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, p 31. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

"Population, Female (% of Total)." Literacy Rate, Adult Female (% of Females Ages 15 and Above) | Data. 2017. Accessed September 27, 2018.

Collier, Paul. 2008. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, p 94. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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