Conflicts and states that (do not) work for women

FRIDE just published a working paper on its research into the integration of gender concerns into post-conflict state building. Let’s hope that the people who seek to influence from the outside that what is currently happening in Tunis, Egypt and Libya, will manage to read these mere 19 – highly readable – pages  full of sensible recommendations.

The paper draws on lessons learned in Kosovo, Guatemala, Sudan, Sierra Leona and Burundi.  It looks at women’s involvement in  politics of state building and at the process of building state structures that actually promote women’s rights. Clare Castillo of FRIDE author of the working paper does not deny there are tensions, dilemma’s  and trade-offs. To name a few:

  • It seems quite logical to negotiate peace with those who have the arms to threaten peace, but if you need a quick solution and have a genuine opportunity to end bloodshed, why should you actually involve powerless groups like women?
  • Should donors take over funding of  the usually under-resourced, powerless national gender equality institutions when national governments withdraw funding, or should they leave them to be and fund civil society organizations that promote the interest of women?
  • “Traditional authorities”, involved in upholding ” customary law”,   may seem to be a stabilizing factor in a situation of conflict (also called more ” grounded legitimacy”).  Unfortunately that customary law also has a tendency to deny women their (human) rights.  So, how hybrid should you aim for?

The paper takes a position and makes clear recommendations about the first two. Regarding the latter, it provides no solution but some solid recommendations.

The general conclusion of the paper is that significant gains were made thanks to external actors (donors) and that the donors also missed opportunities.  Let’s highlight some other recommendations to avoid that.

Although women are rarely a short-term threat to security, one has to support them to be able to influence the (peace) settlement and be involved in the negotiations to at least incorporate some fundamental rights for women.  It is critical women are able to influence the development of new constitutions and funding women’s organizations may help in that process.  But this is by no means sufficient because the inclusion and exclusion, the power relations are being negotiated long after.

Quota for women in parliaments are quite useful, the research reaffirms, it is equally important to remove more structural barriers for women’s participation. These barriers relate to skills, cost, violence and stigma.  Also, most western donors hesitate to work with political parties (all parties) but that is an important omission, so is working with and training on gender for men in politics, according to Castillejo : “In all five countries political parties emerged as the greatest barrier to women’s participation in post-conflict politics.” Al Jazeera reports that in Tunisia equal numbers of men and women will be on the ballots for the Constitutional Assembly

The paper does not solve the dilemmas between endogenous state building (drawing on ” traditional authorities”  and ” customary law” ) and normative agendas on women’s rights. And such dilemma’s are never simple as the paper illustrates For example,  granting women ” modern” inheritance rights in Burundi, which they do not have according to customary law, has an array of long- and short-term implications:  it may increase pressure on land in Burundi, but it may also decrease birth rates.  The paper strongly recommends that donors make sure they understand the implications of what they support. And to understand they need to engage with a range ow women’s organizations.

The paper addresses several other issues. For example in Security Sector Reform, according to the paper, donors focus too much on recruitment and service delivery: important but unsustainable changes if women are not becoming involved in decision-making. And it shows: while it is rampant, the new draft Kosovo Security Strategy to date, does not mention domestic violence as a problem (Castillejo, 2011:13).

Interestingly, the paper observes that – maybe with the exception of Sierra Leone – the civic activism of women has had far more influence on changing attitudes in society that politics or institutions has had ( and has).  At the same time it also observes that  funding mechanisms do not usually allow civil society organizations to develop and project their own,  long-term agenda, because donor horizons are short and their funding is project based. Rarely do they give long-term core-funding. Also there is a tendency to fund organizations representing the elites.  Which brings us to the final set of recommendations to donors that deal with their support of civil society organizations:

  • look beyond your usual – élite – partner group
  • listen to a range of women’s voices, behind the contradictions are real women’s interests
  • give grants for core funding
  • fund and help develop leadership skills
  • support their campaigns, you can have real impact.
Indeed, food for thought.
You can download the paper and hear Clare Castillejo herself on the FRIDE website, right here
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