Women and Peace: A Special Issue

April 22, 2011


Seminar’s March 2011 issue theme was “Women and Peace.” The problem statement of the monthly symposium states:

DESPITE the voluminous literature on war and conflict, both its causes as also the frameworks underlying various peace accords and post-conflict resolution and reconstruction strategies, there appears significant reluctance to factor in women’s specific experiences, as also their orientations, capacities and skills in facilitating a transition towards a more just and durable peace. Not only is it rare to come across women playing a significant role in peace parleys and accord-making, their concerns and suggestions too are usually relegated to the margins. The episodic nod to the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security notwithstanding, analysis of peace accords and subsequent processes reveals, globally, that this arena remains a male preserve and little has changed on the ground.

The experience in South Asia, be it Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, India’s insurgency affected North East, to name a few, reveals a disturbing tendency to invisibilize women and their concerns. The situation post communal riots in cities or in the Maoist affected regions of Central India is no different. Everywhere, even as it is recognized that women (and children) are the worst affected, little effort is made at addressing their major concerns – reducing the ever-present threat of sexual violence and rape, generating jobs and income earning opportunities, meeting the needs of health and education, and so on, though it is now well accepted that an enhanced status of women is central to family and community welfare. The result is not only flawed and failed accords – often little more than power sharing arrangements between ‘armed elites’, mostly men – but reflects a deeper failure to address the underlying causes of conflict. To state more sharply, processes which marginalize and invisibilize women cannot become the basis for a durable, just and democratic peace.

…This issue of Seminar brings together experiences and reflections from multiple contexts in an effort to visibilize the role of women and their impact on peace processes.

Contributors include Devaki Jain, Reema Nanavaty, Rita Manchanda and this blogger.

The Politics of Making Sexual Violence an Issue

October 5, 2009


The UN Security Council mandated peacekeeping missions to secure women and girls from sexual violence. Hillary Clinton, who was in the chair, stirred a hornet’s nest when she included Sri Lanka in a list of cases where rape had been used as a weapon of war.


Hillary Clinton’s stewardship of the State Department will likely come to be associated with a vigorous advocacy of a human security agenda in international relations. The elimination of sexual violence is an important part of that agenda.

On September 30th, 2009, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution mandating UN peacekeeping missions to protect women and girls from sexual violence which assumes epidemic proportions in conflict zones. Hillary Clinton introduced the resolution saying, “We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma and Sri Lanka and elsewhere.” Predictably, this aroused a great deal of indignation in Sri Lanka: a sampling here in the comments section of a newspaper.

From one of Sri Lanka’s best-known peace activists, Jehan Perera, this measured reading: Openness to engagement as defence to accusation, October 5, 2009.

The US has responded to Sri Lanka’s protests by saying that instances of rape being used during the conflict had been recorded in the past.

Interesting, that accusations about the use of sexual violence are really found offensive, but no one wants to take sexual violence or gender violence, more broadly, seriously as a policy issue. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to talk about this and other human security issues on all her official visits; this could be her unique legacy depending on what form and what tone it takes in months to come.

This incident is a great example of what feminists mean when they say the personal is political and when they talk about the politics of identity and nationalism being played out on women’s bodies.

Shopian: A Twist in the Tale

September 29, 2009


A new investigation finds there may have been no rape at Shopian.


The bodies of the sisters allegedly raped and killed at Shopian were exhumed yesterday. Examining experts now think there may not have been a rape at all.

Riyaz Wani and Majid Jehangir, More twists in Shopian: ‘hymen intact,’ doctor ‘admits’ cover-up, Indian Express, September 30, 2009.

We know that this tragedy has fanned political fires in Jammu and Kashmir. It has offered another example of how women become pawns and symbols of political conflict. Much has been written and much has been said, and when it is all over, we may not have an answer to the all-important question: But what actually happened to the two women?

Postscript to a Tragedy: The Shopian Story

September 10, 2009


What’s happened to the investigation of the rape and murder of the sisters from Shopian?


Almost three months after my first blog post on the rape and murder of two sisters from Shopian, we still do not know who was responsible. (See also this statement by visiting women activists from New Delhi.) The case has now been handed over to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. This followed revelations that the evidence in the case had been mishandled by the state police.

In the meanwhile, it’s politics as usual as leaders from organizations of every hue try to show that they care most.
Vijay Kumar, Futile to pin hopes on investigation in Shopian case: Mehbooba, Ground Report, June 23, 2009 .
India Doing Israel In Kashmir: Geelani, Kashmir Observer, September 10, 2009.

The Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Movement (JKPM) has charged Indian troops with using rape as a weapon of war. A spokesman of the Islamic Political Party (JK) has written in a Korean paper about the “unabated persecution of its natives by 7.5 lakh Indian Armed forces of different hues.”

In this acrimonious, even opportunistic, climate, few attempt a dispassionate look at the situation and counsel integrity in political decision-making.

On a slightly different note, media coverage of Shopian is seen as a reflection of the intelligentsia’s perspective on Kashmir in this analysis. However, media commentator Sevanti Ninan points out that Kashmir fares far better than Manipur where there is more violence but which remains invisible in the Indian press.

A lack of transparency and accountability really cloud our understanding of what is actually happening on the ground. Lack of interest and attention merely reinforce our ignorance and consequently, the alienation of sections of society, who read this for what it is: lack of humane concern.

Martyrs, metaphors or wasted lives? Story from Shopian, Kashmir

June 15, 2009


Two young girls were found dead in a Kashmir stream. Outrage and grief have quickly become both political crisis and political opportunity.


Once upon a time, there were two sisters who grew up on an apple orchard in Shopian, Kashmir. An idyllic life did not follow this fairy-tale beginning but even so its end came brutally and unexpectedly. One day, May 30, 2009 to be precise, their bodies were found floating in a shallow stream. They were dead. One sister was pregnant.

How did they die? The answer was not pretty: they had both been raped. Forensic evidence suggests that at least one of them was killed. It is alleged that the perpetrators were Indian army soldiers and the judicial commission appointed to investigate has been questioning soldiers and police.

Yusuf Jameel, A Violent Crime Resurrects Kashmir’s Call for Freedom, Time, June 10, 2009.

It is almost a year since the United Nations Security Council voted to adopt resolution 1820 on Women and peace and security. The Bosnian war put rape on the international agenda although sexual violence is not a new instrument in the struggle for power. The rape and murder of the sisters in Shopian once more raises the question: Why does violence against women, especially sexual violence, become one of the languages in which battles over identity, state and power are fought?

UN Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rape: Weapon of War.
UN Security Council Resolution on Women and peace and security, June 18, 2008.
Two nuns, two Indias and the politics of identity, The PSW Weblog, November 3, 2008.

Rape is an act perpetrated by individuals on other individuals. In every situation however, rape is an exercise or expression of power, and in conflict situations, control over the body of a person or persons from the ‘opposite’ side is tantamount to claims of conquest and subjugation. As feminists put it, the personal is political, and this tragedy is fast acquiring political and security overtones.

Initially slow to respond, both state and central governments in India seem to have understood this in this instance and are hastening to make that clear. But as analyst after analyst asks whether the groundswell in protest against the rapes will become a new groundswell for ‘azadi’ (freedom), we can see that already high politics has overtaken the human rights-human security discourse which would place these and countless other individual women at its centre.

Praveen Swami, Politicians preying on south Kashmir tragedy, Hindu, June 14, 2009.

A sampling of what is being written about this:

Dr. Javed Iqbal, Shopian Tragedy : Questions sans Answers!, Kashmir Times/Kashmir Watch, June 12, 2009
Sanjay Kak, ‘Men in uniform are Kashmir’s problem, not solution,’ Times of India, June 14, 2009.
Arifa Gani, Shopian incident adds to insecurities of Kashmiri women, Kashmir Times/Kashmir Watch, June 14, 2009
Sameer Arshad, Hype, hope and horror, Times of India, June 14, 2009.