IN THE AFTERMATH OF CIVIL WAR
CESAG, Dakar, Senegal
11 to 13 December 1998
Over and over again, women speak of violence in their experiences of war; of how war entrenches violence in their communities; of how violence is experienced differently by women and men. Societies become militarized in civil war and the militarization lingers afterwards. The military sow a culture of violence in long wars that is hard to eradicate. This violence makes life difficult and dangerous for women, especially with the diffusion of cheap small arms. And violence against women does not stop when treaties are signed to end the war; in fact violence escalates. What can we do to protect ourselves during conflict and in its aftermath? How can we prevent violence? How can we help women to heal from the trauma?
This bilingual Workshop, with participation of women from Liberia, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, was opened by Cheich Tidiane Diop, Chef de Cabinet of the Senegalese Ministry of Family, Social Action and National Solidarity at 9 am on 11 December 1998 at CESAG in Dakar. He said that, as we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women can hope to live in a world without violence, that citizenship is not symbolic but must signal the full and active participation of women, and that this meeting would benefit women in conflict all over the world.
With Codou Bop (Women Living Under Muslim Laws-Senegal) presiding, the participants introduced themselves and described the organizations they represent, positive aspects of their work, and the challenges they face. Several women had sent papers in advance, which were copied and circulated in the packet of materials everyone received; others came with short statements, which they read out. Participants represented a range of disciplines and training (law, medicine, psychology, social work, etc.). Each laid out her specific goals and objectives for the Workshop (for example, to share experiences, network, and find ways to alleviate poverty).
The Workshop organizer, Dr Meredeth Turshen (School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), welcomed the participants and thanked the Ford Foundation, the West African Research Center, the Committee on Health in Southern Africa, the Workshop Advisory Board,(1) and Women Living under Muslim Laws (Senegal) for their financial, organizational, and intellectual support in planning this Workshop.
This Workshop was conceived as a
follow-up to work undertaken with Clotilde Twagiramariya of Rwanda on
book, What Women Do in Wartime: Gender and Conflict in Africa.(2)
The participants were invited to share their experiences and provide
on what happens to women in the aftermath of civil war, which is even
well known than women's experiences in wartime. What are women's
needs in the wake of war? When so many women are displaced persons or
which institutions and what kinds of organizations can respond to their
needs? These questions are particularly acute after civil wars in which
health and education services and service personnel are often
targets. In the current economic climate, which emphasizes private
solutions and self-reliance, women have limited expectations that
can or will provide the services they need.
The initial objectives of the Workshop grew out of discussions with the organizers(3) of the Conference on the Aftermath: Women in Post-war Reconstruction to be held in 20-22 July 1999 at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, represented at the Workshop by Anu Pillay.
1. Motivated by a belief that women's common experiences of suffering offer the best hope of reconciliation, the first objective is to bring together women on all sides of civil conflicts to initiate a dialogue on healing.
2. In the belief that we can learn by comparing international experiences, the second objective is to develop a multi-disciplinary understanding of healing and transformation, and to develop as many different ideas as possible to address the diverse problems of aftermath experiences.
3. Similarly, we believe that we have much to learn from the many disciplines and professions that we represent to develop theories that will enable full healing and empowerment among survivors in grass-roots organizations.
4. A fourth objective is to develop strategies to influence the process of democratic representation of women's interests in achieving durable peace.
5. Finally, mindful of how war
relations between women and men, between women and their families, and
between women and their communities, we seek ways to further the social
transformation of those relations in the context of the state and
On December 12th the Workshop
with a plenary session to hear representatives of AGADJI and TANAT
nongovernmental organizations). They spoke of the participation
Touareg women in the Niger rebellion and their experiences in the
A lively discussion followed on how the rebels were dealt with, their
and social reintegration, the status
of so-called minorities, the role of foreign powers, and how women were forgotten in the aftermath.
We then broke into small groups to discuss the five major themes of the Workshop:
1. Violence against women (protecting women during conflict and in the aftermath; violence prevention; healing from the trauma);
2. Women organizing in wartime for survival and in peacetime to build the new social order;
3. From reconstruction to transformation: import and impact of war-related shifts in gender relations; changes in material status of women (for example, poverty, loss of access to land); demographic changes (for example, more widows, fewer men, more polygamous marriages, rising birth rates);
4. Healing: problems of identity, solidarity, and reconciliation (ethnic/religious identity in intermarriage and in the aftermath; women's solidarity across ethnic/religious lines; the roles in healing of truth and reconciliation commissions, international criminal tribunals, and national courts) ; and
5. Relation of the state to society in the aftermath of war (new legal and service structures, for example, legal reform of women's access to land, public health services).
On the morning of December 13th, the participants met to consider and adopt the following report, which reflects the workshop discussions.
Violence against Women;
Protecting Women during Conflict and in the Aftermath;
Preventing Violence; and
Healing from the Trauma.
I. A Typology Of Violence Against Women
We started with a discussion of a paper on violence against women, which divided violence into two categories: domestic violence and sexual violence. We talked of the protective strategies that could be used during and after conflict and offered some suggestions for prevention and healing, which are discussed below.
The group agreed that it would be
useful to outline a typology of forms of violence that occur during and
after conflict. In this typology we noted that the violence inflicted
women is different from the violence to which men are subjected and
the violence against women is both explicitly and implicitly sexual.
typology we drew is a veritable alphabet of violence against women.
Explicit violence includes:
a) Systematic rape (men use rape as a way to dishonor and humiliate not just women, but the enemy group);
b) Forced pregnancy (to leave the enemy's marker);
c) Shooting women through the vagina (rendering women infertile and ensuring the end of the group's ability to reproduce);
d) Forcing children to witness their mother's rape;
e) Gang rape;
f) Mutilation of women's limbs;
g) Cutting open the pregnant womb and killing the fetus;
h) Sexual slavery;
i) Forced labor (cooking for the
Implicit violence includes:
j) Abandonment of women left to fend for themselves and their children;
k) Harassment and intimidation by police and military;
l) Vulnerability to opportunistic men (bandits, rapists, thieves);
m) Discrimination by social and governmental institutions (denial of access to media);
n) Forced prostitution (which increases in the aftermath of conflict);
o) Silence of leaders on issues of prostitution makes them accomplices;
p) Dispossession of women by looters (who are protected and vindicated by leaders);
q) Verbal abuse and disrespect of women politicians by ruling government and media;
r) Denial of access to resources, restriction to women of certain political affiliations;
s) Sexual harassment of women who join the armed forces (promotion tied to sexual; favors)
t) Denial of abortion on demand in cases of pregnancy resulting from systematic rape;
u) Rejection of women victims of systematic rape, rejection of children conceived in rape;
v) Imprisonment of women of all ages, without recourse to justice or outside assistance;
w) Lack of research or reliable
on state of women before, during and after war (this amounts to a
of leaders to maintain silence).
II. Protecting Women against Violence
We returned to suggestions for
women during conflict. One participant said that women should have
to the regular defense force or army of the country (buttressed by a
women's platform in the parliament); a crash course in basic
and the assistance of a
neutral party willing to minister to both sides. After conflict, women can be protected by immediate provision of food and clothing, by involvement in work programs, and by establishing camps for homeless women.
The group raised the following questions and discussed the following points:
1. What is the responsibility of the state in protecting women and children?
2. What are the responsibilities of citizens?
3. Should we not look to such social forces as human rights organizations instead of defense forces (army and police)?
4. Could women's organizations be encouraged to put pressure on international human rights organizations?
5. There is a need to sensitize the army.
6. There is a need to establish pressure groups and lobby groups.
7. We need to be proactive during peacetime and to sensitize and educate women and children.
Participants made the point very strongly that this Workshop should plan something concrete and sustainable that they could take back to their countries. The group discussed the urgent need to create the beginning of a strong network that could do the following:
*Put pressure on states through solidarity with other national and international agencies;
*Lobby for support for women in the country that is in conflict;
*Assist with training and sensitization programs of healing, education, etc.;
*Popularize rights and the gendered nature of problems that women face during and after conflict;
*Receive and disseminate
Other possible activities discussed were:
*Writing formal letters to government leaders and international agencies informing them of the creation of the network;
*Coordination of actions in different countries;
*Compilation of country reports
a regional newsletter.
Healing and Reconciliation
While there is an urgent need for reconciliation in nations emerging from conflicts, there is also the need for repentance and some forms of punishments, as well as rehabilitation programs for ex-combatants. For example, ex-combatants were successfully reintegrated into military, paramilitary and other societal structures in Niger. This is not the case in Sierra Leone.
The participants raised questions about:
* Child soldiers and how they should be punished afterwards. Are they responsible or are those who recruited them responsible for the violent acts they commit? The point was made that the children are often coerced or drugged.
*Compensation for women and children who are not part of the decision to create conflicts but who suffer the most from violence, while soldiers receive compensation and aid.
*Should there be a national
on how punishment should be meted out to those who are still committing
atrocities in some countries?
Discussion of Strategies for Reintegration
Participants suggested and discussed the following strategies:
*Artificial barriers of ethnicity and religion could be transcended; for example, Nigeria has experimented with a Youth Service Corp which sends young people out from their home base to serve in other regions.
*National conferences that mediate integration between civilians and the military could advance the healing process. Participants from Sierra Leone gave the example of a conference during which members of the disbanded army publicly apologized to the population.
*In another example, a conference brought together wives of ex-combatants to meet with women from centers for displaced persons.
*Religious institutions could play an important role by preaching peace. However, they too need to be conscientized first because they can be divisive as in the case of Sierra Leone. The Interfaith Mediation Committee of Liberia was cited as an example of different faiths working together to bring peace.
*The role of the media was raised. There is a need to conscientize the media since they are a powerful tool for educating and sensitizing the populace.
*Mass education through interpersonal contact was discussed as a way to awareness and to advance the healing process.
*Trials and tribunals could be part of the healing process, but they also have the potential to be negative factors. In Sierra Leone, twenty-four alleged collaborators were executed without due process.
*Creating networks for women to support each other was considered to be important. Women could demonstrate against small arms sales to Africa by Northern nations, against dictatorial governments, against cross-border incursions and rebel collaboration, against rampant recruitment of soldiers and the creation of professional mercenaries.
*Economic empowerment of women through adult education and training in income-generating skills would assist in alleviating poverty. Women-initiated "susu clubs" (tontines, stokvels) were mentioned as a useful form of microlending.
*Resettlement should be voluntary: though women often welcome returnees after conflicts, whether women relocate to their original residences or remain where they are at war's end should be their choice. Laws may be needed to protect women and others wishing to return to their original homes after conflict, since in many cases new occupants harass them and prevent them from resettling.
*The lack of formal education need not be a barrier to political participation. For example, during a recent election of the National Women's Secretariat of NGOs in Liberia, three unlettered sisters were elected to the Board of the Secretariat.
*It was agreed that talking helps
prevent and resolve disputes. Communities should engage in more
Healing from the Trauma of Violence
Participants discussed the following points about treatment and healing:
*Alleviation of poverty and reconciliation are not enough to facilitate healing. The example of inadequate support provided after testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was cited. Many participants said that while we have to forgive we should not forget, in order to prevent a recurrence of events. People do need to talk openly and honestly about what happened in order to conscientize ourselves and others.
*We need to look at healing holistically. The following emerged as aspects of the process:
-Sensitization of the population to create awareness of the consequences of war
-Education to foster mutual tolerance and to understand the gendered nature of violence
-Networking for solidarity and mutual support
-Taking responsibility for our roles as women being the primary educators of children
-Using caution with religious bodies as healing mechanisms. For example, the church could not protect nuns who were raped in the Congo, and the Catholic Church in Rwanda denied abortion on demand to rape victims
-Finding creative and appropriate ways to heal in different situations and in different cases. For example, South Africans considered Wilderness and Adventure Therapy a successful experiment to reintegrate militarized youth; and shelters built in Casamance helped rehabilitate people who were victims of landmines.
-We need to understand rape as a socially constructed experience. The intensity of the trauma is dependent on the response of the society. For example, in post-war Berlin German society did not blame women for the mass rapes that occurred; instead they offered women abortion on demand and as a result, they minimized the trauma (physical and psychological), whereas in Rwanda society's rejection of raped women intensified the trauma.
-To avoid women individualizing or personalizing their experience, there is a need for a political analysis of traumatic experiences to be integrated into the healing process.
-There is a need to conscientize the whole community. For example, some Algerian women raped by combatants were killed by their parents when they returned home.
-We need to understand how
ties honor to virginity and women's sexuality.
Participants wished to include in the final report several other points discussed:
*We questioned whether orphanages are a good solution for child victims. The argument against orphanages was that they alienate children from society. Other participants felt that post-conflict economic crises prevent Africans from assuming traditional family responsibilities.
*The roles of Northern industrial nations and international agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in creating or supporting political conflict for their own interests was raised. Women's organizations could network to put pressure on these governments and agencies to compensate civilian victims, and we should try to prevent future interference.
*Women are tax-paying citizens and as such must exercise their rights by demanding that their governments support initiatives for peace and make adequate healing mechanisms available to women.
*Women need to join forces and use the tools that women have to accomplish our goals.
At the end of the Workshop, the group unanimously adopted the Declaration that creates the African Women's Anti-War Coalition/Coalition de Femmes Africaines Contre la Guerre. The group named Codou Bop and Anu Pillay as Co-coordinators of the Coalition, and national contact persons and alternates.
For the final evaluation, the participants returned to their initial expressions of what they hoped to gain from the Workshop. The evaluation showed how the desire to create a network of solidarity, which more than half of the participants had wanted, was realized, as was the desire to share experiences. Reflecting both the specific local situations of women in different countries and the need for government response, the wish to find ways to heal war trauma was more difficult to fulfill, as were the hopes for more personal involvement in the peace process.
Participants also completed written evaluation forms. Overall they found the Workshop "most helpful", the small size conducive to establishing personal contacts quickly, and the shared experiences informative, if painful. Cooperation among participants was notable, especially the rapid production of workshop reports and the declaration. The difficulties mentioned were the realizations that government assistance is necessary and not forthcoming and that treating trauma is not easy. Practical difficulties revolved around the tight three-day schedule and the wish for more time, especially for "sightseeing". Everyone seemed to approve of the agenda, though several participants said they would have liked more discussion of the causes of war with a view to prevention, and a larger public audience. Many women wanted a longer, larger conference, with the representation of more countries.
1. The Advisory Board comprised Professor George Bond, Director of the African Institute, Columbia University; Jennifer Davis, Director of the Africa Fund; Dr. Paul Farmer, Director of the Institute of Health and Social Justice, Harvard University; and Dr. Jack Geiger, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
2. Meredeth Turshen and Clotilde Twagiramariya, editors. 1998. What Women Do in Wartime : Gender and Conflict in Africa. London: Zed Press and New York: St Martin's Press.
of the Johannesburg Conference are Dr Sheila Meintjes (Political
Anusanthee Pillay (Student Affairs), and Lilian Kimani (Public and
Management) of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South
Africa, and Dr Meredeth Turshen (School of Planning and Public Policy)
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.
Meredeth Turshen, Ph.D.
Department of Urban Studies and Community Health
School of Planning and Public Policy
New Brunswick, NJ 08903
Telephone: 732 932 4101 X681
Fax: 732 932 0934
Dept. of African-American and African Studies
The Ohio State University
486 University Hall
The Aftermath Conference
P O Box 72147
Tel 27 11 788 2736 Tel/Fax 011 788 3299