International: New Oxfam publication - Development, Women, and War. Feminist Perspectives

Women in Black
A set of short chapters edited and introduced by Professor Haleh Afshar of the University of York (UK), and Deborah Eade, Editor of the international journal 'Development In Practice.'
The editors write: 'contributors discuss conflicts that have raged throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe over the past century and highlight the commonalities of what women experience during wars and their potential to contribute both to war and particularly to peace'.
'Changing the gendered nature of hierarchy is never easy and at times may appear virtually impossible...Lesley Abdela suggests a complete rethinking of peace-building strategies, and supports Professor Chris Corrin's view that the democratisation process has to be properly thought through, with appropriate levels and types of investment and comprehensive inclusion of women throughout.'

The new Oxfam Development In Practice reader is a timely manual when the prospective role of women in useful numbers at influential levels in Iraq's reconstruction appears to have dropped from the Coalition governments' (and Media's) attention, even as June 30 approaches. In other conflict regions such as Sri Lanka women seem entirely absent from peace negotiations. This publication is as close yet to any examination of the flaws in peace-making processes which exclude the involvement of more than half the world's population. It should be required reading by all men and women in Defence Departments, overseas development, and foreign offices worldwide.

Among the 20 contributors on conflicts in Africa, Central and South America, Central Asia, the Middle East are the UK's post-conflict specialist Lesley Abdela, Glasgow University's Professor Chris Corrin, former senior UN Gender Affairs officer Angela Mackay, Oxford's Hugo Slim, Bradford's Peace Studies senior lecturer Donna Pankhurst, and the British Council's Middle East and Islam specialist Maria Holt.

In her chapter 'Mission Impossible: gender, conflict and Oxfam GB', Suzanne Williams remarks, 'Gender is not identified by INGOs as a key defining factor of identity in relation to how war begins, what it is about, how groups are mobilised to fight, how ceasefires and peace agreements are reached, and what kind of peace can said to have been achieved. For women, the end of war rarely brings peace, and can in fact bring new levels of violence into their lives.'

NAWO member Lesley Abdela ( works as a consultant in conflict countries such as Sierra Leone, Iraq, and Afghanistan for the UN, DfID, European Commission, British Council, RTI, NDI, and USAID etc. In her chapter 'The Dogs of Small War', she reflects on her turbulent experience as OSCE Deputy Director for Democratisation in Kosovo in the immediate aftermath of the NATO bombing of Serbia and Kosovo.

She writes, 'The speed with which international affairs switched from the relative tranquillity that characterised the Cold War to incipient anarchy and untrammelled aggression has taken most of us by surprise, leaving us (with) dashed hopes for sustainable and lasting peace. Pandora has reopened her box and let loose the dogs of small war... The experience in the Balkans with post-conflict reconstruction can provide a significant contribution to further learning...from the messy, poorly conceived, and chaotic manner in which the outside world stepped in and tried to help...Among the most important lessons that transpired is the need to include women fully in peace building'.

Hannah Ashrawi has pointed out separately re. the Middle East, that women bring to the table the need to talk directly about the most difficult issues rather than postponing them or getting entangled in bureaucratic logic, a view endorsed in 'Development, Women, and War' by Professor Corrin who points out that the very negotiations to forestall war will be deeply flawed without the active and wholehearted participation of women: '(... a very fragile 'peace' negotiated at Rambouillet) privileged the 'men at war' while it excluded women and other civil society representatives'.

Professor Corrin adds, 'the hard talking of re/construction also needs to include women, but UNMIK authorities took some time to recognise their absence in the case of Kosova'.

This historic, continuing deep flaw in responsible peace-making may be a significant reason why 'the sporadic absence of fighting' in Kosovo - and to a frightening extent throughout SE Europe and other conflict regions such as West, Central and Eastern Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan - remains decades from becoming a permanent and reliable peace.

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