Monday, November 08, 2010

Riot Grrrls, Feminism, and Female Combatants

If, in simplistic terms, it could be argued that first-wave feminism of the early 1900s resulted in enfranchisement of women, and that the second-wave of the 1950-60s resulted in emancipation, then the third-wave movement of the 1990s, as articulated by Riot Grrrl feminist punk bands such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, brought about empowerment:

'BECAUSE we are interested in creating non-heirarchical ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.'

The more mainstream culmination of this empowerment demand for women resulted in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995.

Article 19 of the Beijing Declaration determined that:

'It is essential to design, implement and monitor, with the full participation of women, effective, efficient and mutually reinforcing gender-sensitive policies and programmes, including development policies and programmes, at all levels that will foster the empowerment and advancement of women'

Since then the UN, in particular, has been very pro-active in implementing gender-sensitive policies across its entire range of activities but in particular it has concentrated on Peacekeeping (The Windhoek Declaration and Namibia Plan of Action on Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations (UN Doc. S/2000/693) ) and the impact of war and armed-conflict on women in particular.

Ten years ago on the 31 October 2000 the Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 (UN Doc. S/Res/1325 (2000) ) and called upon:

'all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective, including, inter alia:

(a) The special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction;

(b) Measures that support local women’s peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution, and that involve women in all of the implementation mechanisms of the peace agreements;

(c) Measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary'

Further Security Council Resolutions (1820,1888, and 1829) were to re-enforce these demands but one of the areas of female empowerment that was perhaps marginalized a bit – as if third wave feminism and its mainstream embodiment could not quite make up its mind as to how to embrace the notion of a ‘violent’ female combatant, irregular or otherwise – was how to deal with the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of female combatants. Resolution 1325 in particular only offered encouragement to the parties involved:

'13. Encourages all those involved in the planning for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration to consider the different needs of female and male ex-combatants and to take into account the needs of their dependants;'

It has been estimated that women ‘combatants’ comprise somewhere between 3-10% of armed groups ‘manpower’ with the higher numbers seen in South and Central American irregular or guerilla forces. As part of the transitional approach to the re-integration of ex-combatants when the period of armed conflict ceases systematic DDR programs are established. Women ex-combatants however do not appear to be helped in equal measure by these programs.

Louisa Maria Deitrich Ortega in a recent article ( Transitional justice and female Ex-combatants: Lessons Learned from International Experience in DISARMING THE PAST, Transitional Justice and Ex-combatants. Edited by ana cutter patel, pablo de greiff & lars waldorf, international center for transitional Justice Social Science Research Council • New York • 2009, pp 158-188) states that:

‘International experience indicates that women combatants’ multiple forms of engagement in armed opposition groups, such as in military intelligence missions, weapons training, and combat, tend to be downplayed and trivialized in both official and popular accounts of war. Consequently, female ex-combatants may be marginalized, stigmatized, and excluded in different ways, not just with respect to their experiences in armed groups, negotiations, and DDR, but also with respect to transitional justice measures.’

Many female ex-combatants it appears drift into the sex industry rather than return to families, clans, or tribes where their ‘military’ experience is a source of suspicion and exclusion. Ortega contends that many DDR programs are culpable in this outcome,

‘DDR processes operate in accordance with structural constraints that often result in disadvantages for women, such as male land tenure, traditional inheritance rights that exclude women, and restrictive traditional roles for women that relegate them to the domestic and reproductive sphere, rather than empower them to engage in the public sphere’

She concludes by stating that,

‘Male ex-combatants may face stigmatization related to the perception that they may be criminals and murderers, and thus may feel a disadvantage in searching for employment and in returning to their former communities. Female ex-combatants, on the other hand, find their very womanhood questioned.’

Not something I expect the Riot Grrrls would approve of!!!

Further Reading:

Secretary General’s Report: Women and Peace and Security (UN Doc.S/2010/498)


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