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close this bookDevelopment in Conflict - The Gender Dimension (Oxfam, 1994)
close this folderI. Development and conflict: The gender dimension
close this folder1. Understanding armed conflict
View the document1.1 Introduction
View the document1.2 Analysing conflicts
View the document1.3 Conflict as a process
View the document1.4 A new model of development

1.1 Introduction

Development agencies have been responding to the plight of civilian populations affected by conflict since the beginning of their existence. Indeed, many-like Oxfam itself— originated in the need to support refugees from war situations. So why has the issue of conflict and development taken on a renewed urgency in the 1990s?

First, conflict is no longer an exceptional circumstance. During the 1970s and 1980s, structural poverty deepened in the Third World, and the ending of the Cold War opened up outlets for local animosities, frustration, and rebellion, to be violently expressed in country after country. Increasingly, those involved in Third World development are finding their efforts checked by the impact of war. More and more, development workers are discovering the need to understand and address the root causes of conflict as well as to provide immediate assistance to those affected.

Secondly, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are becoming increasingly aware that conflict is not an isolated issue; rather, it feeds off, and in turn nourishes, other factors of turbulence which have also become pervasive elements in the development landscape. These include environmental degradation, political inequality and repression, economic decline, and the growing scarcity of subsistence resources. Similarly, the complexities of conflict must be understood in the context of interrelationships within regional and global political systems, and wider world events. Armed conflict, then, currently stands at the centre of the concerns of agencies working with issues of poverty and injustice.

Finally, it should be noted that warfare in the latter half of the twentieth century has involved increasingly high levels of civilian casualties. UN estimates put the proportion of civilian casualties globally since the end of World War II at 95 per cent, compared to 5 per cent in World War I and 50 per cent during World War II.' Warfare used to be waged between the professional armies, in formal battlefield settings with regulated rules of engagement; in contrast, most of the 150 or so wars that have taken place since World War II have been internal conflicts in Third World countries. These conflicts are characterised as expressions of competition over shrinking resource bases in the context of the declining power of marginalised, impoverished states. Violence is, in this context, a means whereby groups express their cultural identity and aspirations.

This shift towards the involvement of non-combatants in warfare can be seen both in the technologies of war (the scatter-bombs, the mustard gas, the anti-personnel mines) and in the growing use of anti-humanitarian practices of war. Of these practices, the denial of food, the destruction of agricultural land and other environmental resources, forced migrations, and 'ethnic cleansing' are among the most dramatic examples. Rape, which has been used over many centuries as a deliberate strategy in war, has now been recognised as a major abuse of human rights, both in conflict and in peace-time. Yet rape in contemporary conflicts is occurring on an unprecedented scale.

Conflict leads to the breakdown of political structures and of economic systems, to productive land lying idle and cattle destroyed, to flights of displaced people and refugees. It is a process that heightens women's vulnerability. Development workers are faced with the consequences of conflict for the communities that are engulfed in such crises, and have to try to work with them in seeking innovative and creative solutions to the massive problems that they face.

This report seeks to offer insights into the connections between conflict and gender at the end of the twentieth century, arguing that such a gender analysis of conflict can contribute in two ways to our hope of understanding what prospects exist for future peace.

First, there needs to be a sustained effort to clarify the broad analysis of conflict processes and the factors affecting it at a global level. Gender approaches offer insights into this, addressing questions of power, control, competition, and models of development in economic, cultural, and political terms.

Secondly, there must be a clearer focus on the individuals and communities that are caught up in such conflicts: their motivations and reactions, their survival strategies, and the ways in which they manage to rebuild their lives and restructure their communities. Gender considerations are critically important here, helping to synthesise the analysis of the private (individual and household) and the public sphere (community and state).

Finally, it should be emphasised that looking at conflict through the eyes of women (as well as men) is essential in understanding the social network of survival and reconstruction in the aftermath of war, and in helping NGOs determine how-and in support of whom— they should respond to conflict. Gender analysis can operate at three levels: firstly, the theoretical approach of identifying gender differences; secondly, the practical focus on specific forms of gender imbalance and ways of righting them; and, thirdly, the strategic transformation of gender relations to provide a basis for justice and equity, not just between men and women but between different groups within society. Armed conflict can be pictured as a fault-line running across the evolution of a society, expressing injustice and grievances and often indicating where transformation is most sorely needed. At the same time, conflict and its aftermath may open windows of opportunity, enabling women and men to redefine the parameters of their lives, and put the past behind them.