| Development in conflict: The gender dimension |
|I. Development and conflict: The gender dimension|
|3. Implementing gender sensitive responses to conflict|
Conflict tends to intensify different aspects of a community's attitudes to women: sometimes, women and others perceived as vulnerable are carefully protected, and may be sent away to places of refuge; in other cases they are left behind to fend for themselves. Their position, behaviour, and outlook may be intimately tied up with their own perceptions of personal identity and family loyalties and with culturally-defined ideals of group identity and survival. Decisions by or about women in emergency situations (where to go, how to live) are likely to be highly influenced by such intuitive factors.
The fact, for example, that Somali women's behaviour came under such intense scrutiny just at the time of the US invasion was hardly coincidental: a people whose dignity and integrity has been so sorely undermined may look to women as the last bastion of national pride and the last hope of cultural survival. Governments and agencies wishing to take a public stand on particular issues should remember to consider the potential effect of their lobbying efforts on the country's internal dynamics, including the role of women and attitudes towards them. Nor can it be assumed that such attitudes are the exclusive province of men: women may be foremost in promoting a conformist ethos.
This being the case, it needs to be emphasised that the whole issue of agency responses to women's needs may be an extremely delicate one on a cultural as well as a personal level, and needs to be handled with sensitivity and respect towards all actors.
The case studies in Part II suggest some of the problems that may arise when dealing with women's issues at community level. These include, for example, the difficulty women have in voicing their needs within community structures at times when resources are scarce, as in Somalia; the difficulty of overcoming protectionist attitudes towards women and establishing their active participation in relief and recovery activities, as in Burma; the lack of training in many community based or oriented organisations in ways of linking gender with other technical aspects of their programme, as in the Philippines; and the welfarist approaches of some partner bodies, leading to only partial recognition of the issues to be dealt with, as in Lebanon.
In the Burma case study, we see something of the difficulties of working through partners who, though concerned about women's welfare and participation, take a paternalist point of view which accords little weight to women's own perception of their problems. A similar perspective emerges from the Lebanon case study, where willingness clearly exists to promote women's welfare and foster their participation in projects, but a gender analysis is slower in coming. Here too, during the worst periods in the conflict, the needs of survival took precedence over the need to consider the long-term impact. Now, however, the existence of a peace process, however brief it may turn out to be, gives some respite for reflection and discussion on the purpose and effectiveness of interventions to be carried out. Oxfam's role of strengthening the survival capacity of local NGOs over the last decade places it in a good position to take advantage of this opportunity.
The Philippines case is somewhat different, since it describes a situation where civil society is relatively sophisticated and familiar with concepts such as gender. However, here too there is a need for Oxfam and other NGOs to play a catalysing role, enabling partners to see the connections between gender and the other aspects of their work, and to see how this work can be made more concrete and relevant in grassroots situations.
Women are, in effect, even more "invisible" in times of war. Addressing this problem requires a twin-track approach, working on the one hand to support and strengthen emerging women's organisations and provide women with the space to develop their own understanding of their own problems, and on the other hand setting out on a long-term process of dialogue with partner organisations of all types with the goal of expanding their vision of women's position and role.
It is all too easy for partners to see the need for gender equity as secondary to other goals such as the political viability or survival of the community in the face of oppression or disaster. Important as these clearly are, the community will be constrained in meeting these goals if over half the population is living under impossible burdens. Thus the overarching goals of the society and goals of gender equity should not be seen as either-or alternatives, but as part and parcel of the same search for emancipation.
In approaching the issue of dialogue with partner organisations and communities, Oxfam and other similar agencies should give attention to the question of how they can build relationships which will enable gender to be addressed jointly in a constructive way. (The special dynamics of armed conflict pose particular difficulties for agencies which are drawn into an emergency situation only at the moment of conflict: the ethos and practice of partnership demands that NGOs establish their credibility, which can normally only be developed through a period of collaboration and the building of mutual trust over time.)
Raising gender issues with partners can either strengthen or weaken partnership. It can strengthen partnership if it is done as part of a long-term strategy of permanent dialogue: it can weaken it if based on ad hoc and peremptory decisions on the part of the funding agency. To enable partners to move forward in such circumstances, Oxfam or similar agencies need to increase their own awareness and skills in dealing with gender issues, and their ability to raise them with partners.
A long-term strategy for working with project partners should be characterised by open dialogue and a spirit of collaboration, the ability to listen to critical questions from partners, transparency, and a recognition that learning is a two-way process, the allocation of time and resources, and clear prioritisation on where to start, who to start with, why, and what are the roles and responsibilities of each. Agencies must recognise that partners face significant practical problems in discussing and dealing with these issues, and provide assistance that takes this into account.