pdf Women & Conflict: An Introductory Guide for Programming

Title: Women & Conflict: An Introductory Guide for Programming
Institution: USAID
Publication Date: 2007
Keywords: Community Engagement, Conflict, Gender 


This Guide describes how conflict affects women differently from men, identifies lessons learned and suggests programming approaches that address these issues while building on the strengths of women.  The Guide is useful for those seeking to understand the differential impact of conflict upon women and specifically for those working on policy and programmatic responses to conflict.

Key Issues:

The Guide sets out the different roles of women in conflict: as agents of change and peacemakers, active participants (combatants), supporting participants (forced or voluntary cooks, wives, slaves), victims and spoils of war and newly responsible care providers.  It is critical to understand their roles - and also the culture - in order to design appropriate means of intervention which empower - rather than endanger - women.  For instance, Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) processes should ensure specialised assistance to women which will reflect the role they have played - be it as a combatant or as a slave.  This requires increasing the involvement of women in DDR discussions.

The Guide also reflects upon specific needs in conflict situations, including, at times, protective measures to prevent exploitation and abuse, including risk of being obligated to sell sex for survival.  Women also need means of generating incomes - which may have to be provided in a way that is sensitive to the current social climate and which does not exacerbate the problem. Trafficking of women and girls increases during conflict both because conflict and post-conflict situations lead to increased poverty and because the chaotic conditions associated with conflict make it easier for traffickers to operate.

Programming in conflict and post-conflict is inherently complex.  Innovation is required to help mitigate the negative consequences of conflict on women.  Lessons learned in responding to women’s needs in conflict include, first, supporting women’s networks which can, in addition to somewhat mitigating their powerlessness, provide a basis for women’s involvement in the broader socio-economic and political infrastructure of long-term sustainable development.  Second, developing cultural understanding is critical, through consultations with both women and men in the planning and implementation of programmes.  Third, understanding how gender shapes various determinants and dimensions of conflict is essential through rigorous and local gender analysis which can, in turn, develop the most appropriate programmatic approaches.  Fourth, it is critical to pay adequate attention to the potential for ‘gender backlash’ to programming e.g. where food distribution agencies gave men total control over food distribution in Rwandan refugee camps in DRC.   Corruption surfaced and leaders hoarded sacks of grain to sell in the markets.  Many women resorted to exchanging sex for food in order to survive.  On the other hand, in southern Sudan where family rations were distributed only to women, some of the recipients were attacked and rations stolen.  Both examples demonstrate the need to understand local cultural and social settings.  Fifth, when designing livelihood strategies for women, it is necessary to also create new employment opportunities for men to assist their households.  There should be a balance between maintaining the possibly new roles of women and meeting the needs of the returning men.  In fact, engaging men in pre-programme planning greatly enhances the chances of full community participation and acceptance of activities. 

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