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Women peacebuilders in India have been facing multiple challenges that have drastically increased during this pandemic, thereby stressing the need to focus on women peacebuilders more than ever. There is an urgent need to institutionalize their involvement in the peacebuilding process. Providing them the security is essential.

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IPRI # 105, 6 October 2020

GENDER AND PEACEBUILDING DURING A PANDEMIC
In India, pandemic relegates women peacebuilders to the margins

  Pushpika Sapna Bara

“Women do groundbreaking work for justice, peace and security.”

-UN Women (2019)

The United Nations recognized the importance of women in the process of conflict resolution and peacebuilding through the landmark resolution on women, 1325 which focused on WPS (Women, Peace and Security) agenda. Conflicts affect women and men differently. Although women are more vulnerable to conflicts and violence, their participation in conflict resolution had been neglected for a long time. Since the adoption of the 1325 resolution in 2000, this scenario has improved but also remains far from satisfactory.

Gender-equal participation enhances the scope for conflict resolution, stability, and peace as voices. Nonetheless, women continue to be sidelined in the formal peace process. Only 13 per cent of women were involved as negotiators and only four per cent were signatories to major peace processes. Contemporary world politics is marred with conflicts and violence thereby making it imperative to acknowledge the role of women in peacebuilding to warrant the visibility and value of their contributions. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this task more challenging. Rahmaty and Jaghab have detailed how the present pandemic and the consequential lockdown have challenged women peacebuilders globally. In India, how are women peacebuilders working through the pandemic especially in the conflicts in J&K and Nagaland?

I

Gender Peace and Security: Impact of COVID-19

Women peacebuilders who are generally involved at the grass root levels and are hence more vulnerable to threats and violence remain undervalued. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened such issues. Recognizing the need to change the unequal power structure that positions women disadvantageously, the UN has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030 and gender equality forms a crucial part of it. The absence of gender equality is visible in every arena including international politics and peacebuilding. Experts like Gopinath had discussed the relationship between gender equality, security, peace, and sustainable development, stating that South Asian women have been involved in peacebuilding since the turn of the century questioning militarized and state-centric notions of security and peace. However, they remained marginalized, depleting the chances of accords and lasting peace. Women’s invisibility in the peace processes has been further worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic, halting the WPS agenda.

II

Women Peacebuilders in India: Impact of COVID 19

Women’s initiatives for peace in India have been captured by authors like Sewak, who gives a detailed account of the ‘Indo-Pak Bus Initiative’, organized by WIPSA for resolution of the conflict in Kashmir. Similarly, the Naga Mother’s Association (NMA) has been a constant bridge between the government and the Naga rebel forces since the 1980s. Nonetheless, they have often been left out of the official dialogue with the government. Women involved with Meira Paibis in Manipur have been very active in fighting against human rights violations by both the state and the non-state actors. Athwaas based in Kashmir, has been working in the migrant camps to change the status of women from being ‘victims’ to becoming ‘peacebuilders’.

India, at the UNSC debate on ‘Pandemics and the Challenges of Sustaining Peace,’ stated that the pandemic has adversely impacted peacebuilding and exacerbated conflict situations. Although peacebuilding, in general, has been affected, the impact on women peacebuilders has been much larger due to structural problems like pre-existing gender inequalities, neglect, and undervalued stature of women peacebuilders.

In Kashmir, Atia Anwar and Ezabir Ali are working independently on either side of the Line of Control for building peace. Their endeavours for conflict resolution through people to people interactions have been impacted as the COVID19 pandemic restricts interactions between people. These kinds of peacebuilding initiatives are important as they reduce stereotypes surrounding the ‘other’. The lockdown in Kashmir along with political conflicts has made the situation severe not only for the victims of domestic abuse who are locked in with their abusers but also for women peacebuilders who are unable to connect with them and provide help due to blockades on mobile phone connections. Domestic violence, until recently was not viewed as directly being linked with armed conflict, however, scholars like Rehn and Sirleaf have depicted in their work a considerable increase in domestic violence cases in areas of conflicts.

In northeast India, the Naga peace process has been the focal point for a long time. The NMA has played an important role in this context. They have stepped in to handle the fallout of the peace process on multiple occasions, like 1994, 1997, 2018, and 2019. They also collaborated with Meira Paibis to help in conflict resolution. However, all these endeavours have been halted due to the present pandemic. The mobility of women peacebuilders has been curbed and mobilization has been a challenge. Lack of resources was an important issue for women peacebuilders in the northeast, which has increased considerably due to the present health crisis.

III

Traversing Tough Challenges

The challenge of multiple representation and neglect by State

Disconnect between what happens on the ground level, and the critical dialogue at international fora has been a major challenge for women peacebuilders in India. Although this can be portrayed as a general issue faced by all peacebuilding organizations, women peacebuilders were the most underrepresented and misrepresented group in multilateral fora. This has increased further during this pandemic due to logistical issues like difficulty in connecting with women at the grass-root levels, lack of technology in remote areas of conflicted zones and lack of proper mechanisms for generating feedbacks. In Kashmir, the lockdown along with the internet blockade by the political administration has completely cut off and isolated women peacebuilders in that area, increasing their vulnerabilities. The state leadership has neglected such issues.

Exclusion of women peacebuilders

Paulomi Tripathi, the First Secretary in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN had noted that the majority of peace agreements signed in the last three decades have no women signatories. This vividly portrays the existing problems surrounding the exclusion of women from formal peace processes and decision-making processes. Women peacebuilders in India still lack authority and the present lockdown has amplified this situation. Not only has the demand for more role in decision making been brushed to the sidelines in lieu of tackling ‘more pressing matters’ like COVID-19, but the infrastructural issues for women peacebuilders have also increased, hence compromising their participation at the grass root levels. Lack of access to technology and technological know-how for many local women peacebuilders is augmenting the challenge of inclusion as dependence on technology is the only viable option during this pandemic.

Lack of security and political will

Matri Manch, based in Guwahati was threatened by insurgents, and combined with the lack of support from the Government it came on the verge of collapse and got marginalized. Prior to this pandemic, women peacebuilders in India were often threatened as they challenged the existing power structures. However, during this pandemic, threats to women peacebuilders have increased as the government has diverted its focus to dealing with the health crisis, compromising the security of women peacebuilders in the process. Moreover, there is a lack of political will towards strengthening the position of women peacebuilders in India which is clearly manifested by the fact that India has still not developed the WPS National Action Plan.

Lack of resources and challenges to data collection

Although lack of resources and challenges to data collection affects all peacebuilding organizations, upon careful analysis it becomes clear that it affects women peacebuilders more, as they remain neglected even prior to this pandemic. They were not only underfunded but also had structural difficulties in collecting data. The present health crisis has diverted the resources and accentuated these issues. A large number of women in Northeast India do not own mobile phones and hence reporting of violence against women during this lockdown has become a further challenge. Therefore, women peacebuilders in the region are unable to gather accurate data and feedback for the process of peacebuilding.

Structural challenges

Patriarchal structures are major barriers for women peacebuilders, in conflict areas like Kashmir. The present pandemic and lockdown situation has, directly and indirectly, strengthened these structures. The confinement of women at home has increased thereby curtailing the mobilization by women for peacebuilding. Ethnic and religious hierarchies often disrupt women’s attempts at peacebuilding as well. India has undergone a change in its social atmosphere and divisions along the religion and caste lines have increased. The present lockdown has hindered the mitigation of such issues due to restricted people to people contacts and in turn adversely impacted peacebuilding.

Women peacebuilders to face the brunt of the economic slump

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the Indian economy which might further deteriorate. This would increase the dissatisfaction in conflict areas and further compromise the peace processes.  Women have taken the brunt of the economic fallout more severely and this situation is worse for women in conflict zones. As such the women peacebuilders in India can play a vital role in containing the aggravation of conflicts due to economic reasons and help in rehabilitating women in these areas. The role of women peacebuilders is bound to increase during and after this pandemic and herein lies the opportunity to strengthen their position, make them visible, and provide them with the decision-making authorities. However, the political will of the government and international leadership is crucial for this purpose.

IV

Institutionalise women’s role in peacebuilding now than before

Women peacebuilders in India have been facing multiple challenges that have drastically increased during this pandemic, thereby stressing the need to focus on women peacebuilders more than ever. There is an urgent need to institutionalize their involvement in the peacebuilding process. Providing them the security is essential. Increasing international and regional collaborations would prove to be effective for them during this lockdown. Women are dealing with and mitigating more cases of violence during this pandemic. Hence it is important to provide them with resources and political support. The government, local authorities, and women’s organizations should foster partnerships to generate more resources for them, provide them with better mechanisms of data collection and assist them with technology, to increase the efficiency in dealing with both the health crisis and the process of peacebuilding.


Pushpika Sapna Bara is a Doctoral Candidate in the School of International Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The above commentary is a part of the IPRI special series on ‘WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325’. This an attempt by NIAS to look at the various challenges faced by women peacebuilders during the COVID-19 pandemic and are the earliest efforts to record the limitations to women empowerment in the peace processes in South Asia.

 

 

Also from the series...

In Afghanistan, women peacebuilders need more than a seat at the table

Fatema Ghafoori

For India's women, home has been the most violent place

Tamanna Khosla

In India, the glass is half full for the women

Jenice Jean Goveas 

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

Kabi Adhikari

In Bangladesh, laws need to catch up with reality

Mehjabin Ferdous

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women

Fatemah Ghafori

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