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Edited by Helen O'Conne!

The books in Oxfam's Focus on Gender series were originally published as
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Gender and Development is published by Oxfam three times a year. It is the only
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Oxfam 1993
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Editorial ii
Helen O'Connell
Gender-related violence: its scope and relevance 1
Judy El Bushra and Eugenia Piza-Lopez
Conflict and the women of Chad 10
Achta Djibrine Sy
Life during wartime: women and conflict in Afghanistan 13
Fiona McLachan
Working on gender in conflict situations: some ideas on strategy 15
Judy El Bushra and Eugenia Piza-Lopez
Refugee women: their perspectives and our responses 17
Tina Wallace
Working with women refugees in eastern Sri Lanka 24
Nalini Kasynathan
The psycho-social effects of
'La Violencia' on widows of El Quiche, Guatemala 27
Judith Zur
'Clutching a knifeblade':
human rights and development from Asian women's perspective 31
Nelia Sancho-Liao
Domestic violence as a development issue 37
Ruth Jacobson
Forced prostitution of women and girls in Brazil 40
Anti-Slavery International
Colombian women prisoners in Britain 42
Jo Fisher
Interview with Sochua Mu Leiper, Director of Khemara 45
Letters to the Editor 49
News from GADU 50
Resource Book Review and Further reading 55
Helen O'Connell

t is timely that in 1993, the year of the monitored and publicised by human-rights
United Nations World Conference on organisations, while human-rights abuses
Human Rights, a non-governmental of women remained largely invisible
organisation, such as Oxfam, should except to the women themselves. Gender-
produce a journal on gender and conflict. sensitive research and monitoring, and the
Situations of conflict pose serious problems work of women's organisations, have
for those caught up in them and for publicised this omission. The war in the
agencies working for long-term and territories of the former Yugoslavia has
equitable development. War and civil strife brought rape into public view in Europe as
are widespread and work in conflict a war crime which requires full invest-
situations absorbs a significant and igation and retribution.
increasing proportion of the resources of Women experience conflict and violence
local and international non-governmental in several ways related explicitly to the
organisations. There is full-scale war in gender division of rights, roles and respon-
many countries, for example Angola and sibilities. Class and ethnic differences
the territories of the former Yugoslavia. overlay this gender-related experience. The
There is armed conflict in the Philippines, violence suffered by the widows in the El
South Africa, Guatemala, Colombia, Sri Quiche district of Guatemala, described in
Lanka, Western Sahara and in many other Judith Zur's article, is inextricably linked to
places. Military force is used systematically their marginalisation as Indians. Similarly,
in many countries to curb any challenge or the impact of the war on women in Chad,
opposition. Cambodia, and Afghanistan written about
In situations of war or violent conflict all in this issue, is exacerbated because these
civilians suffer. However, there are many women are from the poorest and most
gender-specific human-rights issues which oppressed social groups.
organisations involved in development, Oxfam has been concerned with issues
relief, and emergency work need to be of gender and conflict for several years,
aware of and address in their interventions. and, amongst other activities, has under-
War creates specific gender-related taken a consultation with all its Field
difficulties for women which are explored Offices, written papers on refugee issues,
in this Focus on Gender. Until quite recently, and provided grants to organisations
for example, certain kinds of human-rights working with women in war situations.
abuses, those suffered primarily by men This year the Gender and Development
imprisonment, torture, killings were Unit conducted a workshop on the theme

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

Editorial iii

for Oxfam staff and partner organisations of violence by women against other
in South-East Asia. women, for example, by older in-laws
This issue of Focus on Gender concen- against younger, and of violence by
trates on gender issues in situations of women against men. Violence may often
military and civil strife. It examines the come from those from whom one most
effects of armed conflict on women's lives expects protection: older family members,
and the appalling situation in which many community elders, state institutions.
women refugees and displaced find Violence against women is used to keep
themselves. But we felt it was essential to women in their place, to limit their
include other aspects of North/South opportunities to live, learn, work and care
conflict, and conflict between men and as full human beings, to hamper their
women, to reflect more accurately the capabilities to organise and claim their
range of conflict situations which confront rights. It is a major obstacle to women's
women. empowerment, and their full participation
In all countries, including those in shaping the economic, social and
sympathetic to women's equality, women political life of their countries.
remain second-class citizens. Women suffer The departure point in the exploration
daily infringement of their basic rights as of conflict in this Focus is an analysis of
human beings, and live with the ever- patriarchy as an ideology which fosters
present threat or experience of physical discriminatory treatment and sanctions
and sexual violence. The perpetrators of violence as a legitimate instrument to
violence are predominantly but not maintain the status quo. As is argued clearly
exclusively male; there are many instances in the opening article by Judy El Bushra

In many countries in the South, armed conflict is a part of daily reality. This is Angola, where the war
which began in 1975 has not yet ended. KEITH BERNSTEIN/OXFAM
IV Focus on Gender

and Eugenia Piza-Lopez, gender-related a 'disappeared' relative, and not being able
violence which 'embodies the imbalances to bury the dead. This and other articles
inherent in patriarchal society' takes many draw attention to the fact that psychological
forms. It can range from rape, domestic disorders frequently manifest themselves as
violence and child abuse to military and physical ailments. Stigma is attached to
political violence, torture, and the mental illness in almost all countries, and
reduction in state services leading to misconceptions abound: physical illnesses
increased stress and workload for women. are socially and culturally acceptable,
Nelia Sancho-Liao's article also psychological problems are not.
emphasises the extent of gender-related A number of common themes emerge:
violence and is a powerful indictment of women's added vulnerability to rape and
the political, economic and social structures sexual abuse in times of conflict; the rapid
which institutionalise violence against increase in the numbers of households
women. She provides incontrovertible primarily or exclusively dependent on
evidence of the error of separating social women's labour to survive, and the
and economic from civil rights. She consequent excessive burden this places on
describes the position of the majority of women's shoulders at a time when they too
women in Asia, who as landless peasants, are experiencing emotional and economic
urban street traders, factory workers, stress; the total disruption of economic and
prostitutes and migrant domestic workers, social life and, paradoxically, the oppor-
are socially and economically on 'the tunities this creates for women to
margins of the margins'. For them, human overcome some aspects of the traditional
rights must include access to basic gender division of roles.
resources and respect as human beings. The displacement of millions of women,
A number of articles draw attention to men and children from their homes because
the gender-related impact of war on of military conflict causes social, economic,
women. Fiona McLachan writes about the and emotional disruption. The UN High
trauma and hardship haunting Afghan Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
women because of the war. Achta Djibrine reports that there are presently around 20
Sy describes the dramatic effects of the million refugees worldwide who have fled
1979-1982 civil war on Chad which tore their home countries in the face of
that country apart and 'forced women into persecution; over 80 per cent are women
the vanguard of the struggle for survival'. and their dependent children, and elderly
The interview with Sochua Mu Leiper people. UNHCR estimates that another 25
gives a vivid account of the enormous million people are displaced within their
problems facing Cambodian women, now own countries. Here again, the gender
over 60 per cent of the population, implications were late in receiving attention.
following 20 years of war and strife. The specific needs of women for protection,
Several articles emphasise the food, health care, income to provide for
psychological and social impact of conflict their families, and education are now being
situations on women. Judith Zur's piece on researched and documen-ted; they are
Guatemala examines the psychological and slowly, but not yet compre-hensively, being
social impact of government-sponsored addressed. Tina Wallace identifies a number
terrorism on widows in the El Quiche of important areas where action is needed,
district of Guatemala. She writes about the for example, in agencies' staffing and staff
fear and insecurity that mark women's lives training, in research and policy, in the
after years of violence, and the torment involvement of refugee and displaced
caused by not knowing the whereabouts of women in planning and decision-making.

The opportunities for empowerment to the 1992 meeting of the United Nations
and politicisation which may arise for Working Group on Contemporary Forms
women in situations of conflict are noted of Slavery details how women and minors,
by many writers. When men are absent, the enticed by promises of canteen jobs, are
full weight of family survival falls on forced to work in brothels near mining
women who are compelled, and enabled, to encampments and large civil construction
take on roles from which they may have projects in the north of Brazil. The use of
been excluded in more peaceful times. women's bodies to carry drugs is a rela-
Although the personal costs to women are tively new form of abuse. Jo Fisher in her
high in terms of physical and emotional piece about Colombian women imprisoned
stress, the gains in confidence, self-worth in the UK for drug-carrying offences,
and powerfulness can be enormous. The shows vividly how poverty, and the fear of
challenge is, for women themselves and for violent reprisal can drive women into
NGOs working with them, to ensure these dangerous situations.
gains survive the conflict times. The
process of empowerment, of women's self-
education and organisation, needs to begin The recognition of women's
immediately in conflict situations and
receive all available support.
human rights remains all too easily
Physical and sexual violence against disregarded in times of crisis.
women does not only occur in times of
war. Violence by male partners against Violence against the female sex does not
women in their own homes, 'domestic start in adulthood. In many societies the
violence', occurs across all social groups, female foetus is subject to neglect from the
races, age-groups, religious and political moment of conception; in many the girl
persuasions. This universality, coupled child from birth faces subtle or overt
with women's fear and unwillingness to discriminatory treatment in terms of access
speak out, explains the silence which has to food, care and education. This subject is
surrounded for so long this violation of raised by many writers in this Focus and
women's rights. Recently, largely through will be covered more fully in a future issue.
the research and campaigns of women's Many writers on gender and develop-
organisations, male violence in the privacy ment issues, from both South and North,
of the home has become an issue for public argue cogently that 'development' can
scrutiny. Northern-based agencies involved constitute a form of violence and generate
in development, wary of allegations of conflict. This point is raised in the opening
cultural imperialism and mindful, however article by Judy El Bushra and Eugenia Piza-
subconsciously, of the pervasiveness of Lopez. They regard Structural Adjustment
violence in Northern societies too, have Programmes, as 'among the most signif-
been very reluctant to address 'domestic icant factors in reducing women to poverty
violence'. Ruth Jacobson's article demon- and dependence in the Third World'. In
strates the scale of the problem and argues their view such programmes have often
persuasively why it should be of particular given rise to increased violence in women's
concern to agencies which claim to be lives and they cite women's 'overwhelming
committed to improving the lives of men workload' as an aspect of this violence.
and women in Southern countries. Throughout the world, women's organ-
Forced prostitution is another aspect of isations and others are working for social
the violation of women's human rights. and economic change, and much has been
The Anti-Slavery International presentation achieved. Yet, 45 years since the adoption
VI Focus on Gender

of the Universal Declaration on Human occasions, for example, in Nicaragua

Rights and 14 years since the adoption of against the Contras, in Eritrea in the war
the Convention on the Elimination of All for independence from Ethiopia. Women
Forms of Discrimination against Women, refugees manage daily life in many refugee
the recognition of women's human rights camps. Women workers in the export-
remains arbitrary and all too easily oriented-industrial zones in Sri Lanka, the
disregarded in times of crisis. The four Philippines, Malaysia and elsewhere have
freedoms enshrined in the Universal been the first to protest at the exploitative
Declaration on Human Rights and the practices of employers. Women, from
consequent international human rights Scotland to Hong Kong, have organised,
covenants: freedom from fear and want, often in the teeth of extreme opposition, to
freedom of speech and belief, have never protect their jobs and their rights as
been extended fully to women. The workers. Unarmed women are in the front
economic and environmental crises of the line also in anti-apartheid struggles in
late twentieth century, coupled with South Africa and have shown themselves
conflict and instability in many countries, fearless in the face of all forms of
jeopardise such progress as women have aggression. Women have been, and are, in
made towards equality and justice. the forefront, too, of working for change,
Women are not passive victims of for peace, security and equitable gender
situations of struggle and conflict. Women relations essential to the reduction of
have taken leading roles, including as conflict at all levels and lasting respect for
fighters, in armed conflict on numerous human rights.

Eritrean women training as fighters. Although wars are mainly waged by men, there are some women
who take part in armed conflict. MIKE GOLDWATER/NETWORK
Gender-related violence:
its scope and relevance
Judy El-Bushra and Eugenia Piza Lopez
Prepared for presentation by the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO) to the
NAWO Overseas Development Administration Liaison Group meeting, 29 October 1992 .

he purpose of this paper is to sketch rape, including marital rape and rape as
out the parameters of this broad and a tool of repression against particular
complex subject, and to identify classes or groups
policy issues for further consideration. domestic violence
Violence which we can define as an child abuse
assault on a person's physical and mental female foeticide and infanticide, denial
integrity is an underlying feature of all of health care and nutrition for girl
societies, an undercurrent running through children
social interaction at many different levels. sexual and emotional harassment
How a society chooses to control the genital mutilation
violence inherent in it reflects the value it prostitution
places on mutual respect and tolerance of pornography
difference, and on human rights, democ- population control, enforced sterilisation
racy and good governance. Though some war and state violence
countries may have more successful exploitation of refugees
records than others in this respect, gender political violence, including that directed
violence is a worldwide and ever-present at the families of political targets
phenomenon against which eternal reduction in state services leading to
vigilance is necessary. increased stress and workload for
Gender-related violence, the concern of women.
this paper, is defined as violence which
embodies the power imbalances inherent in Further categorisation is difficult since
patriarchal society. Though it is not there are underlying causative factors
necessarily carried out by men against cutting across all these manifestations of
women, this is overwhelmingly the form it violence. However, we can identify three
takes. (Male rape, and some instances of levels at which violence may touch
violence by women against other women, women's lives: personal, household, and
such as female genital mutilation, public.
footbinding and the dispossession of
widows, should also be seen as gender Personal violence
violence since they reflect aspects of
patriarchal domination.) Gender violence Women experience personal violence as
takes many forms, of which the following is both a physical and a mental affront. The
a tentative list: physical toll is enormous, though not yet

Focus on Gender Voi 1, No. 2, June 1993

Focus on Gender

adequately documented. Some random between households can lead to suffering

examples: in the United States, battery and abuse. Forms of gender violence
from husbands and partners is the leading existing at this level, which are often
cause of injury to adult women; in Peru, 70 sanctioned by prevailing codes of conduct,
per cent of all reported crime involves include rape, wife-beating, female genital
women beaten by their partners; in Mexico mutilation, attacks on divorced women
95 per cent of women workers experience (viewed as 'fair game'), and child abuse.
sexual harassment from colleagues at Worldwide, a high proportion of
work; in Delhi an average of two women incidences of violence against women
per day were burned alive in dowry- between 10 and 80 per cent according to
related incidents during 1983; the World various estimates take place in the
Health Organisation estimates that more home, making the home one of the most
than 90 million African women and girls dangerous places for women. Discrim-
are victims of genital mutilation. Violence ination against women operating at this
affects women also in terms of their mental level includes discrimination against girls
health, by sapping their self-esteem and in access to health and education, the
self-confidence, limiting their capacity to operation of dual standards in evaluating
solve their own problems, as well as their the conduct of boys and girls, early and
capacity to develop relationships with forced marriage for girls, exchange
others. marriage, exclusion of female household
Gender violence, and the threat of it, members from participation in decision
reflect culturally-defined notions of making, and exclusion of widows from the
masculinity and femininity which serve to extended family. Such manifestations of
reinforce women's subordinate position. discrimination foster an environment in
Male and female children are socialised which physical and mental abuse of
into an acceptance of gender violence; it is women is seen as acceptable, even proper.
an integral part of gender identity. Women
learn from an early age that their
Public violence
behaviour may provoke violence from men
and they modify their behaviour At the public level there is both culturally
accordingly. In this way they may be sanctioned violence and discrimination
effectively building the walls of their own(social attitudes to rape, for example, or the
prison. People who suffer violence may relatively lenient sentences meted out in
themselves take their frustrations out on courts to male perpetrators) and the
others whom they perceive as more violence which results from the oppression
vulnerable than themselves (such as of the state or powerful elements within it.
younger siblings or daughters-in-law). The latter has been given more attention
However, since both male violence and internationally than less visible manifes-
women's acceptance of it are learned, they tations of gender violence, having been
can also be unlearned. discussed in connection with human rights
issues, legal reforms, and international
conventions. To a small but increasing
Violence within the degree its profile has been raised by
household campaigns by women's groups and
Although the family may provide its organisations dealing with civil liberties
members with both a physical and a and political rights. However, the issues at
psychological haven, it is paradoxically the public level are wider than this. Every
also true that power imbalances within and government or authority structure has the
Gender-related violence

In summary, violence against women is

4' not merely a matter of private relation-
ONDE ESTAN?* ships, nor simply a question of isolated
aberrations that can be brought under
public control. It is a wide-ranging and
complex question, the manifestations of
which have not yet been adequately
documented, and which needs to be
addressed at a number of different levels. It
is, however, beyond the scope of this paper
to pursue the full extent of the issue.

Development which abuses

Development policies and programmes
have been among the most significant
factors in reducing women to poverty and
dependence in the Third World. Well-
documented examples show how women
have actually been left dispossessed and
Argentina. Poster showing the faces of women
disenfranchised by development projects
who were among the 'disappeared' which ignore their needs, knowledge and
MARIAN POCOCK/OXFAM rights. (The Jahaly-Pacharr project in the
Gambia, which turned many independent
women rice-farmers into agricultural
power to introduce and uphold measures labourers, is the classic example.) The
which guarantee women's rights in a wide prevailing development model, with its
range of areas, including rights to land and stress on economic growth through
other property, inheritance, employment technology as the main criterion for
and access to services, family law, and so development, sidesteps the requirement for
on. Such measures are not only positive in empowerment and human growth and
themselves but also foster positive public hence cannot form an adequate policy
perceptions of women's rights and dignity. framework for a gender-equitable approach.
An issue to be addressed at the public Structural adjustment programmes,
level is the apparent difference from one which have devolved the full burden of
society to another in the degree of tolerance caring for the family on to the household
of male violence. National leaders and and particularly on to women, must be
those in authority have considerable power seen in this context. Such policies increase
to influence attitudes on the acceptability women's responsibilities and workload
of aggressive or abusive behaviour; at the and impose ever-increasing constraints to
same time, societies that are themselves their moving out of poverty.
under pressure or in the process of It is small wonder that development
disintegration appear to be particularly policies and projects have often given rise to
prone to victimising their more vulnerable increased violence in women's lives.
members. It is not clear at present what Women's overwhelming workload is an
factors may contribute to such differences aspect of this violence. In many areas,
between societies. women's working day begins at dawn and
Focus on Gender

continues without respite until late at night, women into physical danger.
while it is rare for men to enjoy no rest or The prevailing attitude among
leisure during the course of the day. Despite development planners is paralleled by
increased awareness of the problem on the some governments who turn a blind eye to
part of development planners, many large-scale prostitution and sex tourism
projects still depend for their success on because it provides a large slice of the
women taking on extra work. Projects national income. Similarly, trafficking in
designed to introduce labour-saving and child brides, commercialised marriage
production-enhancing technologies may arrangements, and other forms of
increase women's workload, while bringing indentured or slave labour are widespread,
them no compensatory benefits. For tolerated because they serve the interests of
example, in agricultural systems where powerful and wealthy elites.
women are responsible for routine field Areas of policy which appear well-
operations, the introduction of animal intentioned may be detrimental to women.
traction as a means of increasing the acreage For example, in some cases the 'Women in
under cultivation provides men with Development' (WID) approach has tended
increased output, while it brings women to focus on women in isolation, rather than
nothing but extra work burdens. Planners addressing the causes of their subord-
routinely ignore the impact on women of ination; this may result in little more than
'improved' technologies. additional demands being placed on
women's time and workload. Another
potentially negative policy area is popul-
The impact of violence on women's ation control initiatives which see women
as targets of contraceptive services and
mental health is hard to overestimate. supplies rather than independent decision-
makers with rights to control their own
Development projects themselves may
unwittingly exacerbate tendencies towards Violence against women as
violence, by introducing into the commun- a barrier to sustainable
ity a resource for which people compete.
Women are likely to be particularly
vulnerable. Examples can be quoted of Sustainable development requires the full
women farmers being attacked physically participation of all citizens in the economy,
by those wishing to appropriate their land in democratisation processes, and in the
or their harvests. In projects where women protection of the environment. Tendencies
are openly prioritised as beneficiaries, men which foster violence against women limit
may at first acquiesce and then later their ability to perform the roles required
appropriate the benefits for themselves. of them in both the private and the public
Projects which encourage women to gain spheres.
confidence or to participate in decision The impact of violence on women's
making run the risk of provoking violent mental health is hard to overestimate.
reprisals against them. Without serious Violence erodes their self-esteem, and
efforts being made to consult women (and confidence to work at lifting themselves
men) in the design of projects, sensitive out of poverty. Social sanctions often
monitoring and follow-up, and a holistic prevent women from discussing violence
understanding of the problems women openly; by 'bottling it up' they compound
face, projects can unintentionally lead their emotional problems, as well as
Gender-related violence

cutting themselves off from potential women. He went on to describe violence

sources of support. (Recent cases in the UK against women as 'an overwhelming
have highlighted the long-term effects, moral, economic and public health burden
which can often remain suppressed for that our society can no longer bear'. The
years, of routine violence on women.) The phenomenon is relatively well-documented
need for support and counselling is in the United States but there is no reason
particularly acute in disaster and refugee to imagine that similar conclusions might
situations, since here women are not apply in any other country.
particularly vulnerable to rape and other
forms of sexual violence.
Fear of violence limits women's ability Fear of violence limits women's ability
to perform their roles in many ways.
Participation in development projects may to perform their roles in many ways.
be limited because women fear reprisals
from their husbands. This fear may also Violence against women is a serious
limit their ability to participate in aggravating factor in the spread of AIDS.
organised groups, and confine them to Women who have been raped run high
their home instead of working outside the risks of HIV infection; in some parts of
domestic sphere or pursuing other Uganda, for example, especially where
responsibilities. In the United States a there are still concentrations of armed men,
survey in 1988 found that 50 per cent of counselling agencies are increasingly
women missed an average of three days' having to confront the problems of women
work each month because of domestic who have or may have contracted the virus
violence. Violence limits women's capacity as a result of rape. Many of these women
to care for their children; in parts of have no alternative subsequently but to
Mozambique, for example, where a crying turn to prostitution or 'camp-following'.
child is regarded as a legitimate cause for a The socio-economic vulnerability of
husband to beat his wife, many women women renders them generally weak in
sedate their children to keep them quiet. matters of sexual negotiation. A particu-
Prioritising the needs of violent fathers and larly deplorable development in Uganda is
husbands over those of other family the recent habit of some men who, having
members may lead to major problems in learnt of the importance of 'safe sex', seek
terms of child nutrition and may be linked, out young girls as sexual partners on the
directly or indirectly, with much broader grounds that they cannot possibly be HIV
problems of development such as food carriers.
security and environmental protection.
These consequences of violence Violence against women as
represent a staggering waste of human
energy and capacity. The cost of dealing
a human rights issue
with violence against women, even if Women suffer human rights abuses both in
measured only in terms of direct costs such their own right and by association with
as medical and psychiatric services, is their menfolk. At the level of the state,
equally enormous and must far outweigh abuses may be directed both at individuals
the cost of initiatives to contain it. For (attacks on political opponents and their
example, the United States Surgeon families, abuse of women in state custody,
General reported in 1989 that battered and so on) and at groups. Rape in
women are four to five times more likely to particular may be used as a systematic
seek psychiatric care than non-battered means of torture, as well as a means of
Focus on Gender

repressing the women concerned and of to be highly discriminatory against women.

humiliating their families and indeed Governments tend to have little interest
whole communities or classes. Uganda, and few resources for combating this
Burma and Bosnia are both fairly recent situation. Even where constitutional law
examples of conflict arenas in which rape provides for women's rights, knowledge of
has been perpetrated on a large and these rights is often restricted. Legal
systematic scale by state militia. education for both men and women, for
The capacity of the state to promote individuals and for institutions is a
basic personal rights is also important. major priority in order to provide women
Georgina Ashworth (1992) maintains that with an awareness of their rights, and to
women have only an 'indirect' relationship establish positive norms of behaviour and
with the state, that is, one that is attitude on the part of men.
channelled through their fathers or
husbands; she goes on to describe how
under Western models (exported globally
Women in war and other
during colonialism), state institutions tend crises
to reinforce men's control over women's Research on aid planning in emergency
sexuality and fertility, their time, work, situations has shown that a community's
leisure and movement outside the home, ability to survive disasters depends on the
their property and inheritance, without extent to which it has minimised 'vulner-
legal retribution. Thus the issue of abilities' and maximised 'capacities'.
women's civil rights must not be confined Strengthening women's status and
to their political freedoms or to abuses by capacities contributes to the community's
agents of the state, but must also include ability to withstand the effect of disasters.
the influence of state institutions on gender The importance of women's role in war
relations in the personal domain. and other crises is generally overlooked in
Women's rights in international law relief and rehabilitation projects. The
have only recently begun to attract potential effectiveness of women as
attention, and a number.of important legal managers of relief projects and supplies is
instruments do not address women's needs rarely incorporated into emergency
specifically. For example, gender perse- planning. Not only do relief and
cution has not yet become internationally emergency projects frequently undermine
recognised as legitimate grounds for women's crisis-management role, but also
asylum. The United Nations Expert Group their potential contribution in post-
Meeting on Violence against Women emergency stages is often ignored,
recommended in 1991 the adoption of a reducing them to permanent dependency
protocol on gender violence to the on food aid.
Convention on the Elimination of All Though wars may be mostly fought by
Forms of Discrimination against Women, men, women are of course deeply affected
which would commit states to recognising by war in a number of ways. One of the
the scale and pervasiveness of the problem first effects of war may be the displacement
and to taking action to eradicate it. of civilians, leading to the disintegration of
In similar vein, the state has a communities, the breakdown of mutual
responsibility to take action against cultural support mechanisms, and to reduced
norms and customary laws which conflict access to food and shelter. Such disruption
with basic human rights. Discrepancies places extraordinary stress on women as
between customary and constitutional law family carers and providers, and on their
exist in most countries and the former tend critical roles in maintaining the social fabric
Gender-related violence 7

In May, 1992, about 60,000 Rohingya people were living in makeshift shelters, of plastic sheets and
branches, on the Bangladesh/Burmese border. They are a minority Muslim group, subject to harassment
by the military in Burma. There are reports of women being raped by soldiers, after their menfolk have
been forcibly taken away to serve as army porters. HOWARD DAVIESIOXFAM

and in managing food deficits. Other ways psychological trauma.

in which women may be affected include In post-war situations, the reintegration
heightened general levels of personal of (mostly male) ex-combatants into society
violence and increased risk of rape. gives rise to problems of self-esteem and
The extreme example of the impact of sense of responsibility for men, who may
war is seen in the situation of refugee take out their problems on their women-
communities. Figures from the United folk. Uganda and Namibia are both
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees countries which have recently been
show that women and children made up ravaged by war and where problems of
around 85 per cent of the 20 million readjustment in gender relations have been
refugees in the world in 1991. Whether noted. Though tendencies towards violence
they flee as whole communities or as exist in all societies, it appears that in those
individuals, flight makes refugees which have experienced deeply
vulnerable to attack both from the traumatising events (such as war, famine,
aggressors from whom they are fleeing and political oppression and drought) a
from those at whose mercy they place dislocation of the social fabric occurs which
themselves. Women refugees are gives rise to irreparable social divisions, to
particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual an inability to maintain social cohesion and
harassment as social control breaks down, unity, and to multifarious abuses at the
in addition to the problems they face of level of personal interaction. The impact of
resource loss, cultural dislocation, and such crises on the quality of interpersonal
8 Focus on Gender

and communal relations is perhaps a ment, the reduction of poverty, the prom-
potential area for future research. otion of human development (including
Despite all this, war and other sorts of education, health and the bearing of
crises may have some positive aspects for 'children by choice'), tackling environ-
women. In extending their roles to cover mental problems, and the improvement of
those of absent males, women may disaster responsiveness.
discover new capabilities which neither Combating gender violence requires
they nor their menfolk thought they had. many specific measures in a varied range
Communities may be jarred by crisis into a of fields, but essentially involves giving
realisation that women's contribution is increased priority to equalising the well-
vital and deserves to be more highly being and status of men and women across
valued. Women themselves may be all spheres of development activity. The
critically involved in initiatives to end only lasting solution is to reduce women's
violence and repair intercommunal political and economic vulnerability,
relations. raising their social status and strength-
ening their ability to gain control over their
own lives.
In summary, gender violence involves an Recommendations for
enormous amount of human suffering and bilateral development
injustice, and encompasses every country
and all types and classes of people. Far cooperation policy
from characterising regrettable but Bilateral development cooperation agencies
isolated incidents in the personal domain, should take action in the following areas:
violence or at least potential violence
conditions every woman's life and Action on international legal
dominates the lives of millions of women, instruments
impeding both their personal development Promote the Draft Declaration on
and the contribution they can make to the Violence Against Women.
lives of those around them. We have seen Ensure that gender violence is an agen-
how violence is a complex issue which da item in all human rights fora.
needs to be analysed in relation to a web of Promote the adoption of gender-related
psychological, social, economic and violence and persecution as grounds for
political factors. We have further seen how asylum in refugee conventions.
development initiatives at many levels
have been constrained by and contributed Government-to-government institution
to problems resulting from gender building and policy support
violence. Seek ways of assisting governments in
Gender-related violence is a complex receipt of bilateral aid to improve the
and far-reaching issue but one which lies at capacity of state institutions to cope
the heart of current debates about with rape and domestic violence, for
sustainable development, good govern- example, by training professionals in the
ance, and quality of life. Addressing police force and social services, promot-
gender violence in all these contexts is an ing the establishment of women's police
important contribution to the pursuit of the stations, introducing measures to pro-
Overseas Development Administration's vide protection for women refugees,
mission statement and primary objectives, assisting in constitutional reform and
especially those concerning good govern- legal training for state bodies.
Gender-related violence

Seek to influence governments in the Women's Global Leadership.

formulation of population policies, and MATCH International Centre (1990) Linking
the provision of family-planning ser- Women's Global Struggles to End Violence,
vices which do not abuse women's Ontario, Canada.
reproductive rights. Welsh Women's Aid (1998) Worldwide Action on
Violence Against Women: Report of the
Monitoring and evaluation of _ International Women's Aid Conference in Cardiff,
development and emergency projects 1988.
Introduce gender violence as a specific International Women's Tribune Centre (1991)
monitoring point at all stages of the pro- 'Violence against women: confronting invisible
ject cycle (including design, implemen- barriers to development', in The Tribune
tation and follow-up). Newsletter 46, June.
Assess critically the gender impact of IsisWICCE (1990/91) 'Poverty and prostitution: a
relief and rehabilitation projects and the call for international action', /si's Women's World
involvement of women in these projects. 24, Winter.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1992) Annual
Support to women's organisations and Report, London.
centres working on gender violence Carney J A (1992) Contract farming and female rice
Make resources available to support and growers in the Gambia, Overseas Development
strengthen women's groups working on Institute Irrigation Management Network Paper 15,
solidarity, self-help, population issues, London.
legal education and assistance, and Anderson M and Woodrow P (1989) Rising from the
human rights; offer training to such ashes: development strategies in times of crisis,
groups in organisation and manage- Boulder, Colorado, UNESCOWestview Press.
ment; and promote and support net-
working and exchanges between them.
Build the capacity of documentation and Judy El Bushra has been Gender Officer since 1988
research centres working on issues of at ACORD, a consortium of NGOs supporting
gender violence and promote the widest development programmes in Africa. She is particu-
possible circulation of information on larly interested in the issues of gender and conflict.
the subject. She worked in Sudan for six years from 1978 to

References and further Eugenia Piza-Lopez is co-ordinator of Oxfam's

reading Gender and Development Unit and Gender
Ashworth G (1992) 'Women and human rights', Adviser for Asia and Latin America. Her previous
(Background Paper for the OECD Devalopment experience was as a researcher on images of the
Assistance Committee Expert Group on Women Third World in the UK, and work on popular edu-
in Development), London, Change. cation with Central American women. In Costa
Bunch C (1991) Women's Rights as Human Rights: Rica, where she was born, she was involved in a
Toivard a Re-vision of Human Rights, New York, participatory research project with the University
Center for Women's Global Leadership. of Costa Rica, and produced films on development
Carrillo R (1991) Violence Against Women: An
Obstacle to Development, New York, Center for
Conflict and
the women of Chad
Achta Djibrine Sy (Translated by Bridget Walker)

hroughout the world, wars, whether Chad is a vast country comprising three
within the same country or between types of landscape: the Sahara to the north,
neighbouring countries, lead to the the Sahel at the centre, and the Sudan
dislocation and disarray of populations. region to the south. In each region there is a
National and international conflicts have different way of life, economic activity, and
terrible repercussions for different social culture. The north and centre are Arab
groups. While every family experiences Muslim by culture and the people are
these conflict situations, the most largely nomadic pastoralists; whereas the
disadvantaged families are further south is Animist and Christian and the
marginalised. Different analyses of the people are settled farmers. These contrasts
condition of populations experiencing are part of the circumstances at the roots of
conflict conclude that women and children the long war which has lasted for more
are the most affected. The case of Chad is than two decades. We are talking, therefore
one example. of a war provoked by psychological

Commissaire, sub-Prefect and military officer watching an Independence Day parade in Chad in 1985.

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

Conflict and the women of Chad 11

difference. But these differences pale into husbands could challenge these social
insignificance in comparison to the constraints by engaging in income-earning
profound change which has taken place in activities.
the situation of women all over the country.
It was the great civil war of 1979 that The position of women
tore the country apart. The year 1979 is
significant because it marks the start of an
during the conflict
unforgettable event burned into the The conditions of life changed in the period
memories of every family in Chad. It tore of the civil war, 1979 to 1982. Many men
apart the social fabric, broke up families, went into exile in the Central African
and forced women into the vanguard of the Republic, Cameroon, the Congo, Libya, the
struggle for survival. It particularly affectedIvory Coast and elsewhere, sometimes
women married, divorced, single and abandoning their wives and children.
widows in the large urban areas where Other men remained but were unable to
the administrative, commercial and earn money, since the state ceased to
economic activities were concentrated. function and many other activities were
suspended; the majority of men were state
employees or worked in the private and
Position of women before informal sectors. Some had difficulty
the conflict adapting while others started to fish, hunt
The conflict struck at the heart of Chadian and work the land. Women were fortunate
society, caused a rupture in social structures if their husbands were still alive even if the
and created new tensions. Before 1979, men were away from home or unable to
Chadian society was patriarchal. The man make a financial contribution.
alone was recognised as the head of the Social disorder changed gender rela-
household. The man was regarded as the tions. Women invented and developed
sole producer and therefore had to provide new ways of making money in order to
for the family. The woman was the enable their families to survive. These
recipient. There was one decision maker: the survival strategies were as varied as the
man gave orders, the woman carried them social position of the women concerned.
out. All the household goods belonged to The poorest women sold their labour: they
the man. This was the context in which became maids in the houses of richer
children were socialised and educated. families or went from door to door offering
The woman's role was that of biological to pound grain. Women who were better-
and social reproduction. Giving birth was off sold their possessions to get working
the only role which conferred status on capital: they sold their jewellery, cooking
women and this status was reinforced by utensils, bedding and clothes.
large numbers of children. Every action Whether they remained in the capital
and every movement made by a woman city, went back to the village, took refuge
was done under the authority and control in Kousseri (in Cameroon), or on the
of a man. Certain women, particularly outskirts of the capital, women all discov-
Muslim women, lived in seclusion. A wife ered sources of income. Some produced
who went out during the day, or engaged shea nuts, groundnut oil, dwede (the local
in commercial activity, would attract the spaghetti), or doughnuts. Others produced
mockery of both family and friends as she alcoholic drinks made from millet or
would be exposing her husband's inability sorghum, such as bill bili, cochat and corde,
to meet her needs. Only widows, divorced or a drink distilled from cassava, called
women, and women married to very poor argui. Yet others cooked and sold food, or
]2 Focus on Gender

thanks to their domestic skills and

expertise, they were able to provide for
their families.
Women also created and developed
commercial and banking systems amongst
themselves. Problems of purchasing and
marketing were resolved by relationships
and networks created between the women
from a region with a surplus of a particular
product trading with those in a needy
region. As there was no access to banking
institutions, women developed a system of
tontines, a compulsory saving system
established by groups of women who each
agree to put in a certain sum of money for
a given period. The total is then paid out to
the members of the group in rotation. The
security of the money was assured: the
money collected allowed women to
improve their business and reinvest
significantly, as well as improving the
material conditions of their lives.
Selling spices in the market at Am Timam, Chad,
In conclusion, it is possible to see that
the conflict enabled women to leave their
private sphere and take part extensively in
bought and resold products like condi- the public domain. Although the conflict
ments or fresh, dried or smoked fish. has increased the numbers of women
In addition to petty trading, many living in poverty and has exhausted
women started agricultural and market- women physically, financially, and
gardening enterprises. Others learned psychologically, it has been the foundation
dressmaking, embroidery, knitting, or of an awareness by women of their
hairdressing while some learned how to essential role in the survival of their
organise the sale of drinks at home and in families and communities.
clubs. Some women joined the army. Women are no longer regarded as
Others turned to prostitution. consumers but also as producers. The war
Faced with the increasing needs of their helped them to break with their traditional
families, women had to trade over long submission, to acquire more autonomy
distances both inside and outside the and personal self-confidence. The percep-
country, buying and selling grain, beans, tion of marriage and children has changed
groundnuts, squash, sesame, wrappers, too: children are no longer seen as the only
cloth and Gala beer (beer produced by the guarantee of life for women or the survival
national brewery). Women defied danger, of the household. Today, women's role as
fatigue and all other constraints to bring in producers receives, and reinforces, consid-
and increase income. Opportunities to eration both from their husbands and from
make money were very limited; for Chadian society as a whole.
example, women did not take up activities
requiring new technology. Instead, they Achta Djibrine Sy is Oxfam's Women's Project
generally chose food processing by which, Officer in Chad.
Life during wartime:
women and conflict
Fiona McLachlan
There is no life in Afghanistan. Everyone has time to consider sensitive topics such as
died. Even in 100 years I could not regain the rape and other traumatic incidents.
life I had before. Nevertheless, the extensiveness of the
general psychosomatic disorders is serious.
'The kind of pain we have, you can not

oobshina is a widow, displaced from
her home village, now living in a really explain. We do not feel well. We ask
small, damp, mud house in Kabul God, if life is so bad then why have you
with her three children. She cannot afford created us?' explained the widow Samaha
to buy fuel and so does not cook. Her and her sister, Obeda. But to try and
neighbours help her when they can. Yet distinguish between the material and
Boobshina's statement given above refers emotional causes of mental ill-health
not to her poverty but to the mental trauma would be difficult if not misguided.
she has suffered during Afghanistan's 14- Among the women interviewed trauma
year civil war. was predominantly associated with the
The interview with Boobshina was part loss of relatives through death, disappear-
of a three-month study on the impact of the ance or imprisonment. 'I've been losing
civil war on Afghan women's lives. close relatives one by one... You can stand
Growing insecurity in Kabul cut short the hunger and thirst, but losing people, that
study; 40 women were interviewed, the you can't stand', said Samaha. Although
sample was biased towards poor women in the concept of martyrdom gave death a
Kabul, but included some refugees in meaning that made grief easier to bear,
Pakistan. The study aimed to elicit women's there were limits to this solace. Some
attitudes and experiences. This approach women's grief was so great that they had
resulted in women revealing the more attempted suicide. 'I no longer want to be
intangible aspects of their lives during alive', said Safura, a widow living with her
wartime. father. One brother was killed and two
disabled because of the war, which 'killed
One of the study's main findings was
my mother with grief. All three of
the high incidence of psychosomatic
Mastourah's sons had fought in the army;
disorders among the women since the war. two were killed and one was missing.
All complained of headaches; some had 'Until I die and am buried beside my sons,
them permanently. Other symptoms the I cannot forget. If a chicken dies it is hard
women cited were worry, premature to forget it, so how can you forget a child?'
ageing, inability to concentrate, inexplic- With the news of the third son's death, she
able aches and pains, fainting and temp- had attempted suicide by throwing herself
orary paralysis. The study did not have out of a first-floor window.

Focus on Gender Vol 2, No. 2, June 1993

14 Focus on Gender

Many women became heads of house-

hold following the loss of menfolk. This
often brought new economic demands and
hardship. Although many women found
ways of coping, they continued to feel
overwhelmed and worried about the
future. As Bibifatma said, 'When my
husband was killed I forgot about caring
for myself. Now I think only of my
children.' She had just lost the job she had
had for two months, cleaning dried fruit in
a factory, and did not know where to begin
to look for more work.
Women talked of the loss of the 'good
life'. Although this might be a romant-
icisation of their past, the women constant-
ly linked the destruction of houses, land
and livestock with the loss of a sense of
home and social order. For many women
the changes in their mental health meant
that they no longer attended social
occasions, or no longer enjoyed them.
Mariam is a widow with four young boys. Bibi Tula and her surviving children, back in
She does not have women to her house any Afghanistan after years as a refugee in Pakistan,
more because: 'I am ashamed of its poverty DIANNA MELROSE/OXFAM

(and anyway)... Afghanistan is too angry to

trust people.' She locks her boys in the former Soviet Union. Now he is 18 years
house everyday while she is out at work. old and beginning a six-year medical
Weddings used to be social occasions degree. Bibishiriin had not heard from him
which women valued and enjoyed. Now for four months and this was causing her
many women found that even if they great suffering.
attended weddings, they no longer felt like The widespread incidence of psycho-
celebrating. The refugee women in Quetta, somatic disorders caused by grief and
Pakistan, said they sometimes cry at poverty represent a serious health problem
weddings, remembering those people who among Afghan women, and recovery will
have died. Fariida, displaced in Kabul for take time. However, the women were keen
12 years, said, 'Now we sing songs about to talk about the impact of the war, and
revolution, fighting and war as these are one positive outcome of the study was the
the only things that we know.' Shamahana, forum it provided for such discussions.
a widow with four children said, 'Now I go The study concluded that the emotional
to weddings mainly for the children's sake. and material consequences of the war are
Since becoming a widow, I get headaches inextricably bound up together, for the
for three days afterwards so I do not like women of Afghanistan. Agencies working
weddings any more.' with women in the rehabilitation process
Amid the general despair women felt should therefore consider programmes that
about their lives, children were seen as the address the issues of emotional trauma and
great hope for the future. Bibishiriin had poverty together.
seen her son only once or twice in nine Fiona McLachlan studied anthropology. She ha?
years. He, like thousands of Afghan lived in Sudan and Afghanistan and is particularly
children, had been sent to study in the interested in the problems of refugee women
Working on gender in
conflict situations:
some ideas on strategy
Judy El Bushra and Eugenia Piza-Lopez

same search for emancipation. However, to

n developing strategies for effective
gender work in conflict situations, enable local NGOs to move forward in such
agencies must give attention to the circumstances, agencies need to raise their
question of how they can build relation- own awareness and skills in dealing with
ships with local non-governmental gender issues.
organisations (NGOs) which will enable Raising gender issues with local NGOs
gender to be addressed jointly in a con- can either strengthen or weaken working
structive way. This is a necessity in all relationships: it can strengthen them if it is
circumstances, but in conflict situations done as part of a long-term strategy of
additional questions need to be addressed, permanent dialogue; it can weaken them if
and a number of additional sensitivities done on an ad hoc basis, which can lead to
may be present which require confidence issues of imperialism and cultural
and skill on the part of agency staff. Above inappropriateness being raised.
all, the special dynamics of armed conflict A long-term strategy for working with
place particular difficulties in the way of local NGOs should be characterised by
agencies which are drawn into an open dialogue, the ability to listen to critical
emergency situation only at the moment of questions from partners, transparency in
conflict. Building constructive relationships approaches to work, recognition that
with local NGOs demands that the agency learning is a two-way process, sufficient
establishes a credible profile which can time and resources, and clear prioritisation
normally only be developed through a long on where to start, who to start with, and
period of collaboration. why.
In critical circumstances it is all too easy In relations with local NGOs, an
to see the needs of gender equity as being agency's aim should be to focus on
secondary to other goals, such as the identifying blockages, which should be
political viability or even the survival of the dealt with in a constructive and collab-
community in the face of oppression or orative way. Options for working on
disaster. Important as these are, the gender and empowerment in response to
community will be constrained in meeting conflict depend on the opportunities
these goals if over half the population is available at the moment of the response;
living under impossible burdens. Thus agencies must be culturally sensitive and
overarching social goals and goals of avoid preconceived notions of what gender
gender equity should not be seen as either- and empowerment does or does not mean
or alternatives, but as part and parcel of the in a particular environment. Agencies must

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

16 Focus on Gender

recognise, too, that partners face significant Inviting local NGOs to participate in
practical problems in discussing and agency meetings and workshops.
dealing with these issues, and provide Providing gender-sensitive local NGOs
assistance that takes this into account. with opportunities to contribute to the
Possible components for a strategy for design of agency strategies in, and long-
working with local NGOs on gender and term planning for, conflict situations.
conflict include: Encouraging agency staff to develop
Joint training workshops on gender and skills as 'trainers of trainers',
conflict. strengthening local NGOs' ability to
Strengthening ties with and under- explore gender issues in their own
standing of women's organisations and work; providing resources such as time,
movements who have information and training and technical resources to
insights about the situation of women in facilitate this.
the country. Exploring mechanisms whereby
Strengthening and developing a dialogue can be established with local
consistent strategy for networking and NGOs, so that experience on gender can
information exchange between those be incorporated in concrete ways during
working on gender issues and those project design and implementation.
working on development issues in Encouraging the development of
general. networking between local NGOs on a
Commissioning research which regional or cross-regional basis.
documents and synthesises the Aiming through research and practical
experiences of men and women in experience to discover the concept of
conflict situations; contracting local and gender as it is expressed in each society,
regional researchers for this task and and discussing with local NGOs the
investing resources in documentation liberating and oppressive aspects of this
and communication of the research concept.
findings. At grassroots level, seeking out
Strengthening the agency's resource- individuals holding moral and spiritual
base of local women consultants, authority who are committed to equity
trainers, and experts for employment in and social justice, and who can become
conflict situations, which will enhance allies, and strengthening them in their
the likelihood of culturally-sensitive, work.
gender-balanced perspectives being (From a paper prepared for a workshop in
incorporated into planning. Thailand, in February 1993, organised by Oxfam on
Prioritising the integration of gender gender issues in situations of conflict.)
into technical issues in conflict situations
by supporting the training of specialist
gender staff to work with or in technical

Refugee women: their

perspectives and our

Tina Wallace

learning to involve women in the planning

efugee policies are usually devel-
oped and implemented without the and delivery of refugee assistance;
involvement of refugees. Emergency increasing their access to essential goods;
relief work with refugees and displaced working with their own organisations, and
people has traditionally been very top- learning to listen to them.
down, involving 'bringing relief to the
poor'. The corporate culture and admin-
istrative procedures of many aid agencies
Staffing and policy
reflect this approach, which effectively While there are some women staff
denies access to refugees and prevents concerned about refugee and displaced
dialogue with them even at the grassroots women to be found in UN and NGO
level. In the comparatively few cases where headquarters, they remain few and far
refugees are given some part to play in the between. In 1990 the UNHCR drew up
delivery of refugee care, they are still guidelines for working with refugee
excluded from the policy and planning women which emphasise that programmes
levels; and at the grassroots level women 'can be effective only if they are planned
refugees are almost inevitably excluded. with an adequate understanding of, and
Needs and policies are defined, often consultation with, women and their
thousands of miles away, by those who dependents'. (UNHCR, 1990:4)
may not have a good understanding of the The guidelines stress the protection and
reality of the situation of the refugees. legal rights of women, their need for
It is imperative to change this way of resources and for special programmes to
working with refugees, and to take into ensure women's access to them, and the
account their perspectives: not only for need to employ staff who can integrate this
policy making and service delivery but also way of working into their area of
to restore self-respect and self- competence.
determination to refugees themselves. Preliminary work on policy in one
In order to take the women refugees' agency has highlighted the importance of
perspective into account action has to be incorporating refugee women from the
taken to counteract the factors which have outset. This means having a competent
prevented their voice being heard. This person on the assessment team to carry out
means addressing the lack of gender- community and gender assessment;
sensitive staff and policy within aid recruiting women who can work directly
agencies; undertaking relevant research; with the refugee women; briefing all staff

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

18 Focus on Gender

about the issues; setting up women's need to be assessed, together with possible
committees as soon as possible; recruiting ways of overcoming them. These include
women refugees to do health and sani- using female staff, women-only meetings,
tation work; designing community-based working with the men to explain the work,
projects in, for example, public health; and and developing and encouraging women's
evaluating the work from a gender groups. Which strategies are most
perspective at the end. However, this way appropriate will depend on factors, such as
of working is still in its earliest stages. cultue, women's workloads and gender
Research Case study 1: Disregarding women's
There is only a small body of research and needs in water distribution
evaluations available within aid agencies While women are the main collectors and
which include data on refugee women. users of water in most camp situations, they
There is still very little known about are usually excluded from participation in
refugee women, especially in new refugee water-supply planning or management.
crises. This is not a problem that can be This project was no exception; the work was
quickly resolved, but it is essential that done by the agency through all-male
research institutes and aid agencies start to refugee committees. Water shortages were
collect more data on women's issues common in the early days:
among refugee populations, and that these 'It was clear from discussions with the
data are shared. newly formed Women's Committee ... that
There are many sensitivities involved in they had little idea who was responsible for
research with refugees, including the fears different aspects of water supply or what
of the refugees themselves and of the host the problem had been during the times
government, and concerns about how the when there were limited supplies.
data may be used. This is an area where During the times of greatest pressure,
collaborative work with refugee organi- women were waiting three to four days at
sations in some cases, and with universities the water points to collect water... they
in the host country in others, could could not leave their children to keep their
fruitfully be developed. Closer links places in the queues, although some
between existing research institutes, both women did help each other out by holding
Northern and Southern, and aid agencies places for each other. Most were also busy
could also help in providing information collecting or buying firewood, taking
and understanding about all refugee children to clinics or supplementary
issues, including those of women. feeding centres, cooking, perhaps selling
things in the market and carrying out
other household activities...
Involving refugee women
These times of high tension and long
in decision making queues resulted in frequent fights at water
For refugee women to be involved in points. Eventually, the Refugee Committee
planning, and making decisions that effect assigned men to assist the water-point
their day-to-day lives is still quite rare. The watchmen in controlling the women
case studies below illustrate both the cost mainly by standing at the sites and yelling
of this lack of active involvement, and the at everyone to stand in order. No attempt
real potential and benefits of involving was made to discuss the situation with the
women right from the beginning. women or inform them of the problems that
The difficulties of involving women were causing the inadequate supply. One
Refugee women 19

Water-collection point in Hartesheik refugee camp in Sudan. LIBA TAYLOR/OXFAM

cannot help thinking that if the women had Case study 2: Involving women in
been included in these discussions, they planning for agriculture
might have been more amenable to ... an In this case a woman project staff member
orderly queuing system... At the very least, talked with the women early on in the life
the refugee women, who already have a of a transit camp. The issues that needed
desperate feeling of powerlessness and resolving were those of land allocation,
dependence, were entitled to be informed...' and seed and tools distributions. Only two
(Hodgkiss, 1989:17-18) per cent of the camp leaders were women
in spite of the fact that at home women
It was recognised during the evaluation had been organised in women's groups
of this project that liaising with the refugee and organisations, and some had
community must involve liaising actively leadership skills.
with the women too. This community
liaison work must be an integral part of The discussion started by considering
one staff person's job description, the crops the women grew at home and the
otherwise the technical problems and crops they could grow in the camp which
demands will always overshadow the were most like these. The women were
social aspects of the work in highly actively involved in choosing which seeds
pressurised situations. they wanted and these differed from
those originally planned and how they
wanted the land allocated. Then they
discussed the tools they needed, and it was
20 Focus on Gender

discovered that the first distribution of Access to essential

hoes had been made only to male house- resources
hold heads, and women-headed house-
holds had been excluded. The resources needed by women differ
These discussions led to the setting up according to the household structure and
of a women's committee which worked the existing gender relations and
with the woman staff member on the seed male/female divisions of consumption and
and land distribution. production for example, who has respon-
During the course of the discussions and sibility for feeding the family. However, in
distributions, the woman project officer most refugee situations women need proper
learned a great deal about the survival access to food, materials, land, income-
strategies of these refugee women, know- generating activities, training, and health
ledge which will be useful in planning care. Thus, these resources should not be
viable economic activities for the women in automatically targeted to males. Two case
future. studies below illustrate the possibilities of
By working in a way that was sensitive targeting women directly and the need to
to the needs of the women and the men in include them in education and training
this situation, women were able to make schemes in order to enable them to make
decisions and take control of issues that the best of the resources available.
critically affected their survival land,
seeds and tool.

Cambodian women, displaced from their homes because of fighting between Khmer Rouge and govern-
ment forces, leaving a distribution point, having been given tools, buckets and other essentials.
Refugee women 21

Case study 3: Distribution of resources problem must relate to issues of water

to women usage.
Food, seed and materials distributions can In many situations, if women are to
successfully target women in the house- obtain the full benefit from the resources
hold (whether as wives or heads-of- available, it is not only necessary to talk to
households) rather than the men. In this women, or to target them, but also to
particular case the distribution was carried provide education and training about, for
out through the local structure run by men, example, water, food preparation (where
and the decisions about allocations were new foods are introduced), agriculture in
made by men removed from the grassroots new conditions, and health care. Usually
situation. While it proved a positive step to female rather than male staff will be
give the food directly to the women appropriate for carrying out this work with
responsible for provisioning the family, the women, and often it can best be done
they remained only beneficiaries. They by training groups of refugee women.
were not actively involved in the distri-
bution, had no information about what
they were entitled to, and no control over Building up women's own
what they received. organisations
The women lacked any decision-making In some cases, NGOs can work with and
power, and this inevitably led to support women's organisations which are
accusations that food was being misap- already in existence. Examples include:
propriated before it reached the women. widow's organisations in Guatemala and
When a subsequent distribution of El Salvador and organisations which
materials such as hoes and buckets was specifically work on issues of cultural
made, efforts were made to involve a identity; support for literacy work with
woman staff member, who talked to the women refugees in Sudan through the
women about the allocations and assisted Eritrean Relief Association and the Relief
in the distribution. This was much more Society of Tigray; and income generating
acceptable to the women. projects set up through women's organ-
This illustrates the fact that, for women isations in the refugee camp, as in Somalia.
to have proper access, it was necessary to Working with refugee organisations,
do more than just target them as benefic- especially those concerned with women, is
iaries; they also needed to be informed often a slow process demanding time and
about what was available, and to assist in support from agency staff. The need for a
the distribution. change of pace as refugee situations
develop is critical. All too often it is the
Case study 4 : The need for training and initial emergency requirement for speed
education that continues to dominate the way in
In a project with displaced people, efforts which agencies work. This militates against
were made to relate to women in the camp involving refugees, especially women, and
through a woman health-officer and the can set up patterns that prove impossible
establishment of women's health commit- to break later. Learning to work with
tees. refugee organisations demands a change of
However, in spite of the improvement approach.
and increase in the water supply, cases of In many situations women's groups do
diarrhoeal disease continued to occur. The not exist and so need to be developed. The
woman health-worker felt that this needed following case is one where this was done
to be followed up with the women as the undervery difficult circumstance, where
22 Focus on Gender

women feared to be known as refugees for fied as the urgent need for women. In both
security reasons. cases this was not what agency staff or the
researchers had originally planned to
Case study 5: Forming a group to deal deliver.
with mental health problems When women are consulted, issues of
A project was started some years ago to education, cultural identity and psycho-
work with Guatemalan refugee women in logical health are frequently stressed, yet
Mexico city. They were suffering from a these issues are largely overlooked in much
range of physical and mental health refugee work. Listening to women requires
problems common to refugees. A small time and the design of appropriate struc-
group of women was established which tures for meetings or using existing
began by looking at their lives and trying channels previously overlooked emp-
to answer questions such as: Why are we loying staff who are ready to talk and
poor? Why are we malnourished? From listen, and being willing to change policy
looking at their poor health they moved and practice where necessary.
into wider issues which enabled the
women to put their very negative feelings
and experiences into a wider context. They Work for the future
came to see that their reactions were There is a need for many changes in the
normal in an abnormal situation. The way refugee work is perceived and carried
women learnt a great deal over a long out. As women refugees have argued,
period it was a slow and painful process these changes will lead to better, more
and then decided to produce a booklet appropriate programmes in future.
on ways to live in Mexico, and their There is a need for wide-ranging
perspective on the need for change at home research into the situation of refugee
and in their gender roles. women in different areas. Indicators for
This project had to work to develop the needs' assessment must be devised.
group and to work gradually through the Agencies need guidance as to what
women's trauma in order to focus on indicators they can use in an emergency in
improving their mental health. Women order quickly to assess women refugees'
could only start this process once they had basic needs.
the confidence to work together as a group. There is also a need for research into
women's changing roles and responsi-
Listening to women bilities as refugees Gender relations often
change dramatically in times of crisis.
The process of listening to women has Training of staff working with refugees
started at international and national level is necessary, to enable them to listen to
with the calling of conferences involving women, and to design programmes taking
refugees, for example, in Costa Rica, them into account. Training programmes
Mexico and at the World Council of should cover decision-makers, policy-
Churches in Geneva. It also takes place at makers and planners, as well as field
grassroots level in some projects.. workers.
Listening to women can lead agencies in Staff should be recruited who under-
directions they did not expect; in stand the issues and can work directly with
Mozambique women prioritised clothes as refugee women. In most countries these
their major need, while in Uganda a staff should be women, drawn from the
research project on conflict and suffering in host or refugee society.
war led to rape counselling being identi- Time needs to be allowed for working
Refugee women 23

with refugee women, and developing References

structures for this where they do not exist. Ball, C (1991) 'When broken heartedness becomes a
Effort should be made to listen and learn political issue' in Changing Perceptions: Writings
from all refugees including the women. on Gender and Development, Oxford, Oxfam.
Refugees should be seen not as passive Berry, B (1988) 'Refugee Women Case Study:
recipients of aid, but as active participants, Somalia' paper prepared for the International
Consultation on Refugee Women in Geneva,
people who develop their own survival November.
strategies and who do most of the work for Camus J G (1986) 'Refugee women: the forgotten
themselves. The agencies need to act in a majority', Oxford, Queen Elizabeth House,
way which affirms, rather than denies that. November.
Demeke, T (1990) 'Refugee women's survival
strategies and prostitution in Eastern Sudan', in
Adapted from a paper written in September 1990 Refugee Participation Network 7.
by Tina Wallace, then in Oxfam's Gender and Ferris, E (1988) 'A background paper on refugee
Development Unit, for a seminar at the Institute for women' prepared for the International
Development Studies in The Hague, Netherlands. Consultation on Refugee Women in Geneva,
Tina Wallace is currently the Coordinator of November.
Ferris, E (1990) 'Refugee women and violence',
Oxfam's Planning and Evaluation Unit.
Geneva, World Council of Churches.
Hall, E (1988) Vocational training for women refugees
in Africa: guidelines from selected field projects,
Training Policies Discussion Paper 26, Geneva,
International Labour Organisation.
Hodgkiss, P (1989) 'Somali refugee programme
(Ethiopia) evaluation report' for Oxfam,
Kelly, N (1989) Working with Refugee Women: A
Practical Guide, Geneva, International NGO
Working Group on Refugee Women.
McGregor, J A and Adam, A (1990) 'Refugee
women: the Port Sudan small scale Enterprise
Programme', Refugee Participation Network 7.
Neugue, L M D (1988) Run for your life: peasant tales
of tragedy in Mozambique, Trenton, Africa World
Report on the National Conference of Refugee
Women, Mexico, November 1989.
Truong, T-D (1990) Refugee perspective: Issues and
Concerns, The Hague, Institute for Social
UNHCR Guidelines on working with refugee
women, May 1990.
Urdang, S (1989) And still they dance: women, war and
the struggle for change in Mozambique, London,
Earthscan Publications.
Women's Commission for Refugee Women and
Children (1990) 'Report of the Delegation of the
Commission to Hong Kong', January 5-12.

Refugee women in Saba'ad Camp, Somalia, selling

'basta' (spaghetti), flour, rice, and onions.
Refugees are not simply passive recipients of aid,
but actively pursue their own survival strategies.
24 Focus on Gender

Working with women

refugees in eastern Sri
Nalini Kasynathan

cultural implements, seeds and fertilisers.

ri Lanka has experienced continuous
conflict for more than a decade. The The programme initially was not gender-
war in the north-east has claimed tens specific; it aimed at helping those displaced
of thousands of lives, caused extensive to resettle in their new environment.
damage to infrastructure and led to People were organised into groups and
massive displacement of people. Over 1.5 given the essentials to start life again.
million people are displaced internally, of Distribution of protein supplements for
whom 250,000 are living in camps within mothers and children was an important
Sri Lanka; 50,000 people have fled to component of the programme.
Canada, 210,000 to India officially and While the displaced men could not find
probably another 150,000 unofficially, any employment and tended to remain
100,000 to Europe and 10,000 to Australia. idle, the women took up the main burden
People continue to be displaced as villages of caring for the family. They picked grain
are attacked either by the government from fields harvested the previous year;
security forces, para-military groups, nursed children who were suffering from
Home Guards or the militant groups. malaria, diarrhoea, and many other infec-
Community Aid Abroad (CAA) started tious diseases; fetched drinking water and
working in the Batticaloa district in eastern gathered firewood.
Sri Lanka in January 1991 with displaced
people who had lost their homes, liveli-
hood and some of their family members.
Loans requested for
Following major fighting between the agriculture
government forces and the militant groups At the end of six months, an evaluation
in this district, which began in June 1990, was done to assess the efficiency of the
30,000 persons fled into the jungle, 150,000 programme. The women, especially,
others moved out of their villages and indicated that they would prefer a portion
went to live with friends and relatives in of the funds previously allocated for
and around the town, and 50,000 more consumable items to be given instead in
took refuge in government-run camps. the form of loans for agriculture. CAA
With funding provided by the agreed to provide agricultural assistance to
Australian Government, CAA started a the families, particularly to the women. As
relief and rehabilitation programme for it was mainly women who were involved,
2,000 families, providing them with basic vegetable cultivation, rather than rice-
shelter materials, cooking utensils, agri- growing, was identified as the most

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

Working with women refugees in eastern Sri 25

suitable income-generating activity. It was were women. These societies elected a

possible for women to participate fully, as central executive committee of five
vegetables could be grown around their members to manage the programme; four
houses, and watering and tillage was of them were women. At the request of the
therefore manageable. committee, CAA assisted in establishing
During the first season many families handloom centres and providing skills-
were able to earn between 1500 and 2000 training in cane handicraft, and the
rupees from vegetable cultivation in preservation and processing of agricultural
addition to meeting their own consump- produce.
tion needs. Following this success, the Soon the women members began to see
programme was expanded to include inadequacies in the way the credit prog-
another 700 families. Agricultural exten- ramme was run. CAA's partner organi-
sion officers provided advice and training. sation in the programme was not easily or
Functional literacy skills, health education, readily accessible. Furthermore, the
and basic financial management were also women felt that they were being excluded
included in the programme. from the decision-making processes in the
After a year, it was clear that the women organisation. They called a general meeting
and their families had grown out of the of the membership, discussed their
relief phase of their resettlement. By this concerns openly and decided to form their
time, 47 societies had been formed with a own organisation to implement the second
total of 1800 members, 70 per cent of whom phase of the project.

Muslim woman, beside her burnt-out home, after an outbreak of violence in Eastern Province, Sri Lanka.
26 Focus on Gender

Lessons learned seek to build on the urgency and the

opportunities provided by the situation of
CAA's work confirms that in times of war war. Income-generation activities must be
and total disruption-, as has happened in used to build women's organisations,
eastern Sri Lanka, it is both necessary and which focus on conscious empowerment.
efficient to work with women. In war It is important to distinguish between
situations women and children are the the practical difficulties of working in
most affected and most in need. More than hazardous areas and the suitability or
40 per cent of the women in the project otherwise of income-generation and
area had become heads of their organisational work in war situations. It is
households, because their husbands had not true that only disaster relief work can
been disabled, or killed, were fighting with be done in such situations. In fact, CAA's
one or the other of the warring factions, work in Sri Lanka has shown that
had disappeared or were hiding to avoid development work may be the most
arrest or conscription. The men remaining effective way of dealing with the damage
in the village, unable to carry out their caused by protracted war.
traditional occupations, did not have
sufficient resourcefulness to cope. The Author's note:
immediacy of women's feelings for the In writing this paper, I have drawn extensively on
survival of their families gave them the factual information in field reports, and on a paper
initiative and flexibility to find new by Shanthi Sachidananthan, CAA's Project Officer
resources. in Sri Lanka.
Participating in income-generating
activities, and taking responsibility for Nalini Kasynathan is Programme Director for
others in an environment of collective South-East Asia for Community Aid Abroad.
action, served as effective therapy for
women who had been traumatised by the
conflict. Engaging in collective and
meaningful work enabled them to recover
sanity and dignity. In a war situation,
when everything else has been lost, it is
even more important to encourage reliance
on the only thing that is left, that is, the will
to survive.
War provides an opportunity for
women's empowerment. The disruption of
established structures, guidelines and
taboos has made room for women to move
into areas from which they were
previously excluded. The challenge is to
make women conscious of the empower-
ment issues so that the gains they have
made survive the war. Therefore, em-
powerment must be seen as a continuing
process, through women organising them-
selves collectively with an understanding
of their position. Workwith women must
not confine itself to relief work and to
trauma counselling. It must deliberately
The psychosodal effects
of 'La Violencia'
on widows of El Quiche,
Judith Zur
This is a brief account of the psychosodal impact of the civil war in Guatemala on Quiche Maya
Indian Women and is based on 20 months' anthropological research with widows from the
department of El Quiche between the years 1988-1990.

massacres and other atrocities. These were

uatemalan Mayan Indian women
have been affected by government- carried out by army irregulars the local
sponsored terrorism directed at 'voluntary' civil patrols, a coerced and
Guatemala's civilian population during the unpaid service. The patrols, organised
years 1980-1983 (called La Violencia), as a under local chiefs, installed in all villages in
counterinsurgency strategy in the 30-year 1982, served as the army's eyes and ears,
civil war. The strategy consisted of army though ostensibly they were set up to
'scorched-earth' tactics including incur- eradicate 'subversives' and 'bandits' in the
sions into the villages, indiscriminate local area. After carrying out a massacre
torture and killing of individuals, families they silenced villagers by threatening them
and even entire communities. A subse- that if they spoke about what had hap-
quent, so-called, 'low intensity warfare' pened they would suffer further violence.
continues to the present day, involving Their activities effectively destroyed all
random government-sponsored terrorism social relationships, networks, and soli-
by medium to small military units that darity among civilian populations.
sneak up on isolated rural settlements. It is difficult to generalise about the
Between 1978 and 1985 at least 112,000 meaning of war and its psychosocial
political killings and 18,000 'disappear- effects, because they are determined by the
ances' were carried out by army, police, particular manifestations of violence within
and paramilitary government forces (GVIS, each village, which depend on the vagaries
1992).1 Over the past two decades at least of the social structure, culture and history
120,000 women have been widowed in of the village, and the characteristics of the
Guatemala, many of whom have also lost local perpetrators of violence. For example,
other relatives. violence tended to operate along the
The province of El Quiche was among divisions between factions already existing
the most severely affected areas of the within any particular village. The meaning
country and approximately 11,000 widows of war and its psychosocial effects are also
were left in this department alone. Its determined by the attitude of the state with
people bore the brunt of selective guerrilla reference to any specific group of people, in
actions followed by further army retal- this case, women. The position of women
iations in the form of public village- in the family, the kinship structure, and the

Focus on Gender Vol l,No. 2, June 1993

28 Focus on Gender


fact that they were widows (now deemed lives, and sexual harassment by the local
'wives of the guerrillas') related to the type men who had killed their relatives. Women
of violence encountered, not only during were threatened with further rape, and
the drastic experienceof La Violencia but with death; and they knew that the threats
also in the course of subsequent events. were not idle. Any woman who joined a
La Violencia became a crisis in the human rights organisation such as GAM,2
everyday life of the community. An explicit CONAVIGUA3 or CERJ4 or even 'neutral'
and implicit renegotiation of power took NGOs (non-governmental organisations),
place, with the chiefs controlling the village were threatened with kidnapping or death,
along with the military commissioners for themselves or their children. The range
(local men who remain in the pay of the of violence they suffered ranged from
army after completing military service), abuse and obscenities thrown at them to
who displaced civil authorities, catechists, further murders or kidnapping of their
health promoters and teachers. relatives or themselves. There was also
The impact of La Violencia went far symbolic violence, in the shape of the
beyond the years of violence. For La imposition of forms of language, such as
Violencia did not erupt and then disappear, euphemisms and Spanish terms which
it was a continual source of insecurity in were never explained, by the dominant
women's lives. This was not only because forces, and the internalisation of state
of the sporadic incidents of violence, which repression. On several levels, then, the
continue to the present. There was also violence has had repercussions which far
intimidation of women from within the exceed the moment of its occurrence.
community, in the form of threats to their The divisions which existed in the
The Psychosocial effects of 'La Violencia' 29

community along religious grounds as mothers and wives, and as carers and
proliferated and intensified. There are now complementary partners, respectively, were
rifts and mutual suspicion among groups of destroyed. On a practical level, women had
women, for example, between those who to become the household head, the main
participate in human rights organisations bread-winner and generally take over men's
and those who do not. Internalisation of this responsibilities, particularly if all the grown
divisive tendency, which the army built men in the family were dead or missing.
upon in order to prevent the formation of This not only meant an extra workload for
resistance groups, led to splits between the women who already worked tremendously
groups of women themselves. They fought hard but also the humiliation of taking on
over many things including men and aid. men's tasks in a society with a strict division
The scarcity of men in the village meant of labour. The reformulation of family life
that, even if they wanted to, women had also meant, in turn, that the relationship to
little opportunity to remarry. Some chose the past was altered.
not to marry, in order to honour the dead The over-riding emotion I encountered in
and to avoid the violent 'macho' stance the women was fear. When a war is waged
which has been strengthened by men's by a hostile, foreign force, the members of a
internalisation of military attitudes. community can use their national or ethnic
These problems were mainly between identity to rally their members in self-
widows and non-widows, for among them- defence. When civil war is waged, however,
selves the widows displayed considerable the identification of the enemy, as well as
dignity in the way that they requested and the organisation of self-defence, is more
received aid. Resentments built up problematic. And terror is made even more
between women when a widow managed intense when a population faces
to survive without a man and a married government-sponsored terrorism perpet-
woman felt threatened in case the widow rated by an extension of the army in the
should steal her husband. On the other form of local villagers themselves; and
hand, those who had lost their husbands when human rights and the due process of
and sons suspected that others in the law are suspended by the very institution
community had betrayed them. The claiming to be their guardians.
conflicts were further intensified from in- The deaths and disappearances which
fighting among families who felt entitled to have taken place over the years, and
the land of those who had died, and to aid especially the massacres they witnessed,
offered by agencies. created a new awareness among the
What the violence and loss meant for survivors of their vulnerability. This was
widows was a virtual reformulation of heightened by the fact that killers and
family life. This took place at various levels, victims continued to live in close prox-
from the roles taken up by women and imity. It was not an anonymous person or
children to replace those of missing male crowd who had done the killing. The
kin, to attitudinal changes regarding the killers were known and continued to be the
security that one could expect from the authorities in the village. The bodies of the
family. The threat to the family meant that dead were also hidden in clandestine
members had to disperse spatially in order graves which people were forbidden to
to survive (owing to an efficient intelligence approach. One of the many questions that
network, they were often traced and then haunted the living was how to fulfil their
'disappeared'). As a result of witnessing obligations towards the dead, because they
relatives being massacred, and being unable had been deprived of the opportunity to
to respond, women's images of themselves bury them properly. In the case of the
30 Focus on Gender

'disappeared', not knowing the where- headaches, stomach aches, back aches and
abouts of a relative causes immense dis- general pains throughout the body. It is
tress, fear and near paralysis. difficult to separate these out from the pain
The war experience has also politicised which comes as a result of arduous work
women. It has made them aware that with and malnutrition, given the impoverished
their passive stance towards the political conditions in which Indian families live.
problems and their 'lack of ideas', they However, I believe that the pain women
were as harmful as those who acted suffer in their bodies reflects the fact that
wrongly and brought the enemy to the they have become the repositories of
village. Many also realised that violence painful experiences experiences which
and war created more problems for woman they have been unable to articulate both
than for men, and that men did not care because they have been silenced and also
about women's problems, nor about because of the impossibility of speaking
abandoning women. about such atrocious experiences.
The women who were best off were
those who began to comprehend the
violence in political terms through partici-
pation in human rights agencies and 1 Guatemala Geo-violence Information Systems,
women's groups, notwithstanding the risks c/o Guatemala Human Rights Commission,
Washington DC.
involved; those who began to learn to read 2 Grupo Apoyo Mutuo.
and write and to speak Spanish and gained 3 Coordinacion Nacional de los Viudas
confidence in negotiating with the outside Guatemaltecas.
ma\e/ladino world; and those from the 4 Comite de los Etnias, Runujel Junam.
handful of villages where exhumations
took place, because they could bury their Judith Zur is a psychologist and anthropologist.
dead in a dignified and proper way. She worked in El Quiche from 1988-90 and is writ-
Psychological symptoms among women ing a book on Guatemalan war widows. She also
resulting from the experience of so much works as a family therapist at the Medical
pain were mostly expressed in a physical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, in
way. Women's problems took the form of London

A widow in her home in

El Mezquital, Guatemala
'Clutching a knifeblade'
Human rights and development from
Asian women's perspective
Nelia Sancho-Liao

here is a popular Filipino idiomatic destitute than when they first came to the
expression that aptly describes the city looking for work.
plight of the majority of Filipino Kapit sa patalim describes the circum-
women and those of other Asian countries. stances of women workers in foreign-
The expression is kapit sa patalim. Literally, owned garment factories in the Bataan
it means 'clutching a knifeblade'. For the export-processing zone in the Philippines,
Filipino, these words sum up a person's who are forced to work in 36-hour shifts
utter despair, and the sacrifice called for during which they are allowed only two
under extreme adversities. It describes hours' sleep and a few minutes' break each
what women or men, in their helplessness, day.
would do in response to their human This Filipino expression also applies to
desire to continue living today and, the similar state of despair and sacrifice
perhaps, for another day. required of women in other Asian
Kapit sa patalim is the situation of countries. It aptly describes the experience
thousands of Filipino domestic helpers of tens of thousands of Sri Lankan women
who were stranded in the deserts of Iraq who migrate to countries in the Middle
and Kuwait two years ago. Some of them East to work as nannies and domestic
were raped at the height of chaos and war helpers; of 200,000 Nepali women who
because they hesitated to leave the country earn a living in various brothels of India; of
immediately for fear of losing their once- Indonesian women workers employed in
in-a-lifetime, dollar-paying jobs. transnational factories, half of whom are
Kapit sa patalim is the lot of 16,000 afflicted with kidney ailments because of
Filipino girls, mostly coming from landless mercury contamination in and around their
peasant families in the provinces, who factories.
have become prostitutes, catering to the Kapit sa patalim describes the victims of
sexual whims of American servicemen in wife abuse in Papua New Guinea, who
Clark Air base and Subic Naval Base, both represent, according to a reform law
US military installations in the Philippines. committee, 67 per cent of the country's
These girls thought that perhaps, through rural women and 56 per cent of its urban
luck and hard work, they might some day women; it describes the battered wives in
land a more dignified and better-paying Bangladesh who, despite their husbands'
job, but most of them have ended up cruelty, would not file for divorce nor leave
afflicted with sexually transmitted home because in their country separated,
diseases, including AIDS, and more abandoned, or divorced women are

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

32 Focus on Gender

considered social outcasts; it describes the and have fewer job opportunities than
Indian brides threatened by dowry death, men.
which, according to estimates made by the Massive urban immigration of unskilled
Ahmedabad Women's Action Group, rural labourers owing to increasing
reached 1,000 in 1988 in one state alone; it landlessness and low productivity of
describes the Indian mothers of 78,000 agriculture has been particularly harsh on
female foetuses who, succumbing to a women. In many cities most jobs are low-
dominant cultural bias against female paying and there is a huge army of
children, agreed to an abortion after unemployed people. While both men and
undergoing sex-determination tests. women migrants have difficulty in finding
Extreme, but not uncommon, situations jobs in the cities, men usually land more
such as these underscore the pathetic state stable and better-paid jobs, such as those in
of women's human rights in Asia. If these construction and in small factories. Women
cases are so gross and skewed, if these are have to take low-paid jobs as domestic
too concentrated forms of discrimination helpers or street vendors, if they manage to
and violence against our gender, it is find gainful employment at all.
because Asian women live on the margins The high urban migration rate in Asian
of a region where two-thirds of humanity countries has resulted in rapid and
exist in hunger and squalor. They have unplanned urbanisation, exhausting the
actually been pushed to the edge where basic services delivery systems in the cities
every human being's rights to dignity, to and causing severe overcrowding. The
life and development are not only pieces of number of slums and squatter areas has
empty rhetoric but have become cruel risen dramatically in recent years in major
ironies. In Asia, women are on the margins Asian cities.
of the margins.
Women have borne the brunt of the Women in export-processing
adverse consequences of complex historical
processes of economic stagnation and
exploitation plaguing most Asian nations. The thrusts of Asian governments'
These processes have denied the peoples of development policies have also been
the region their most basic rights. The discriminatory to women. In the last two
denial, however, is of a bigger dimension decades, several governments in the region
for women. have set up export-processing zones:
industrial enclaves designed to attract
transnational corporations by providing
From the impoverished them with necessary infrastructures and
countryside to the city 'most-favoured status', guaranteeing them
slums various exemptions from tax, labour, and
Most Asian countries are agricultural wage regulations.
economies, with the majority of the Most workers in the foreign-owned
population living in rural areas, where factories in these export-processing zones
landlessness has increased at an alarming are women. Their traditional docility and
rate, pushing down the wages of farm their vulnerability to physical, psycho-
workers and intensifying competition for logical, and sexual harassment are
the limited number of jobs available. These characteristics exploited by employers to
trends have been most burdensome for prevent the growth of trade unionism in
rural women because, following tradition, these enclaves. Asian women generally
they receive less pay for agricultural work receive only a fraction of the salary paid to
Clutching a knifeblade 33


workers in industrialised Western Prostitution in Asian countries, of

countries; their basic wage level, with the course, did not start with tourism; the
exception of Japan and Singapore, problem is made worse by extreme under-
represents only about half of the amount development and vestiges of colonialism.
needed for a decent family life, and this has But prostitution has certainly been aggra-
even diminished in the last ten years; and vated by government tourism schemes.
moreover, women workers earn less than There are reported to be as many as 800,000
their male counterparts. child prostitutes in Thailand, and 400,000
adult and child prostitutes in the
Tourism: a cloak for
The presence of US military bases in the
prostitution region have led to an increase in prosti-
The aggressive and misoriented promotion tution. In the Philippines, for example, a
of tourism is another government 'develop- decent job inside these foreign military
ment' thrust that has been extremely installations is not possible for Filipino
inimical to women. The aim is to make the women. They earn a living as prostitutes in
tourist industry a principal dollar-earner for 'amusement places' around the immediate
Asian economies. Promotional schemes vicinity of the two largest American bases.
such as those of Thailand and the
Philippines often stress 'service attractions',
which tacitly include sex services.
34 Focus on Gender

Bangladesh. Women showing their bruises, after being beaten up by the police. They were trying to claim
their legal right to land. One said 'You see us with our heads covered today, but on the day of the demon-
stration our heads were bare and we were ready to fight for what is our right.' SUE GREIG/OXFAM

Political repression endure sexual harassment, molestation,

Political repression, a characteristic feature and even rape from their captors. In the
of both the authoritarian regimes and the Philippines, there are reports that wives of
elite democracies common to Asian political prisoners are asked for sexual
countries, is particularly wicked to women. favours by military guards in exchange for
In an effort to stem serious social strife being allowed to see their husbands. An
arising from mass poverty and popular intensifying policy of state repression in
dissatisfaction, many governments of the many Asian countries provides male
region have adopted stringent legislation enforcers with a powerful political
curtailing mass protests, trade unions and rationale and plenty of opportunities for
political associations, and freedom of unleashing sexual aggression against
expression. While these measures whittle women.
down the democratic rights of both women Civil wars in a number of Asian
and men alike, the way in which they are countries have caused serious distress to
enforced on women by men in authority is women. In the Philippines, for instance, the
strongly influenced by male aggression Aquino government has launched a policy
and machismo. of total war against all suspected guerrilla
Thus women trade unionists, peasant strongholds in the countryside. Today
activists, poor urban protestors, there are more than 200,000 internal
community workers, and militant students refugees in the country. They are mostly
not only suffer arrest, detention, and women and children. Their husbands,
physical torture. In addition, they have to brothers, and grown-up sons have been
Clutching a knifeblade 35

forced to migrate temporarily to faraway private researchers have uncovered these

provinces to escape constant harassment sources and presented them as evidence
by the military. against the Japanese government. It was
Patriarchy and male domination, only in July 1992 that the Japanese Foreign
prevalent in traditional Asian societies, Minister finally admitted Japan's
have also spawned widespread gender- responsibility and publicly apologised for
specific crimes such as rape, physical this war crime. The case was also presented
assault, wife-beating, and dowry deaths. at the UN Sub-Commission on Human
These crimes recognise no distinction of Rights in August 1992, and a Committee on
race, class, or ethnic origin, only the fact Post-War Compensation has been set up to
that the target of violence is a woman. In study what could be done to redress the
most Asian countries religion, culture, laws violation of women's human rights.
and courts, as well as public opinion,
discriminate against victims of gender These crimes recognise no
crimes. These traditional institutions
favour the male assailants - a reality that distinction of race, class, or ethnic
inhibits victims from fighting back and
forces most women to suffer in silence. origin, only the fact that the target
Military sexual slavery
of violence is a woman.
One major current issue we are now Only now have women started speaking
working on in Asia is the issue of military out, with the support of the women's
sexual slavery, perpetrated by the Japanese movement in Asia, after the 50 years of
Imperial Army during World War II. This shame and silence that they have had to
issue has resulted in an Asia-wide suffer because of Asian patriarchal culture.
campaign on the part of the Asian But military sexual slavery and violence
Women's Human Rights Council together against women is still going on today in
with organisations in Korea, Taipei or the current war in the former Yugoslavia,
Taiwan, and in the Philippines. for instance. It happened to 200,000
There are an estimated 200,000 Asian Bangladeshi women in the Bangladeshi/
women who were conscripted as 'comfort Pakistani border war. It is also the
women' by Japan from 1942 to 1945. experience of some 12,000 Bhutanese
Eighty per cent of the women were from refugees in Nepal, who have been raped by
North and South Korea, which were Bhutanese soldiers; and of women in the
provinces of Japan at the time. Philippines in the context of the
The Asian women were raped, tortured, Philippines government's 'total war
and massacred by Japanese troops. The use policy'.
of 'comfort women' is a form of sexual We are demanding that the United
slavery, a war crime against Asian women, Nations and the international community
and illustrates how women are system- address this issue. The women's movement
atically abused and degraded sexually, around the world needs to study the
physically, and psychologically by milit- phenomenon more closely and to adopt
arism and war. recommendations to governments and the
For 50 years the Japanese government United Nations system to create effective
kept its involvement in the conscription safeguards to prevent the occurrence of
and procurement of the Asian 'comfort this war crime.
women' hidden. But they kept documents
and records, and in the last two years
36 Focus on Gender

The Asian Women's Advocacy of human rights for Asian

Human Rights Council women should mean, in addition, working
for their total liberation from all the forces
Because of the massive problems we are that oppress them and ensuring their
facing not only on this issue but on other development and empowerment. It should
human rights violations against women, mean opposing the domination and
the Asian Women's Human Rights Council exploitation of poor nations by a few rich
was set up as an addition to three regional and powerful ones, and promoting a new
commissions of women's organisations in world economic order and the genuine
Asia. We feel that we cannot be content development of Third World countries.
with just presenting the image of women It should include working for the
as victims. We feel that Asian women have eradication of the unjust and repressive
a big role to play in changing their structures of most Asian societies and
situation, and the AWHRC is a result of promoting an equitable distribution of
this belief. We have come together in order wealth and the development of democracy
to bring a human rights perspective to and popular initiative. It should involve a
development concerns. In the next three consistent struggle against patriarchy and
years, AWHRC is planning a series of six male domination in all their
tribunals: public hearings to highlight manifestations, to raise the status of
important issues to women in Asia. The women as coequal partners of men in all
tribunals will tackle the following issues: spheres of life.
Sex trafficking (Japan, May 1993) And, most important of all, human
Violence against women (Pakistan, rights work to deal effectively with
December 1993) women's human rights violations involves
Militarism, environment, and violence of necessity empowering women
against women (Korea, March 1994) themselves. There is a need to support the
Crimes of development against women proliferation of women's initiatives and
in Asia (India) resistance, harness women's creative
Religion and violence against women energies to analyse and to work on
(Malaysia, 1994) strategies, whether this be at the personal
Indigenous women (December 1994). level, the community and national level, or
the regional and international level.
Conclusion Nelia Sancho-Liao has been involved in the
popular movement in the Philippines for 20 years,
This, in brief, is the human rights situation more than half of that working in the areas of
of the majority of women in Asia. I believe women's and children's rights. She was a political
that the advocacy of women's human prisoner for over two years and through that
rights in the region should be put in this experience she has become involved in the defence
of human rights for political prisoners. She has
perspective. Advocacy of the human rights worked for democratisation and people's
of Asian women should deal effectively empowerment and is now the Regional
with the fact that the strong system of Coordinator of the Asian Women's Human Rights
patriarchy and male domination in the Council, an Asia-wide organisation promoting a
region has made the burden of oppression new understanding of human rights and
development, based on the realities of Asian
and exploitation of women far worse and women.
more unbearable than that of men. Women
constantly face violence and assaults on
their dignity and their lives simply because
they are women.
Domestic violence as a
development issue
Ruth Jacobson

n development theory, there are some resonate in the North. Among these are:
interesting analogies between the Domestic violence in the Third World, as
'discovery' in the 1960s and 1970s of in Britain, cannot meaningfully be
women as economically productive1 and described as 'abnormal' in its incidence
current concern around domestic violence or social acceptability but available
against women. This has major policy statistics are very often misleading.3
implications for development organisations Contrary to many stereotypes, it is not
in the North and raises complex and confined to any one particular socio-
difficult questions. Northern women's economic class but is closely associated
movements have engaged with the issue with male control of female sexuality
within an analytical framework which and culturally-specific definitions of
changed the prevalent terms of discourse 'women's place'. Women all over the
but which was also subject to eurocentric world are subject to an implicit contract
bias and racist stereotyping.2 whereby their societies offer them
Western agencies need to take steps to economic and social security provided
define what constitutes their specific they do not breach these boundaries
legitimate areas of concern. An initial step find your own examples!4
would be to ensure that work already being Theories based on a single premise such
done by Southern women (and some men) is as 'All men are violent' or 'modern-
given practical support and made accessible isation is to blame' are inadequate, and
to their constituencies. This process is under women must be prepared to confront
way in some organisations (see for example the complicity of other women in some
GADU's Newspack 15) but needs consistent forms of violence.5
monitoring to ensure that it does not These commonalities must not lull us into
become marginalised as 'another women's universalising notions of 'women's
issue'. This could be an appropriate task for oppression', ignoring factors of race,
all supporters of Oxfam and the other ethnicity and class. To take just one
British Third World NGOs at local level. example, Western analyses frequently
Once the material is made accessible, refer to battered 'wives', with an assum-
then the question is how to use it ption that domestic violence takes place
effectively. One approach could be to look only within a (heterosexual) partnership.
at areas of commonality and difference. In other contexts, however, women may
Work being done by Third World women be assaulted by brothers, uncles or male
contains a number of features which also in-laws.

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

38 Focus on Gender

In looking at areas of concern, here they identified a problematic area.

development agencies must further be Noting that the increase in women's
prepared to confront the fact that their incomes was taking place in the context of
interventions may affect those power male unemployment, they concluded that
relations which are inseparable from 'the impetus given by the credit facilities of
domestic violence. Investigating these the Gampubuduwa Village Society has
would involve raising questions of project accelerated the disparities in the expected and
planning, monitoring and evaluation. In actual roles of men and women.' (my empha-
the past, these have generally been regar- sis) This was illustrated by the fact that
ded as a professional preserve, but under village women are convinced that alcohol
the new language of accountability should consumption by village men was higher
become part of an open agenda. than in other areas without the credit
A case study contained in my original scheme. One case study concerned a
paper6 looked at the result of intervention woman who became so successful through
by a NGO in a Sri Lankan village. For most the credit scheme that she felt able to
households, women's economic contri- consider a legal separation from her violent
bution was vital for survival and this husband. The hostility this aroused from
principally took the form of processing her husband and his friends is such that
cashew nuts for domestic and export sales. she is now branded as 'hard' and
The sexual division of labour was marked allegations of prostitution are made against
so, despite high unemployment, men her. (At the same time, it should be noted
would not consider doing cashew-nut that another instance is given of a couple
processing themselves. where the husband is actively supporting
The NGO in question was small-scale, his wife's new economic role.)
sensitive to local culture (with joint The object of this analysis is not, of
involvement of Christian and Buddhist course, to argue against credit schemes for
clergy), and reliable access to outside funds women but to reinforce the point already
the ideal project partner. It even took made in other GADU publications, such as
women's economic needs as a priority Changing Perceptions, that interventions by
from the outset. A loan scheme was development agencies are rarely, if ever,
established, on much more helpful terms gender-neutral. Project staff who are
than the village money lenders, to allow seriously concerned with gender equality
women to expand processing in their must be prepared to tackle this issue, as
homes. The scheme certainly achieved its must those staff who produce publicity
initial objectives: not only did women who and information material for home
borrowed from the fund significantly consumption.
expand their production and income; this What then constitutes a 'legitimate'
had the effect of pushing up the wages of concern? Given the overwhelming preval-
those women who continued to process ence of negative and racist images of Third
cashew nuts for wages. As a result 'the World societies in the British media,
remarkable increases in income were development agencies have understand-
clearly manifested in improved living able reservations about how explicit their
conditions, particularly in housing.' material should be on the topic of domestic
So far, this would seem to read like a violence. On the other hand, surely sensi-
text-book example of a 'good' development tively presented information on, for
scheme. Yet the authors took the unusual example, the work being done by groups
step of being prepared to evaluate it from like SOS Corpo in Brazil could be a
the perspective of gender relations, and constructive contribution to the empower-
Domestic violence as a development issue 39

5 The work of Third World feminists on dowry is

ment of women. For me, the only 'non- of particular relevance: 'In many instances, the
legitimate' response would be to keep the in-laws and co-wives, instead of intervening,
issue hidden. actively aid and abet the husband in his
violence against the wife. ... the in-laws may
take on the responsibility of chastisement,
Notes which may end in severe injury or even death.'
(Jahan p215)
1 This paper is adapted from a longer one whose
6 The following section is a highly compressed
starting point was an analogy between the ways
version of material presented in the paper by
in which women's economic participation was
Casinder, Fernando & Gamage in Momsen and
largely 'invisible' until the work of Boserup,
Townsend Geography of Gender in the Third
Beneria, Dixon-Mueller.
2 Amina Mama, author of the first comprehensive
study of domestic violence against black
women in Britain, comments on the lack of
material which considered black women's References
specific experience in any depth. Where Agarwal, B (ed) (1988) Structures of Patriarchy,
references to black women were found, they London, Zed Books.
were often incidental, relegated to a footnote Casinder, Fernando and Gamage (1987)' Women's
and more often than not perpetuated Issues and men's roles: Sri Lankan village
stereotypical notions such as the passive Asian experience' in Momsen and Townsend (eds)
women and the strong matriarchal (1987) Geography of Gender in the Third World.
African/Caribbean women.' (Mama 1989 p xi) Jahan, R (1988) 'Hidden wounds, visible scars:
3 The difficulties in reaching some sort of violence against women in Bangladesh' in
quantifiable base line are very complex. Jahan Agarwal (ed) (1988) op.cit.
covers some of them in her comment on reports Mama, Amina (1989) The Hidden Struggle: statutory
in the Bangladeshi press from 1980-1984 which and voluntary sector responses to violence against
appear to show an increase from 12.4 to 32.7 per black women in the home London, London Race
cent in the proportion of women in the total and Housing Research Unit.
number of victims of violence: 'It is unclear, Momsen J and Townsend J (eds) (1987) Geography of
however, whether the noted increase in crime Gender in the Third World, London, Hutchinson.
reflects an actual increase in the number and Selassie, T (1984) In search of Ethiopian Women,
frequency of incidents during this period or Change International Report No 11, London.
whether it reflects better coverage resulting
from pressures from women's groups.' (Janan
1989 pl98)
4 There can be instances where the simple fact of Ruth Jacobson is a researcher on gender issues in
women being together constitutes a threat to Southern Africa, currently working on gender and
male control. Thus, in Ethiopia, women's democratisation. She has worked in Mozambique
everyday coffee gatherings provide an
as a teacher and community development worker.
opportunity to 'think about, and to some extent
define, their own lives and positions in society' She is currently at the Department of Peace Studies
and as a result 'many husbands beat their wives at the University of Bradford.
to stop them participating' to no effect!
(Selassie 1984 pl4)
Forced prostitution of
women and girls in Brazil
Anti-Slavery International
77ns is adapted from a submission by Anti-Slavery International to the United Nations Economic
and Social Council Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of
Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery,
Seventeenth Session, Geneva 1992.

n the last five years there have been owner by the intermediary, who has
increasing reports of 'white slavery' and effectively sold them on.
of a traffic in women and young girls 'The brothels's debt (the transport costs) I
enticed from towns in the south of Para and paid off quickly, but now I have to pay off my
Maranhao States to work in brothels near own price ... She (the brothel owner) paid the
mining encampments and large civil (intermediary) and now I have to pay her,'
construction projects. The question of child explained a 22-year-old prostitute from
prostitution is not limited to the north of the Maranhao working in one of the mining
country, but information about such activity encampments in Itaituba, Para in May 1990.
in the region has recently been given greater Money for sexual services is paid directly
public attention. In 1987 the State Deputy by the mining workers to the brothel
Joao Batista repeatedly tried to draw the owners who hold the money against the
attention of state and federal authorities to women's debts. Since transport costs out of
conditions of lawlessness in Itaituba, Para the area are high, and the prostitutes rarely
State, including the employment of minors have access to money they have earned,
as prostitutes in mining encampments. In their freedom to leave is curtailed. Women
1988 he was shot dead. also reported being physically coerced and
According to interviews conducted by confined to the brothels, and complained of
the Para State Industry Secretariat in 17 'ill-treatment, beatings and imprisonment',
mining encampments in the municipality of and that those trying to escape were killed
Itaituba in 1990, young women and girls are or tortured. They also alleged that local
enticed to mining camps with promises of police connived in holding them in these
high wages in canteens and restaurants. conditions, arresting and ill-treating those
When they reach the mining settlements who tried to complain publicly.
they find they are to work as prostitutes, to National attention was drawn to this
pay off transport and other debts incurred, question by a series of articles on child
including medicines to treat malaria. In prostitution in the north and north-east of
addition women and girls often have to pay Brazil published in the Folha de Sao Paulo in
off their own 'price' charged to the brothel February 1992. Following a public outcry,

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

Forced prostitution of women and girls in brazil 41

federal police raided a number of brothels problem of prostitution of children and

in the mining town of Cuiu-Cuiu, Itaituba, adolescents is not confined to this or that
Para and released some 74 prostitutes, mining camp or town. We have evidence to
many if them minors, and arrested ten suggest that it occurs throughout Amazonia
brothel owners. Had the raid occurred and is deeply linked to other systems of
during the season when mining activity is exploitation and family disintegration in the
highest, the number of prostitutes and region. It is vital to carry out a large-scale
brothel owners encountered is likely to investigation, to have firmness of purpose and
have been much higher. measures to curb this criminal activity which
Some of the girls, as young as 15, already relies on networks for the abduction,
explained to journalists after their release transport and enslavement of girls.
that they had been duped, believing they Brazil has ratified several relevant
would work in restaurants, and had been conventions such as the Convention on the
forced into prostitution. They said that one Rights of the Child, the 1956 Supple-
of the girls who tried to resist had been mentary Convention on the Abolition of
beaten with a chair. While other women Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions
released stated that they considered and Practices Similar to Slavery, as well as
themselves prostitutes, had known they the Convention for the Suppression of the
would be working as such in the mining Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of
camps, and were willing to return to this the Prostitution of Others.
activity in other locations, one of their Anti-Slavery International urges the
spokeswomen told the press, 'No-one Working Group on Contemporary Forms
imagined they would become slaves'. of Slavery of Children to draw attention to
Father Bruno Sechi, Amazonian Co- this matter and to work with the Brazilian
ordinator of the Street Boys and Girls government to seek ways of combating
Movement, said of the police action: The traffic in women and girls.

A women's section in a police station in Brazil. In some Brazilian cities, special sec-
tions for women have been set up within police stations, where women who have suf-
fered violence or abuse can receive sympathetic advice. JENNY MATTHEWS/OXFAM
Colombian women
prisoners in Britain
Jo Fisher

n 1988, Marta was sentenced to nine her story is not untypical.
years in prison for importing 400 / knew what he was doing, but I was happy
grammes of cocaine into Britain. She is because we had enough to pay for the
one of 31 Latin American women, the children's clothes, the rent and food,
majority Colombians, serving between four whereas before we always had money
and 14 years in British jails for drug problems. The more involved he got, the
smuggling. Like Marta, many feel they more money he made. In the end we had a
passed through the courts simply as big house, cars, shops and a restaurant.
'another Colombian' with little effort made When they get money, men go crazy. They
to determine the individual circumstances think money is everything and they act like
of their cases. The majority had lawyers they are God. This is why I did not want
who spoke no Spanish at all, only rarely him to get involved with the mafia. He
were reports into their backgrounds used to fix up 'shows' for his friends with
produced at their trials, and fear of prostitutes and cocaine and he gambled.
reprisals prevented many women from He spent a fortune. I knew all this was
speaking out in their own defence. going on because I signed all the cheques. I
The stories of these Colombian women managed all the money but I was not
are closely tied up with their roles as allowed to spend any on myself. He always
mothers and wives in a society torn apart by made it look as if I was controlling every-
violence and where one quarter of the thing. He could not spend anything and I
population live in absolute poverty. They was totally under his control. I was
show the daily reality of life behind the terrified of him. He was very violent. He
newspaper reports of atrocities committed beat me badly. I would stand between him
by warring cocaine barons, mafia hit-squads and the children and he would beat the
and contract-killers in a country notorious three of us senseless.
as one of the most violent in the world. For I think he had always planned to use me.
the majority of Colombian women in British He knew I was a very hard worker and that
jails, it was poverty, ignorance and fear I would keep the business running while he
which drove them, wittingly or unwittingly, was out spending. If the police came he
into the cocaine trade. could say the business was mine, I would
According to Susana, who was 26 when get the blame and he would look like the
her husband left his job as a clothes law-abiding, honest one. I was very young
salesman to work as a local drugs courier, when 1 fell in love with him and it was

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

Editorial 43

only much later that I realised it was not took everything. When I got back only the
true love, because when he was killed, I felt beds were left. Then the police called me to
relief, like a load had been lifted front me. I got to the station to identify a man they
always though that without him, I would caught running away from the scene of the
not be able to support my children. I murder. It was the friend I had seen him
thought that for better or worse, there was talking to. Now he knew I had seen him
always food, money for their education, a and this caused problems for me. Danger.
roof over our heads, even if the price was When I got back to the house there was a
his violence. The most important thing to car waiting with skarios to kill me. The
me was my children. police protected me and took me and the
The mafia also saw how degenerate he children away.
had become and they got rid of him. We lost Eight days later the partner came and
everything. We had a lot of debts, so he said that my husband owed him eight
began to start working again. He went to million pesos and that I had to pay up. I
Peru, carrying drugs. He was caught and said, 'How am I going to pay it? I have
put in prison and I went to look after him nowhere to live, nothing for my children,
for a few months. He had been badly absolutely nothing.' He said there was no
tortured and the other prisoners were problem because he had a plan. 'You will
praying for him, expecting him to die. I had work to repay the debt.' 1 had no choice. If I
to find the money for a doctor and a lawyer did not work we would all have been killed.
and take him in medicine and food, while I could not risk the lives of my children.
my children were with a relative in That is how I began carrying drugs.
Columbia. After 18 months he was released. Once you get involved, they do not let
In prison he made international connec- you get out in case you grass on them. Of
tions that he never had before. This is the course you are afraid, but you get used to
reason why I say prison is never good. it, like you get used to being beaten every
When he got out he began to work with a day. It becomes a way of life.
man he had met there, buying and Most of the Latin American women
carrying drugs. He returned from a trip serving sentences in British jails turned to
one Friday and the following Monday drug smuggling as a desperate attempt to
morning they killed him. escape poverty. More than one quarter of
I watched him from the window talking households in Colombia's towns and cities
to a friend and then the skarios (hired are headed by women, social security is
killers) pushed him into a car. They practically non-existent, public health
cracked his chest with a rifle, burnt him provision is limited and work oppor-
with cigarettes and in a country lane they tunities have been severely hit by the
broke his spine. When I saw him in the economic crisis. Poor, inexperienced
morgue his face was all swollen and his women are easy prey for the drug dealers,
chest and his back was completely black who appear to offer quick and easy
with bruises. Then they finished him off solutions to their problems. For the safe
with six shots and left him at the edge of delivery to Europe of an average of 500-700
the road. grammes of cocaine, usually carried in
I did not have a penny. My husband had their stomachs in small packages sealed in
invested everything we had in the condoms or the fingers of surgical gloves,
business. I rang his partner to say I needed drug couriers can expect to earn several
money for the funeral and to live on. He thousand US dollars. They are not told of
gave me money. But while I was at the the fatal consequences if the cocaine
funeral someone went into my flat and packages burst in the stomach, nor of the
44 Focus on Gender

risk of arrest. Most are told that the worst almost two-thirds of their sentences. The
that can happen to them is that they will be distance from home, and language
sent back to Colombia on the next flight. problems, mean the women suffer loneli-
Cristina was in her mid-thirties when she ness and isolation, many have no one to
was arrested at Heathrow airport with 500 visit them and no one to talk to. Long
grammes of cocaine inside her stomach. prison sentences also spell disaster for the
My daughter is nine years old and needs women's families.
an operation to restore her sight. Without Marta has served three-and-a-half years
it she will almost certainly go blind. We of her nine-year sentence. She carried 400
are poor and we could not pay the oper- grammes of cocaine in her stomach,
ation and when someone offered me money unaware that she was two months preg-
to travel abroad, I felt I had no choice but nant. Her daughter was taken from her
to accept. I was told that I would have to when she was one year old and for the past
take some medicine to Italy for someone two years Marta has seen her only once a
who had become ill. I knew it was prohib- week on prison visits.
ited to take it out of the country, but I The judge said he would be lenient because
believed its sale was not illegal in Europe. I I was pregnant and he gave me nine years.
brought it in my stomach and to be able to Being Colombian is enough to give you a
swallow it I had to be injected with long sentence. But they do not understand
something. The customs detained me at the the situation. When you do not give
airport, but until that moment I did not names, the judges think you do not want to
really know what a 'bad' drug was. co-operate. They do not understand that
Since my arrest I have always told the you are not protecting the guilty, you are
truth. I told the court exactly what made protecting your children.
me commit the crime, that I only wanted to My children were 17,18 and ten when I
cure the sight of my daughter, which is was arrested. They were left alone because I
something any desperate mother who loves am head of the family. It is the same for all
her children would do. The judge hurt and of us. You worry all the time, that they have
humiliated me, saying that in sentencing not got food, that they are sick, that they are
me he would take into account the getting involved in drugs.
extenuating circumstances, even though I As long as there is a demand for cocaine
was probably lying. He sentenced me to in the US and Europe, and as long as there
eight years. is fear and poverty and ignorance in Latin
My 18-year-old son wanders the streets. America, the dealers will always find
I don't know what's happening to my women to carry their drugs. Putting us in
daughter. She is with her father, and this is prison for years and years isn't going to
a danger for her, for reasons of a personal change that.
While many judges recognise that women
For their protection, the names of the women have
such as these are dispensable to the drug
been changed.
barons, and that lack of information about
the tough European penalties for Jo Fisher is the author of two books on Latin
smuggling ensures that couriers will be America. Her first, Mothers of the Disappeared,
easily replaced, long sentences are still published in 1989, is about the human-rights
considered to be a deterrent. struggle in Argentina. Her second book, Out of the
Sliadoxvs: Women, Resistance and Politics in South
Like all foreign prisoners in British America, tells the story of women's fight against the
prisons, Colombian women cannot expect generals in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and
early parole and will, on average, serve Paraguay.

Sochua Mu Lei per,

Director of Khemara

ow that the peace agreement for The second problem is the breakdown
Cambodia has been signed, and of the community system. Under the Pol
aid embargoes are beginning to be Pot regime, people were moved from one
lifted, foreign agencies are falling over place to the other, because the regime was
themselves to offer assistance to that afraid of people having too much power
beleaguered country. Just a matter of within a community. They killed people,
weeks ago, however, the very first local they moved members of families to
indigenous Cambodian agency was different parts of the country, they asked
launched, which aims to work exclusively children to spy on their parents, they killed
with women. Its director, Sochua Mu anybody who could read or write, anybody
Leiper, interviewed in her busy offices in who had any kind of leadership.
Phnom Penh, talked about the work of The third problem is the total
Khemara. breakdown of the family system. It will be
a difficult task for Cambodia in the future
What are the particular problems that to rebuild the community because of the
are facing women in Cambodia? destruction during the four Pol Pot years.
I think the most difficult problems that
Cambodian women are facing these days How can Khemara help?
are first of all the sudden changes in their Khemara can help in a very, very small
roles. They used to be just caretakers of way, but at least we are starting, and we
their children and now they have to be are the first local, indigenous organisation
caretakers, breadwinners, and the core helping our people. We can help by
support of the entire family. She has to do looking at the problems of women as a
that without the help of a husband because whole and the family as a whole. We do
during the Pol Pot years, between 1975 and not want to address just one issue. For
1979, half of the population over 2 example, we will not just look at income
million Khmer people died. Nowadays generation, or at child-care, or at literacy,
60 per cent of our population are women, we will have an integrated approach. We
and of that, 30 per cent are widows. In the will have these three services in each
old days Khmer women were not project that we design and we will very
educated. Even now they are not educated. much promote community participation.
They lack economic support, educational We want to empower women, but they
background, and the emotional and need the skills, they need the tools.
psychological support from partners.

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, ]une 1993

46 Focus on Gender

money should we contribute, what is the

interest rate for the loans, when can you
come to the literacy class. Those tasks will
be put in the hands of the participants of
the projects.

There are lots ofNGOs now in Cambodia

there's a new one starting almost every
week. Khemara is the first indigenous
NGO. Are there problems that Khemara
can tackle, which foreign NGOs would
not be able to address quite so easily?
As a goal we want to work with the
Women's Association in the municipalities
in fact we are already doing it. The
Women's Association plays the role of a
welfare department but since they do not
have the budget from the government they
Learning to weave, at a Khemara workshop. Khemara
are pretty much under the control of the
local authorities, and not really addressing
What sort of tools are they? How do you or responding to the needs of the people.
go about building up that sense of trust They have very many representatives, and
and community in people who have lost a very good organisation, but they do not
it? have the resources. But we have the means,
First of all they need to trust themselves, and we will work closely with them. We
they need to come together, and function will train members of the Women's
together as a group. The trust that was lost Association together with our staff. We
has to be built up. For example, when we believe that our contribution in the training
were training our staff, it was clear that is very valuable because we take into
even among our staff members the women consideration the values of Cambodian
do not have trust among themselves, society, the Cambodian family, the
because during the genocide years they community. Those are the things that a
were taught not to trust, and in the past ten local NGO like us can do for the nation.
years life has been so difficult that one lives
only for oneself. When I ask people 'do you Do you think there is a value in having
know your neighbours?' they answer, 'No, all Cambodians as staff? Will they be
we do not have the time to know our able to empathise more closely with the
neighbours.' So we want to build up trust, people they are working with?
otherwise we could not do a community Yes. We selected our staff in a very special
development programme. way. We selected former members of the
After that we will have to give the Women's Association because they have
women responsibility, and not just talk worked closely with the community for the
about their needs but really make it past 12 years. We selected only women, and
possible for them to do something one of the criteria for selection was the
themselves. They have to design the attitude of the person towards community,
projects, and come up with strategies, even the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the
very simple ones, as to who will take care poor. It is our principle to say that we will
of the children, whose turn is it, how much not serve the poor, we will work with the
Sochua Mu Leiper 47

poor. The other criterion was that the staff our staff is that they have gone through the
member has to have gone through the Pol difficult years with the people that they
Pot regime. I think development in will be working with. But it can also be a
Cambodia will face problems at first, weakness. Because they have suffered with
because of too much aid coming in at the them, they do not see that all their pain can
same time international aid organis- be changed, can be challenged. So, for
ations with expatriate staff wanting to 'save' example, if a woman is beating her child,
this nation too fast, without local input. I why is it an issue? If she is under stress,
think that will be the danger for Cambodia. she beats her child. So in the training, we
ask that question, why is it an issue? How
The fear of a kind of a take-over is would you respond to this situation?
that what you mean? Secondly, in community development
I fear a take-over, yes. I think in the first we want to stress that women need to be
five years it will be that way. People organised. We really want to emphasise
coming from outside being so willing to participation of women in the project, and
help, people from inside having gone not just serving them. Because in the old
through so much. We are so tired that we days, this type of work was done as charity
want nothing else but assistance, and I fear work. Community development did not
that the two sides do not communicate. exist and still does not exist. We will spend
three months learning how to do a survey.
Khemara is a women's organisation, run The staff will design the questionnaire and
by women, for women. Has that been a collect and analyse the data. We really
problem? What do Khmer men feel about need to know, to have the data, to analyse
it, and what is the attitude of the public ?
As far as the organisation is concerned, we
almost have the blessing of the government
and the community I have felt so much
confidence and so much support from the
community. But when it comes to reality, I
have had to stand up and stress our goals
to men; they are afraid that we will be
pampering the women, and that we will
take over without preparing the women.
Also they are afraid that we might go too
fast, because Cambodian society is run by
men, even though they are the minority.
We have to tell the public, mainly men,
about what we are doing and that we are
not going to take over. The reality is that
women have to take care of themselves and
women are the roots of this society.
So where will you start? There are so
many areas that you could work in, how
have you prioritised?
We have given first priority to training. We
will be training our staff for nine months in Creche at a Khemara project. Khemara
community development. The strength of
48 Focus on Gender

it, to sit down with the community, and from scratch. It will take another
say, what is it that you want us to do? generation of Cambodians to put the
country back on its feet.
The Peace agreement has been signed For example, the children of this
now in Paris. What do you think the generation what have they seen, what
future is going to be like? Does the future have they witnessed in the past 10-20
look bright? How optimistic are you? years? Nothing but war and instability in
Well, I have to have some hope, you know! their lives. The people who lived in the
But I see that it is going to be a very, very refugee camps have been away for so long
long, difficult fight. Peace is on paper right and their children were born in the refugee
now. What does it really mean? We do not camps. Now they are coming back, to
know. I think there will be some chaos, uncertainty, to their homes that have been
because you are dealing with four different destroyed, they are coming back with the
groups and you have to face the Khmer refugee mentality. For over ten years they
Rouge coming back; you are dealing with lived in the camps where the UN took care
the political leaders who have been away of their needs. Now they are returning to a
from the country for 10-20 years. I have country that has to start from zero
worked with them on the border where the building your own house, ploughing your
refugees are and where the resistance own fields a country that lacks even
group have control; they have no idea what basic things like clean water, electricity,
the country inside is like or what people education for children and women.
inside are facing nowadays. There is a great
deal of misinformation in the resistance So if you had a message for the inter-
areas and I fear that the people who have national community, what would it be?
gone away for so long have lost touch with I would say, let us come out of it slowly.
the reality in Cambodia. Yes, we need assistance; yes, the children
Secondly, the Khmer Rouge is coming need to go to school; yes, the women need
back. People really do not feel right about to have a better life. But it has to come out
that. They know that the Khmer Rouge have of the context of this society. Giving too
not changed. I think the government knows much too fast can only destroy the society,
but the government wants to stop this war and already we see so much of that. Within
that has gone on for too long. I think in that the past two years since I came back,
sense it is right. But I hope that international people talk in terms of dollars even in the
communities and other countries realise that countryside. In the capital, you see foreign
the government almost had to say yes to developers coming in looking at the
signing the Peace Agreement and that they resources that are still available in
will still have to face the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodia, coming to take advantage of
Khmer Rouge will not let their people come what is left.
out of their zones. Neighbouring countries will take
You know, Cambodia has gone through advantage of Cambodia; and that is very
so much. The country economically is ironic, because during the difficult years,
totally destroyed, physically we lack so they said, 'No, we do not want to handle
many resources, and then the people are the Cambodia problem.' And now that
very tired. They need to have some kind of Cambodia is open, they say, 'Oh!, now,
hope. So in the beginning of the recon- Cambodia has problems, we should come
struction years it will be very hard. As I and take care of Cambodia.'
say, I have hopes, but it is difficult, because
we have to rebuild from almost nothing,
Letters to the Editor
The Editor welcomes correspondence from readers inshould have spotted this in the journal's
response to articles published in Focus on Gender. Wesubtitle, which, like the rest of the journal,
would like the Letters Page to be a place where the focuses on women rather than on gender
views and experiences of readers can be shared. issues. A glance down the contents page
General comments on the journal are also welcome. If shows that women writers, writing mainly
you write to the Editor, please indicate whether or not about women, outnumber men 15:1; the
your comments are intended for publication, and first two pages of Geraldine Reardon's
please give your full postal address. The Editor Editorial set the tone with 28 mentions of
reserves the right to abbreviate letters published in women and not a single mention of men,
this section. I commend the efforts of the 'Women in
Development' movement to offset male
Here are two contrasting responses to the first
issue of Focus: bias by enhancing the visibility and
participation of women in planned social
Congratulations to GADU for your change. But do the editors and contributors
lovely publications on gender and really believe that we can solve gender
development! Thank you for the copy of asymmetries by simply substituting one
Focus on Gender. I was very thrilled and I kind of gender bias for another? It is
have read each and every page of my copy nothing short of scandalous that a new
and I think it's wonderful; the new format journal which claims to concern itself with
is very appealing indeed! I always look gender issues should be written almost
forward to reading your publications and I entirely by women and about women, with
always get a feeling that GADU is ever so men censored from the picture except as
vibrant and lively! blurry, threatening background figures. All
It is a reminder of the importance of this creates the unfortunate impression that
linking women's projects, as we all have so 'gender issues' are only the concern of
much to learn and share. I feel quite in a women and that they are concerned with
celebrating mood as I write to you. women rather than men. I sincerely hope
that future editions of the journal will treat
Nawina Hamaundu us to something more substantial than the
Oxfam Office sound of one hand clapping.
Lusaka, Zambia
Dr Neil Thin
I hope you will be able to publish all or part Department of Social Anthropology,
of the following letter, for which I The University of Edinburgh,
recommend the title 'Gender blurred'. Adam Ferguson Building, George Square,
How disappointing to discover that the Edinburgh, EH8 9LL, UK
Focus on Gender doesn't apparently intend
to focus on gender at all, but on women. I

Focus on Gender Vol 1, No. 2, June 1993

News from GADU

1994 UN Meeting on human rights: the satellite meeting 'La nuestra', women
women's lobby organised platforms of black,
Women's rights as human rights is the indigenous, prisoners, and disabled
rallying call of the women's lobby in the interest groups to gain a broader
build-up to the Vienna UN Conference on understanding of the issues. A total of
Human Rights in June 1994. This will be 19 recommendations were put forward
only the second conference on the subject and 37 women's organisations and
convened by the UN, and a great deal has networks gained consultative status at
happened during the 25 years since the regional level.
first one took place. As the UN's role as Asia is about to have their regional
perceived guardian of democracy and conference with a high level of
peace within the new world order expands, participation by women's networks and
the 1994 Conference must recognise the groups. A three-day NGO meeting, on
ways in which women's rights are Women's Rights, Human Rights and the
systematically violated, and the need to Right to Development in Bangkok last
integrate them into the concepts, summer had a single coherent focus on
mechanisms and institutions of the UN 'The Right to be A Woman', and
system. children and minorities were also high
GADU Coordinator Eugenia Piza-Lopez on the agenda.
attended meetings in February 1993 in The recommendations of the Africa
Costa Rica with members of the Latin regional meeting in Tunisia held last
America Steering Committee, and DAWN November include a demand to
(Development Alternatives for Women for recognise violence against women as a
a New Era) groups on development and violation of human rights.
reproductive rights. She was briefed on the The International Women's Tribune
different UN processes and their outcomes, Center and the Center for Women's
and the role of international NGOs in Global Leadership in the US are organ-
supporting initiatives promoted by ising a series of international hearings
women's networks, as well as the key on the violation of women's human
issues for defining human rights from a rights, to inform the UN Commission on
gender perspective. Human Rights and the April Prep-
aratory Committee.
Lobbying around the conference Fringe activities for the Conference
For the Latin America/Caribbean include a world tribunal to feed docu-

Focus on Gender Vol I, No. 2, June 1993

News from GADU 51

mentation on women's rights violations The clothes line has special relevance to
to the UN Commission. This will be an this issue's focus on conflict. It aims to pro-
extremely important event, setting a duce t-shirts made by survivors of vio-
precedent and providing the first tools lence, or friends of women victims. WILPF
for monitoring abuses and violations of hope that community women's groups will
women's rights, and integrating new organise local shirt-making sessions and
definitions from a gender perspective of displays of the Clothes line. The variety of
what constitute human rights. There designs on display will show that violence
will also be nine regional panels and a against women can take many forms, can
permanent open-ended short-wave help break the silence surrounding gender
radio station to follow the NGO and the violence, assist the healing process for
UN meeting. those who have suffered, and act as a focus
to bring about an end to violence against
In Europe: two Oxfam staff attended the
women. The t-shirts will be brought
General Assembly of Women in
together in November around the
Development Europe (WIDE) in Madrid
International Day to End Violence Against
in February, on the theme of women's
rights. Speakers from Zimbabwe, Philip- Women. A similar project in the US was
pines, Mexico, Tunisia, Nigeria/UK and felt to be very successful as a focus for
Croatia raised many serious issues, awareness-raising and solidarity.
including the human-rights implications
of growing conflict and migration in Community report cards: WILPF are hop-
Europe. Although current human-rights ing for a strong women's perspective on
activities fail to consider women's rights, environment and development at the 1994
the UN's international instruments still Global Forum in Manchester, UK. Based on
provide a useful framework for analysis. the healthy planet report cards developed
As in previous WIDE assemblies, North by WEDO (Women's Environment and
and South were challenged on the need Development Organisation) they have
to find a common language and strategy. developed a paper (more environmentally
Workshops were held on reproductive friendly!) version which they hope will be
rights, economic rights, ethnic conflict useful for groups auditing their natural,
and racism in Europe. A full report of the political, and social environment at local
WIDE meeting will be available in April level. Social concerns might be such things
1993. as the number of people living below the
poverty line, levels of violence against
Women's International League for Peace women and minorities, or access to
and Freedom equal-opportunity employment.
WILPF has been lobbying, campaigning
and networking for peace and justice in the We wish WILPF every success with these
context of poverty, exploitation, violence, creative ventures! Their international secre-
and discrimination since 1915. It is still tariat is based at 1, Rue de Varembe, CP28,
alive and kicking today - not bad going 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland.
after nearly 80 years! It has branches in
many countries of the world, and an inter- New opportunities for funding
national coordination office in Geneva. EC Budget Lines B7-5051 and B7 5052: Role
Recently members have been involved in of women in development: Opportunities
linking with women's groups in former for funding of awareness-raising activities
Yugoslavia. Here are details of two UK ini- about gender are currently available
tiatives just launched. through the European Community in
52 Focus on Gender

Brussels, Belgium. The funds will be used ioners from a wide range of disciplines to
primarily within the European Commission share insights and the results of research
to make project officers more aware of and to explore issues of importance to
women in development issues, and to help women throughout the world.
set up WID Units in the ministries of Previous venues have included uni-
developing countries. Research, publica- versities in Israel, Netherlands and Ireland:
tions, seminars which contribute to better 2000 women attended the fifth Congress in
integration of women's role in policies, February this year in Costa Rica. The
would be eligible for grants, and NGOS can success of the Congress is its diversity: 800
apply. The line does not finance activities in papers were presented bringing together
the field. For more information, contact Mrs feminist research and gender and develop-
E. Hernandez, DGI, Tel: 299 0739, Building ment issues from many countries in a
Science 14 (Asia, Latin America and the range of areas literature, violence
Mediterranean), or Ms Chapman, tel: 295 against women, sexuality, disability,
0030, Building Evere Green (African, psychology, and religion. Papers ranged
Caribbean and Pacific DCs). from the very specialised (gender roles and
homicides in British Columbia 1920-1923)
World University Service scheme: Under to the very broad (gender training and
a scheme operated by WUS, money is development planning).
available until June 1993 to pay for African At this Congress black women's pers-
nationals to receive training in the North. pectives were of great significance, and a
Women are preferred, working in the field panel discussion focusing on cultural
with a senior role in their organisation. identity raised the issue of similarities
Please apply as soon as possible to Nick within diversity: black and white women
Alcock, Training Department, Oxfam, 274 must define their own struggle in their
Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7DZ. own terms. Black Caribbean women's
identity, for example, is forged by slavery
INTRAC (International NGO Training and myths of the exuberance of slave
Centre:) There are still places available on women, whereas white women's sexuality
INTRAC courses, including management is conditioned by their protected status and
strategies, appraisal of development domestication.
agencies and programmes, and improving A discussion panel of indigenous
the effectiveness of Northern NGOS and women from Mexico, Costa Rica,
Southern partners. The courses, which are Guatemala, and Belize highlighted the
aimed at programme and project need for indigenous women to find their
managers, last three to five days, and take own identity, linking feminism with
place in the North, including some in sustainable livelihoods and land rights.
Oxford. More information is available from Indigenous women see their identity as
INTRAC, PO Box 563, Oxford 0X2 6RZ, closely related to their physical environ-
UK, tel/fax (44) 0865 201851/2. ment, and their perspective on reprod-
uctive rights emphasises the importance of
Tolerance and respect for diversity and having many children because of the threat
difference of extermination for many indigenous
The strength of the triennial International peoples.
Interdisciplinary Congress on Women lies One of the interesting aspects of this
in the opportunity it offers for the sharing Congress was its departure from the usual
of experiences from diverse points of view. format of individual speakers to include
It brings together scholars and practit- discussion sessions presented by panels,
News from GADU 53

which encouraged networking and enabled gency interventions must serve the long-
issues raised by black women to be term development goals of strengthening
transmitted to the academic mainstream. the community's own capacity for dealing
Its weakness was a lack of papers on with rapid and turbulent change. Agencies
popular social movements, which emphas- must take responsibility for deepening
ised the divide between activists and their understanding of what happens to
academics, and may indicate an absence of communities in conflict, and for devel-
research on these issues. oping more sensitive means of commun-
Eugenia Piza-Lopez of GADU attended icating with the people they aim to help.
the Congress, giving a paper entitled The workshop report looks at how
'Towards a new dimension of North-South conflicts develop, their impact on gender
cooperation', on the role of development relations, coping with conflict and trauma,
agencies in the new world order, and how assessing gender needs in conflict
the development paradigm put forward by situations, the nature of empowerment and
Southern women can be effectively disempowerment, and the response of
integrated into the agenda of Northern Oxfam's partners to conflict. It is very
agencies. On the social side, the Congress useful as an analysis of an area of gender
offered a huge activities programme, and development which up to now has
which included exhibitions, sports been rather neglected.
activities,cinema and dance. The sixth
Interdisciplinary Congress will be held in How do we discover our gender?
three years' time in Australia. How do we know what it means to be
female or male? How do we know when
Crisis has become normality we are grown up? Is it the same when girls
The Oxfam AGRA (Action for Gender become women as when boys become
Relations in Asia) meeting in Thailand in men? What influences our decisions? Is
February 1993 was entitled 'Development 'growing up' the same all over the world?
in conflict situations: the gender Leeds Development Education Centre,
dimension'. It was attended by represent- UK, has recently established a gender and
atives from Community Aid Abroad, development project to reflect the
Oxfam UK and Ireland, Oxfam Hong experience of young people in Europe,
Kong, Burmese Relief Centre, and ACORD, Africa, Asia and South America. This
who provided a facilitator, and Oxfam exciting new initiative seeks a global
representatives from East, South and West perspective on these and a range of other
Asia attended, as well as representatives gender issues. It will produce interactive
from the Gender and the Emergencies teaching materials for use with young
Units based in Oxford. Case studies were people aged 9-14, and hopes to support
presented examining in depth the effects of teachers and students in their exploration
conflict on different countries, including of the issues surrounding the concepts of
Lebanon, Burma, Somalia and Uganda, gender and development. For more details,
and on the programmes of development contact Chrys Ritson, coordinator of the
agencies such as Oxfam. project at Leeds DEC, 151-153 Cardigan
The workshop report questions the Road, Leeds LS6 1LJ, UK, who hopes to
assumption that emergency crises are a work with gender and development
momentary blip in an otherwise regular workers and field staff to draw on a wide
progression towards the goal of long-term range of perspectives.
development. It calls for a new model of
development which recognises that emer-
54 Focus on Gender

Wotnen-in-development perspectives policy to be circulated to EC ministers

and practices of the European responsible for development cooperation.
Commission: a progress report It recommends:
Eurostep, a network of 22 NGOs from 15 staffing of the WID Desks of DGI (Direc-
European countries working for justice and torate General I, dealing with External
equal opportunities for people North and Affairs) and DG VIII (Development and
South, is currently lobbying hard to Cooperation) with 2 WID coordination
persuade the EC to give a higher profile to posts, supplemented by WID experts on
its women-in- development (WID) work. long-term contracts, and gender special-
Progress on implementation of the EC's ists on the staff of the five technical
gender policy has been slow. Although the divisions;
EC Council of Ministers took a decision to gender training should be provided for
integrate gender into EC development all EC staff who deal with project
policy in 1982, there has been some planning and implementation;
resistance from implementors and project EC delegations appraising projects
officers, and WID officers were not should establish regular contacts with
appointed until recently (funded by the women's organisations and national
Netherlands and Danish governments bodies with gender competence;
rather than from the EC). gender criteria should always be taken
In preparation for a meeting of the EC into consideration before approval of
Development Committee in May when a projects, supplemented by gender-
review of the implementation of WID specific target analyses to enable better
policies will be on the agenda, members of understanding of the different activities
the Eurostep gender group have just of men and women.
drawn up an evaluation of the EC's gender

Workshop at the
AGRA meeting in
Thailand. OXFAM
Resources 55

common patterns in all four countries,

Book review illustrated by the way in which women
became aware of their oppression and
Out of the Shadows documents the began to organise in the face of the reign of
growth of grassroots women's organisations terror unleashed by brutal dictatorships.
in the countries of the Southern Cone of The women's lives were also affected by an
Latin America. It illustrates how women ideological offensive which called for a
emerged into the public arena in reaction to return to traditional values, and
the economic and political excesses of the proclaimed that women's place was in the
military dictatorships and to demand an home. Ironically it was their roles as wives
end to human-rights violations. It also and mothers and their concern for the
examines what the recent return to welfare of their families which drove
democracy in the Southern Cone has meant women into the public domain.
to the lives of women who are among the Jo Fisher shows how grassroots organi-
most socially marginalised. sations represent a potential for trans-
Until the 1970s Argentina, Chile and forming women's lives and revitalising
Uruguay had enjoyed a higher level of working class organisation. She describes
development than most other countries in the form 'popular' participation takes, the
Latin America, which meant better health variety of women's organisations, and their
care, education and economic development, role in the workplace. For example, the
but all this was lost following the military Union of Housewives in Argentina has
coups. The regimes' economic and political raised housework as an issue with trade
programmes provoked the surge in unions. In Uruguay, women trade unionists
women's public participation, as falling have challenged traditional practices, and
living standards, growth in unemployment, introduced gender issues into political life,
chronic poverty, and cuts in state welfare with the result that changes are slowly
forced women to look for communal taking place in the private sphere.
solutions in order to feed their families. This book does not offer any general
There are few publications about the prescriptions nor suggest how to ease the
lives of people in Paraguay, even fewer immense burdens shouldered by working
about women's organisations. The book class and peasant women in developing
provides us with an insight into the harsh countries. But it does portray women's self-
reality for Paraguayans who lived under a reliance, giving us an insight into their
dictator-ship for 34 years. There are lives, the hardships they confront, and in

Focus on Gender Vol I, No. 2, June 1993

56 Focus on Gender

particular, the constraints that women face hasn't changed. Women still have to work
to participation in activities to bring about in the house and look after the children and
changes in their situation. on top of that there's the organisations and
The book makes it clear that a return to the communal work...
democratic government does not mean One of the biggest obstacles for women
immediate benefits for all women. Public organising in strongly 'machista' cultures
spending cuts imposed by structural- is male opposition. The slogan picked up
adjustment measures mean that poverty is a by some of the women's organisations
major reason for women organising. Self- Democracy in the Country and in the
help and communal responses are still Home clearly expresses the struggle
essential for survival in shanty towns, and ahead. The book portrays the women's
women need support to organise at a strat- efforts in dealing with male opposition as a
egic level in order to make their demands gradual process of re-educating partners
known to decision makers. The benefits of and colleagues. Jo Fisher points out that
democracy are not automatic, and develop- women have democratised politics by
ment aid to support these initiatives there- bringing gender issues into the political
fore continues to be a priority. parties and trade unions where they are
This book is very readable and should learning to stand up for themselves and the
be of interest to the non-specialist. Much of issues that immediately concern them.
the information in the book was gathered The book does not attempt to measure
by extensive interviewing, and the book the changes for women in the Southern
gives a voice to women whose experiences Cone. But what is very clear is that women
are usually left out of the analysis. In their have challenged the traditional image of the
own words, they tell us of the impact of subservient housewife and developed new
repression and debt crisis on their lives. relationships with other women based on
Jo Fisher sensitively explores the solidarity and shared experiences. Women
diversity of interests of women from have also begun to resist sexism, expressed
different social backgrounds. In Chile in different forms in political parties,
(where there is a growth in grassroots unions, in the community and the home.
feminism) domestic violence, sexuality, An important message from this book,
education, and childcare have become and a challenge for the women's move-
issues for some organisations, but others ment in Britain and around the world, is
are deeply suspicious of feminist ideas. the need to search for common ground, to
Flora, one of the women interviewed, feels respect the diversity of women from
that while all women face gender different cultures and classes and convert it
discrimination, working-class women are into a source of strength to challenge
confronted with different problems: cultural values, influence decision makers,
We have things in common with middle- and transform development policy.
class women but we also have other
Marilyn Thomson is a writer, researcher and
problems they don't have, like the housing
consultant on gender issues in development.
shortage, debt problems, unemployment,
and we're not going to advance as women if Out of the Shadows is written by Jo Fisher
the two aren't closely linked. and published in 1993 by Latin America
While in Paraguay, where peasant Bureau, London, UK.
women only began to organise for the first ISBN 0 906156 77 7 (paperback) 7.99.
time in 1985, the issues are more basic as
expressed by Pastora:
Women still work more than men, that
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