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Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

As we mark the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament and engage on the campaign ‘Gender militarism : Analyzing the linkages to strategize for peace’ let  us put into this  perspective that about 33.5 million people have been  displaced by conflict  at the end of 2013 according  IMDC report . We can consider these survivors as somehow  lucky  because other millions have  lost their lives  as a result of war, not forgetting immense destruction of infrastructure and natural resources.

It is a fact that in any conflict, it is the women and children who suffer most  and the  often-cited statistics are that  as many as 80 per cent of displaced populations are women and children. While women bear the brunt of war, they rarely receive any compensation because the rewards negotiated at the peace table benefit men. As I was browsing through  some literature, I came across  this statement from a woman Peace Activist from Northern Uganda  “When I look at the level of sufferings women go through in crisis, in violence, in armed conflict, then I just feel the need to play a key role to stop wars and violence from happening…..”   But can women play a key role in stopping war and violence? The answer is simple yes, women have the power to stop violence and suffering  but the  issues of patriarchy  and militarism  have made is very difficult for women to make meaning contribution in  peace building.

Militarism as defined by feminists is a threat system, which simply says “Do what I tell you – or else”. The basic value of militarism is power over the other. This statement  has been best explained by Rita Popo,  a peace activists who said “ the way men resolve conflicts is looking at whose power is greater… They don’t look at that possibility of saying: ‘Let me listen to him, let him listen to me and analyse Why we disagreed?’…They don’t look at it this way. They say: ‘I am powerful. I am more powerful than that one”.   Many times, male dominated agendas tend to emphasize and prioritize issues of power and political positions. In formal peace negotiations, men put there rules and regulations of what they want to happen, at the same time giving conditions for  putting guns down whereas  women go beyond this and want to see peace in terms of meeting human safety needs and other aspects of well-being.

Therefore, there is need for the new alternatives that will aim at dismantling and redefining  the power structures and patriarchal systems. The men  need to understand women’s participation in peace processes and  decision making  will not disadvantage them and that the idea is not to invert the balance of power, but to abolish domination, oppression, exploitation, discrimination and injustice. When both men and women work together to find solutions, they  benefit. It is a win win situation. This article was written as part of social media campaign on Gender and Militarism  organized by  Women Peace Makers Program, 2014  

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 I came across this article in the  NewVision, Uganda’s  National Newspaper of 18 September 2011. I felt compelled to share it with my audience for them to understand the silence suffering of women in conflict and post conflict settings. This article brought out the gender dynamics of conflicts which are always under looked in post conflict recovery and development programmes.

THEY CALL ME MOTHER OF REBELS CHILDREN. At nine years of age in 1994, Christine Aol was on her way from school when the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels abducted her .From her home area in Patongo in present day Agago district, the rebels walked with her across valleys, woodlands and forests, until she could not even guess where they were.

Her first assignment in the bush was to kill a boy who had been caught trying to escape.” I was forced to hold a panga, cut off the boy’s head and hold it in my hand” says Aol.

The LRA immediately assigned her to a rebel fighter as a wife .Every day, Aol wanted to return home, but she feared the repercussions. She bore two children with the rebel fighter before she got a chance to escape in 2004 during heavy fighting between the army and the LRA.

But life after escape was not easy .Her neighbours often referred to her as the mother of a rebel’s children. Aol’s mother, Rose Anono, tried to send her away because she did not want to live with rebels’ children .However; she changed her mind after being counseled at Patongo Youth Centre, a local charity helping former LRA fighters re-integrate into the community. ‘Even then, the old woman often reverts to her old attitude. When mother gets angry, she tells me to take the children back to their father in the bush “, says Aol.

To make matters worse, she cannot find a man to marry. In this part of the country, it is rare for a man to marry a woman who has produced two children. It s million times more difficult if those children were fathered by a rebel .Men fear that ex-abductees became violent in the bush or might have contracted HIV from the rebels.

Like Aol, many girls are still suffering from the pains of war .According to the United  Nation as estimates, about 10,000 girls became child mothers when the LRA abducted them between 1988 and 2004.Another 88,000 girls, who were not abducted, became child mothers due to the conditions in internally  displaced people’s camps.

Alice Achiro, 24, was abducted in the 2000 on her way to collect fire wood.

‘I was forced to kill and remove the heart of a woman who tried to escape. I was also forced to have sex with a rebel .By the time I escaped, I had three children” she says .But her parents did not allow her back to their home in Palenga, Gulu district. Eventually, she became a sex worker.

Another former abducted, Annette Akello, 31, escaped in 2004 after 15 years in the bush .By then,she had four children fathered by a rebel .On reaching her home village in Padibe ,Kitgum district ,She found both her parents dead.”All her relatives, including other members of the community chased her away ‘, recalls Simon Odwee, an LC1 chairman of Padibe village in Kitgum district.

Akello then went to a bush and strangled all her children before hanging herself.

Such is the suffering of girls who were abducted, forced to sleep with rebels, turned into mothers at a tender age and then rejected by their own p

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This  digital story shows the work of Isis-WICCE  in  empowering women in S.Sudan with leadership skills to actively engage in post conflict reconstruction and peace building through  the Exchange Programme Institute  http://vimeo.com/37577788

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One of the major consequences of armed conflict is the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS. A case in point is the fact that districts which have been affected by armed conflict in Northern and Eastern Uganda have higher HIV and AIDS prevalence than other districts in Uganda. In Gulu district HIV prevalence rose from 9.4% in 2008, to 16% in 2009, with Gulu Municipality health sub-district leading with 22.1%.

According to John Charles Luwa, the district HIV/AIDS focal person, out of the 14,424 pregnant mothers who were tested under the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT) in 2009, about 3,214 were HIV-positive, constituting 22.1%. This is attributed to the high instances of sexual violence such as  rapes, defilement and other forms of sexual exploitation like sexual slavery.

In responding to this situation, Isis-WICCE, an International Women’s rights organization   implemented a pilot project  in 2009 on   “Advancing the rights and basic needs of women living with HIV and AIDS in Northern Uganda with special focus on Kitgum. The objective of this initiative is to enhance the rights of women living with HIV/AIDS and enable partners supporting them to be cognizant of their needs from a rights perspective.

Women Paralegals at the Kitgum High Court with Dr Nabisinde(in blue outfit),a former magistrate

It was a realization that enjoyment of  basic rights is still a dream and women have little or no say in the decisions that affect their lives and their health.  HIV and AIDS has  doubled the dose of violations  to women and these violations include gender based violence   due to disclosure to partners, loss of property especially land, loss of marriage rights  including  matrimonial home, stealing  or removal of drugs (ARVs) from  them, stigma and discrimination.

For the lucky few that were targeted in this project like Josephine  Oketayot, an HIV positive  mother of two children, her life  never remained the same. For 8 years in her marriage, she had never enjoyed her basic right such as   freedom of movement, expression and association. She confessed that whenever she wanted to go the market, fetching water and visiting her parents, he had to first ask for permission from her husband could.

not to go anywhere without asking for  permission from her husband be it fetching water, going to the market, and visiting her parents.

Josephine further explains that after the training she went back home with all the materials and handout given plus a bag  with the bag written on “Protect, Promote and Respect Women’s Rights, Yes We Can” which she placed on the bed. And when her husband found it there, he read the message and removed the materials in it and started reading them.

According to Josephine, from that time, her husband’s behavior begun to change because he realized that Josephine is now empowered and she knows her rights. He also told his brothers and sisters that I want all of you to respect my wife. He did not only stop at that, he bought for her a sewing machine so that she can start working and earn something.

Josephine and her husband are now happily married and they also wedded in church in December last year.

Josephine is one of many women whose rights have been violated and don’t have any say or decision in their lives and marriages. Had it not been Isis-WICCE’s  intervention, Josephine would still be isolated, not knowing her rights and resigned to her fate while she continues to suffer all her life. Josephine had this  to say:

I am now a happy woman and I  talk to the people. In the past I used not to talk to anyone when some one would talk to me I would keep quiet but now I go to the villages and sensitize people about  human rights, women’s rights and HIV and AIDS

The intervention also revealed that, HIV and AIDS programmes rolled out to the communities without consulting them have contributed to an increased gender based violence. The programmes in themselves are good but the implementation strategy is what is lacking. A case in point is Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission which mainly target women because of their biological roles. The PMTCT mandates a woman to disclose her HIV status to her partner and request him to a have the HIV test. The dilemma is that this is not critically analyzed to understand its implication at a family level.  

Loyce Kyogabirwe interviewing one of women paralegals after the training in Kitgum

The reality on the ground is that instead, the woman will be blamed for bringing HIV in the family and she will be beaten eventually, she will be chased away. In one of the community discussion I had, there was a story of  a  woman in Kitgum district Northern Uganda, she went to the health centre and was given  a packet of condoms. She was told to keep them in a cool dry place and when she reached at home, she looked for a cool dry place in her house. The only cool dry place she could find was the roof top of her grass thatched hut. When the husband came back he noticed something new on the roof and wanted to find out what exactly it was.

The man reached up and found a packet of condoms. He immediately started beating the wife and accusing him of prostitution. The poor woman was not given an opportunity to explain how the condoms found their way on the roof top. The women told us that they have found better ways of utilizing the condoms by using them to light fire especially the charcoal stove since they are oily, they can easily catch fire.

So where as service providers will attribute their success and achievement to the numbers of condoms distributed, the actual reality is that the intended result may not be attained.

The cultural beliefs, practices and attitudes of most of our societies perpetuate a lot of injustice to women and do not recognize their human rights and one of  them is wife inheritance. In most communities in Africa, when a man dies, his wife has to be inherited and  If she refuses all the property is grabbed from her and she will be chased away from her home.

It is therefore  our responsibility to ensure that women especially those living with HIV and AIDS are protected from such injustice and take control of their lives. When women are availed the knowledge and tools they take charge of their lives and play a key role in transforming the lives of communities

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