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Gender and Peace

“Peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men” – UN Security Council.

Gender refers to how women’s and men’s roles, social relationships and expectations are built by society. Different cultures have different ideas of what is suitable for men and women to do and to be. This often changes within a culture during a crisis situation like war, when women may take on traditional male roles.

“People are born female and male, but learn to be girls and boys who grow into women and men. They are taught what the appropriate behaviour and attitudes, roles and activities should be for them, and how they should relate to other people. This learned behaviour is what makes up gender identity and determines gender roles, which are made to seem natural and ‘the norm’.” – Diakonia Council of Churches, South Africa.

Boys are socialised to deny feelings, compete with or dominate others, and are often brutalised to prepare them for military service. Girls are socialised to deny their intellect, to place the needs of others first and to remain passive and silent in the face of injustice. Women are socialised to be ‘carers’ and this may be one reason that 85% of IVP volunteers are female.

Gender is also about the power balance between men and women. Women are under-represented in all levels of decision-making, law-making and law-keeping. Because the experiences of males are seen as ‘normal’, women’s experiences are marginalized. These two factors can result in women and girls having little or no say in decisions that affect their lives. There is a need for more women in leadership and for processes to be made more transparent and accountable.

Ideas about masculinity and femininity lie at the roots of violence and are used to support armed conflicts. There is a continuum of violence, from domestic violence to violence in the public sphere, which every peace and justice movement must challenge. UNESCO’s Women and a culture of peace programme states: “Gender inequality and inequity are themselves major causes of the culture of violence and mechanisms for its perpetuation”.

In conflict situations it is women and children who suffer the most, yet women are often the first to reach across ethnic and religious divides in order to rebuild communities torn apart by violence. Women’s different perspectives are a valuable resource in the peace process. The silence around sexual violence against men and boys during war must also be broken.

Gender awareness is important for all peace and justice movements. Because gender is constructed by society, harmful stereotypical notions of male and female roles can be challenged. Gender justice must encourage the greatest possible participation of both women and men on equal terms in society. Gender equality is a necessary pillar in building a culture of peace.

United Nations Resolution 1325 (Adopted by the Security Council, Oct 2000)
Engendering IFOR – June 2002, p.17-20
UNESCO: Women and a culture of peace programme.

Child Soldiers

Often we imagine that wars are only fought by the adult members of armies, militias or guerrilla groups. However this is far from the case, in fact, many children are directly involved in armed conflict. Child soldiers are children under 18 years old that have been recruited into government armed forces, government militias, factional groups and armed opposition groups. The UN estimates that more than 300,000 children are actively involved in armed conflict around the world (http://www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus/childsoldiers/whatsgoingon/). Africa has the greatest problem where it was estimated that up to 100,000 children were involved in armed conflict in 2004 (www.child-soldiers.org). However, child soldiers are also recruited in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Most of the soldiers are aged between 14 and 18 years however children as young as 7 years old are recruited (www.child-soldiers.org). Children are forcibly recruited into armed conflict. However, many ‘volunteer’ to become a child soldier as they see few alternatives to enlisting. For instance, circumstances including poverty, lack of work opportunities, limited access to education and the promise of an income are some reasons for joining. Many children living within armed conflict due to war and economic and social disharmony witness family members and friends being killed and brutalised by the forces. Consequently, recruitment is seen as the only option for survival.

Girls are reported to have enlisted to escape violence, sexual abuse, domestic servitude and arranged marriages. However, once they have joined they are especially at risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse as well as involvement in military fighting. Orphans are particularly vulnerable. All children are subject to harsh conditions including torture, insufficient food, harsh discipline, hard labour, brutal training regimes and dangerous activities such as weapon use and laying explosives. Besides fighting in combat, child soldiers perform duties including cooking, domestic labour, guards, portering, spying and sexual slavery. Many report that their ‘initiation’ involved killing their best friend or family member to test whether they can be trusted. They are forced to commit terrible atrocities and if they don’t kill, they will be killed or beaten so they are left with no option if they are to survive. Hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in armed conflicts throughout the world.

International legal and policy frameworks for the protection of child soldiers involved in armed conflict are being developed. The International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 1998, permits those found guilty of the recruitment of children under the age of 15 years to be prosecuted for their actions. Furthermore, more governments are now agreeing to legally enforce international laws that ban the use of child soldiers in armed conflict (www.child-soldiers.org). Although programs such as the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) are established to help child soldiers learn new skills and reintegrate into their communities, funds and resources to support such programs are limited. However, if these programs are to be successful, long term investment is required.

Useful websites:
www.child-soldiers.org
www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus/childsoldiers/whatsgoingon/
www.web.amnesty.org/pages/childsoldiers-index-eng

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