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UNSCR 1325 and Conflict in India, Part I

Community Conversation in India, 2012

This October marks the 17th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. After the long journey of women experiencing conflict and feminist peace activists, the international comminuty affirmed the important role of women in the prevention and conflict resolution, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction. For the first time, the disproportionate and distinct impact that armed conflict has on women and girls was acknowledged on a global scale. The revolutionary international legal framework addresses the gender-specific effects of conflict and affirms the need for equal involvement of women in maintaining and promoting peace and security. Altogether, this created the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda.

However, as the 2015 Global Study on UNSCR 1325 pointed out, we still measure advancement of 1325 implementation in ‘firsts’, meaning the first time women are included at the peace table or the first woman to be recognised as brokering peace, rather than as a normative standard practice. In India, our experiences of conflict and peace-building have been long stretched, but we have not yet reached the ‘firsts’ of 1325.

Recognition of women peace-builders is scarce despite decades of work and activism and they are blocked from reaching 1325 primary posts.The general population, state and non-state actors, and policymakers continue to work within narrow perceptions of conflict. Their view of how conflict and insecurity affects women is narrower still. This is a major impediment to conceptualization of gender, conflict, peace, and security.

A reconceptualization of conflict.

Conflicts, as we currently experience, need a broader understanding that moves beyond militarized regions and armed conflicts. This reconceptualization is critical. With a limited understanding of how we perceive conflict and affected areas, current policies and practice to address conflict-affected population’s needs remain constrained and ineffective. We have to move beyond a narrow understanding limited to certain militarized regions which are labeled as “conflict affected” in the popular imagination to understanding how conflict transcends provincial and national boundaries to affect lives and policies across the region.

Conflict saturates India and the transcendental effects of conflict impacting life and policy in the region is evident historically and up to the present in:

  • 1947 Partition that resonates across South Asia,

  • the experiences of conflict in the creation of Bangladesh and its reverberations across the region;

  • the effect of the Sri Lankan conflict and presence of a large Sri Lankan Tamil community in south India;

  • frequent riots over ethnic, community or communal issues, or natural resources;

  • protracted conflict in Afghanistan and the impact that it has had on Indian foreign policy;

  • the long-standing Indo-Kashmir-Pakistan dispute;

  • the recent debate that the Rohingya crisis generated;

  • backlash of aggressive fundamentalist forces.

All of these show how conflicts are a part and parcel of “everyday struggles” beyond militarization. Each of these issues has had a strong bearing on the women affected by or witnessing these conflicts, which has rarely been brought forth in the mainstream. The result? Recognition, specialized assistance, or protection is rarely given to these women uniquely affected by such conflicts.

Women’s voices are marginalized, manipulated, or silenced.

Even after 17 years of UNSCR 1325, the experiences of women have been largely subsumed under overshadowing narratives put forward by power-players in the region. There have been cases of women organizing to advocate for an end to the conflict [CI1] and demanding a range of human rights absent in traditional conflict zones, but their voices have remained on the periphery, their demands ignored, and losses treated as mere collateral damage of the conflict. There have been instances when women from conflict regions were placed in the forefront of campaigns and protest movements by their male counterparts for strategic ends. Rather than providing space for women to demand their own rights, this strategy further entrenched male-dominated narratives.

Sexual and gender based violence like rape, domestic violence, enforced disappearances and associated identity dilemma, loss of livelihood and income, and displacement are problems rooted in the effects of conflict. Women’s insecurity is further entrenched by an imbalance of power in conventional patriarchal societies, and unequal claim and access to rights. The tenets of UNSCR 1325 seem to be rarely applied in all these cases, where often the situation, rights and needs of women are politicized and discussed predominantly by men in the absence of the women concerned. There seems to be a lack of recognition that women’s rights are human rights and UNSCR 1325. Unfortunately, it is unsurprising that even in situations when there may be some knowledge of UNSCR 1325, it is conveniently ignore or side-stepped because of an existing notion that it diverts attention from the ‘main’ cause.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘UNSCR 1325 and Conflict in India'

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