Tonight’s blog piece is written by Andree Murphy, Deputy Director of “Relatives for Justice.” Andree has worked on behalf of victims for many years, and examines why in dealing with conflict, we need to look at issues encountered by women as a result of the past, uniquely in order to realise the full extent, and impact, of the harm caused. Ed.
I walked into my office today and was greeted by a friend –
“What’s all this about International Womens Day?” “When is International Men’s Day”.
They were fair questions as the organisation I work for has put together some lovely activities for women this week – and an entire programme looking at gendered conflict related harms.
Why look after women differently?
Why examine gender policies and practices and harms?
And the simple answer with complex implications is – Because if we don’t we will miss harms and needs that pervade our transitional society.
91% of those killed were men. The implication of that is that women survived and either coped or didn’t cope but certainly had to manage as best they could. Depending on the relationship to the man who died the effect was felt in many different ways. If it was the spouse, the father and the breadwinner, women who survived to raise the children on their own and in poverty, experienced the death in a specific way.
If the man/boy who died was a son, a mother felt the loss of her child in a way we are only beginning to understand. It was not a secondary harm, the loss of a child is a primary harm on a mother.
In many homes female children assumed parental responsibilities due to the loss of a parent through death, injury, and in many cases psychological injury. This cost many young women educational and life opportunities. Many parents who lost children became “frozen” – unable to cope with the devastating loss. Female children became their carers.
Many women had to engage an at best dismissive legal system – at worst it was hostile and compounded the violations.
How women managed these experiences while putting bread on the table, clothes on children’s backs and supporting a broken family unit with the effects of grief and trauma is something we all need to understand with compassion and reparation. It came at great cost. There is much learning for all societies if we choose to hear, listen and understand.
Sexual abuse and domestic violence was widespread and unaccounted for. These violations occurred in communities, in homes, in prisons and holding centres. Impunity for these crimes created a hidden constituency of victims in all communities. In victims and survivors groups those who present will speak first of their violent bereavement, their injury – harms in the public sphere – and seek support for the human rights implications of these. If their homes have suffered as a result of sexual abuse and domestic violence; it is often only in the context of years of support with the public harms, that individuals disclose and seek support for these hidden harms in the private sphere. Thankfully we are all beginning to recognise the imperative to account for all harms.
This is a deeply gendered development. It is a development supported by international law and emergent case law. No one can escape obligations for these violations. Women suffered disproportionately from these harms.
Mechanisms for dealing with the past have stubbornly refused to countenance gendered harms or embed a gender analysis within their mechanisms. Both Eames Bradley and the Haas Proposals are framed by a narrow interpretation of Article 2, the circumstances of how deaths occurred and who was responsible.
In Haass however the narrow gauge is beginning to widen. We are beginning to see the beginning of understanding of some injured being accounted for. Proposals for support for victims is however exceptionally narrow – as somehow a medical model might cure society of these complex and multi layered needs.
However women and women’s experience of conflict are not mentioned. At all.
I say this as someone who wants to see the Haass proposals on dealing with the past implemented immediately – in the sure and certain knowledge that once a mechanism begins, its mandate the needs of those initially excluded will inevitably lead to a wider more inclusive process.
The dismissal of gender within both documents is inexcusable given developments at international level including UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which requires governments to support women post conflict.
By including a gender analysis within any mechanism to deal with our past, a much wider scope of violations will have to be included within any mandate. This would be all to the good. It would allow those who have been harmed by systemic violations to contribute privately and publicly. It would ensure all actors are held to account for the true depth of harms that were experienced.
And as society we could move forward with a full understanding of the impact of conflict, how it was truly experienced and from which we can all declare – Never Again.