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									                  Aga Khan Rural Support Programme- Pakistan




Role of Women in Conflict Situations and Conserving Peace in Northern Areas of
                          Pakistan: An Experience of AKRSP




                                 Jointly Prepared by
                           Fareeha Ummar and Miraj Khan
                                  (AKRSP-Pakistan)




                SOUTH ASIAN WORKSHOP ON GENDER, PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT


                                  PURI, ORISSA, INDIA
                                 OCTOBER 21-24, 2002

                                   Organized by
                South Asian Network of Gender Trainers (SANGAT)
                                   October 2002
                                    Acknowledgements


An attempt has been made to review the links between women and conflict situations in the
northern areas where AKRSP has been working for the last 15-20 years. This paper would not
have been timely completed without the reports and relevant material shared by AKRSP
Regional Programme Office, Chitral and support extended by Mujtaba Piaracha, Programme
Economist (core) for editing and sparing time for discussions. The feedback given by Stephen
Rassmussen, General Manager AKRSP helped in constructing the argument that made clear the
link between approach of AKRSP and the conflict situations in the Northern Areas. More
importantly was the assistance from Miraj Khan to prepare presentation and sharing of
information in form of concrete experiences related to conflict situations and problem solving
approaches practiced in Chitral region.
1.     Introduction:
Increase in conflict and violence in recent years globally poses a challenge to development
thinking and practice. Progress towards achieving economic development, global justice and
peace is occurring much slower than anticipated. Power imbalances and uneven distribution of
resources are two of the many factors creating grounds for conflict and are emerging as obvious
impediments to the development process. All this calls for a deeper understanding of the varying
nature of conflict and influence of external socio-political and economic forces. The analysis of
its affect on relations between men and women subject to their different identities, changing
ideologies and differential access to and control over resources can inform development policy;
thus assisting civil society organizations to effectively evolve strategies responding to
insecurities and improving livelihood situations.
This paper will examine the conflict situation in context of Northern Areas mainly at community
level and its implications on women. Due to patriarchal influences women are usually perceived
in association to their traditional role, therefore some concerns related to household level may
also come into discussion.
AKRSP works with a mandate of improving quality of life of the poor in partnership with the
communities. The Village and Women’s organizations are its building blocks at the grassroots.
These institutions have played a crucial role in women’s development despite deeply embedded
patriarchy, weak state, extremist ideologies, poverty of resources that even implicate the system
for redress and place power in the hands of a few; thus leading to aggravated state of deprivation
and especially placing women who are already struggling relentlessly for their rights, mobility
and control and access in private and public sphere, in a more disadvantaged position.
Not with standing the challenge of improving the lives and livelihood opportunities of women,
but initiatives are also required to bring women into the mainstream of community, regional and
national level decision-making. This includes conflict resolution at all those levels. Thus
sustained endeavor is essential for initiating community level measures along with advocacy
measures to create an enabling environment to achieve peace, justice and solidarity.




2.     Situation of Women in Northern Pakistan:
In the case of Pakistan, overall situation of women can be inferred from gender related
development index where Pakistan is placed 115th among 143 countries. This low ranking is due
to apparent biases in the sex ratio, literacy rates and low visibility in public sphere. The position
of women in Northern Areas is no different rather isolation and remoteness have added to their
sufferings. Since agriculture is the basis of the economy, development efforts focus on food
security and enhance labor-intensive farming systems. Women’s involvement in this setting
extends from the household to the farm and community levels. In recent decades, women from
Northern areas have assumed greater on-farm and household workloads owing to male migration
and diversification of off-farm income sources and children transferring their helping hands to
schools. Also due to more land being bought under cultivation. Apparently they are not drawn in
directly or even hold the ownership to resources but they are associated in these activities
because of their traditional roles and responsibilities. The diverging situations arise from
common feuds; tensions at the border or stances of the so-called guardians of religion affect their
public and private lives.
3.     Definition of Conflict:
The conflict can be a source of social change and can be a medium through which problems can
be aired and solutions can be arrived at. But the social and economic costs of this disagreement
last generations. It is important to remember that conflict brings transformation and is a product
of a situation, which is untenable.
We need to look at the level at which conflict is occurring because then the context, cause and
the extent to which it affects women becomes clear. These take place at household, community,
region or international level. Usually at household level there is conflict of objectives between
men and women, common property issues arise more at community level, ethnicity raises
difference at regional level and policy trends cause international conflicts. But the common cause
is ‘self interest’ of individuals, genders, community sect, races and nations. So the idea of
conflict resolution should be that self interest is hurt through conflict and can be enhanced
through cooperation i.e. requires confidence-building measures
AKRSP has experienced in the past that conflicts emerging at community and international
levels, had a bearing on lives of women. Women’s involvement is not so visible in public so
their participation in this case can be viewed in the forum Women Organisations (WO) that
AKRSP has evolved. No doubt it is a process that is still evolving over time and responding to
and altering itself according to different underlying factors but the role of power and institutions
do contribute in serving or damaging the interests of women. Mostly the issues that perpetuate
conflicts in the areas where AKRSP functions are centered on common property resources (land
and      pasture      disputes),       result     from       imbalanced        participation       in        power
structures/management/leadership (Village and Women organizations) and ethnic, political and
religious influences (sectarian differences).
4.      Causes of Conflict:
Resources:
Attempting to trace the roots of conflict is a complex process as it has interconnecting triggers
and underlying causes. It includes the volition of individuals and groups of actors, structural
inequalities, issues of governance and democracy, poverty and uneven development. Moreover
the condition becomes worse when on the one hand the increase in population exerts pressure on
the meager available resources (land and water) and on the other the changing global policies
(structural adjustment, globalisation) pose serious threats. In Northern areas land, pastures,
forest, roads, availability of loans, hunting rights tend to be the contestable resources. The usual
feuds in the programme area relate to livestock, family matters, land, use of pastures, access to
basic services etc.
Players in the Society:
Essentially here we need to situate a background to the existing regional scenarios and also a
context for the society settings. Looking at the power intersections in Northern Areas even after
so many years the power still resides with traditional elites (Mehtar in Chitral, Raja’s and Mirs
in Gilgit and Baltistan), religious leaders (belonging to Sunni Ismaili and Shites sects), village
shopkeepers and the landlords. These are some members who belong to the group that has access
and control over resources.




Political influences:
The hot spots1 or influences emanating from pressure at the borders (located at the intersection of
India, China), influx of Afghan refugees and especially Talibanisataion of culture cannot be


1
 As mentioned in the paper ‘ People, Scarcity and violence in Pakistan’ in Conserving the Peace: Resources
Livelihoods and Security by Asif Zaidi Head of IUCN Islamabad Office.
overlooked. These no doubt have the potential and are added elements fuelling violence and
plunging the inhabitants further into poverty or sometimes forcing them to migrate. As a result of
this there is insecurity and stress prevailing in the environment.
Family Matters:
The issues arising from inheritance, marriages, divorce and other family related matters at
household level have implications on the social settings and relations at community level.
4.     Analyses and Impact on Women:
Importantly we need to look at how interests of women are being served or compromised and the
vicious circle of powerlessness that they are trapped in, and what stabilizing elements could be
supported in future.
In traditional societies the social boundaries for women are largely determined by cultural and
religious norms. The aspect that needs to be kept in mind is that all women are not oppressed in
the same way and that the origins of their oppression are not the same. These can be attributed to
class divisions, ethnic origin or caste. As in the case of women from Ismaili sect who enjoy
comparatively more freedom in accessing education and opportunities for self-development than
those belonging to Sunni sect.
Conflict situations usually burdens women more because they have to perform beyond their
traditional responsibilities (e.g. in times of war). The pressure increases as they flee for
protection and are displaced. It has been experienced in one of the programme areas, Baltistan,
where women undergo this traumatic experience due to tensions at the border; thus leaving
hidden sufferings that undermine their capacities.
It is worth mentioning that women are often used as symbols to preserve traditions. In the case
of Purdah or veiling, which is a traditional practice in Pakistan, though it creates seclusion
between men and women and even amongst women but as a process of transformation/change is
in place so it has been accorded an acceptance to seek protection especially in the urban centers.
It is practiced in all the regions but more in Chitral due to presence of non-locals and Afghan
Refugees it is being observed more in the town areas than the peripheries. Though it does lead to
further seclusion of women in a traditional society but at the same time offers mobility in towns
to traditional/rural women when in town.
As mentioned in the beginning, conflict on ethnic lines exists in the programme areas as well that
compel women to identify with one group. It does not mean that there were never good relations
between them but the meager resources; weak structures have led to conflicts. Basically for
women the divide is between personal and community identity. Women join in without any
choice in the matter when their immediate family is involved but it is leading to polarization in
society. Usually women face greater restrictions and sometime are the targets of attack by hostile
communities.
The peaceful nature of women however cannot be overlooked that emanates from a meditative
and peacekeeping role. Some times it has been seen that the conflict situation also accords an
enhanced status to women as mothers (as happens in Balochistan)2 and provide an opportunity to
them to access public domain and sometimes seek employment. As wives of the martyrs in the
military warfare compels them to seek options for survival beyond the private sphere and at the
same time gather community support. The ideologies (that define the appropriate behavior of
men and women and the relative position) and identities (definition of masculinity and
femininity) in conflict are under a constant change and put men and specifically women in more
vulnerable position.
5.      System of Redress:
Furthermore in this discussion we need to look at the system of redress or conflict resolution,
which holds a noteworthy position. In the Northern region Police, Courts, Jirga (traditional
system composed of elders), Religious institutions, elected representatives and importantly the
village based participatory institutions (VO/WO developed over the past 20 years) are the forums
that corroborate peace measures.
Interestingly the point to be noted is that the system integral to peace and harmony is overawed
by the power configurations mentioned earlier. Therefore these local elites who play a part in
these systems will not be able to address the issues raised because that would challenge or deem
to challenge their very power basis. In such an intricate scenario the role of a ‘common local
forum’ to resolve the varying ethnic, religious issues and conflicts becomes particularly
imperative.
6.      Response to the dilemma - Fostering grassroots institutions:
The phenomenon that is worth noticing is that conflict is arising in the regions where the
structural disparities and unequal distribution of power exist. The initiatives supporting economic


2
 It might be interesting to here to quote an example of balochistan where tribal feuds are settled by taking a MHERR
group of women to aggrieved party a troupe of women with Quran to bring end to a murder dispute.
and security interests call for appendage to approaches that promote harmony and justice in
society and equally consider the power differentials as well.
The guiding tenet for AKRSP has been ‘Social Mobilisation’ a process of confidence building
where grassroots community organizations were fostered to provide opportunity for collective
development and facilitating a forum for participation of all. Thus contributing in efforts to
develop harmony, mutual coexistence and better understanding of various socio-economic
phenomenons with several dimensions in the Northern Areas.
Investments over the years have been made to build the human capacity by offering opportunities
for asset creation, employment and self-development. Almost 4000 village based participatory
institutions (of men and women) have been evolved over a period of twenty years in the three
programme areas Gilgit Chitral and Baltistan. It is an evidence of AKRSP’s commitment in
building an active civil society and has recognized the varied interest of groups - men and
women even in the remote far-flung areas and rugged mountainous terrain. At the same time at
policy level its efforts are visible in the form of acceptability of the rural development approach
(replicated nationally) that endorses the collective potential of the poor.
Alkarim Supra Cluster 3 was formed in January 1996. It aims to strengthen the notion of
voluntary and social service to the people of the area and channnelize socio-economic uplift
activities at a broader level. The organization covers three clusters 4 Izh, Beghost, and Yorjogh
with 36 VO/WO’s. The main role was to resolve various conflicts without outside help and
mediation. It has different committees to varying conflicts i.e. pertaining to forests pasture
planning, water livestock marriage wildlife, education etc. It has so far resolved 458 cases that
were either pending in the court or were unresolved at family level. The factor that contributed
to successful mediation process was the maturity of the community. This may be due to the socio
political and organizational factors such as the community institutions were strong enough to
avert the conflicts because they had established a mechanism with clear terms of reference built
on mutual consensus and equal participation from all rather than focusing the elites. Political
representatives were also involved in conflict resolution.
Such resolution forums are commendable since they invoke only moral authority and their
transparency and fairness making parties accept their decisions.

3
  Is formed of three clusters around a valley. Problems like shared pastures, wildlife, other natural resources and
social sector services. It includes number of villages.
4
  Is formed of more than two V/WO’s around common interests
Women’s Organisations:
The number of women organizations (WO) acting as a platform for women are over 1500 and
are covering 87% of rural households but are one third in numbers in comparison to Village
Organisations (VO) representing men. The activities are based mostly around their practical
needs but the important aspect of the WO is the broader development of women that has been a
utility of the forum. Measures supporting empowerment of women can be seen by their:
            Involvement in decision-making committees
            Access to financial (credit savings) and social sector services
            Improved awareness about their rights
In a society where the issue for women is restricted mobility WO allows them to gather to raise
and discuss issues and concerns. It would be appropriate to say that it is the beginning of
evolving an institution that offers access and control of some crucial elements for empowerment
of women. Rather it can be termed as the ‘only forum’ for women in Northern Areas.
Development literature and studies suggest that mobilisation of women by supporting
mechanisms and organizations through which women can express their gendered needs
and interests is beneficial. Individuals, women particularly, whose lives until the process
of change began had never allowed them to articulate their opinions and desires publicly,
learned to assert themselves, express their wishes, and taste active involvement. As Scilla
Mclean terms it as a living exercise in community democracy (1982, p.3245).
These women are encountering cultural challenges but at the same time they have a
struggle to fulfill the basic needs; so importance of programmes for education and
empowerment (rights awareness) remains.
    7.        Conclusion:
    The above discussion brings out the facet that conflict needs to be examined from a
    gender perspective. However social interdependence, the link between social structures
    and perceptions because the influence of ideologies and beliefs, cannot be ignored. The
    conflict basically weakens social relations and decreases communication and cooperation
    between conflicting parties. Women as a group are structurally disadvantaged, have less
    access to resources than men, and have to carry the burden of reproductive work. Their


5
    Report by UNESCO: The Role of women in Peace movements
    rights are often given less weight than those of men and they are marginalized in
    decision-making processes. Therefore are more vulnerable if they loose the support and
    protection of men.
    AKRSP has managed to steer a process that has brought women on board. Realizing the
    dual role of the WO in aiming towards fulfilling practical as well strategic requirements
    of women, empowerment gained through the latter needs to be should be transferred
    beyond the limited boundaries of the WO setup, to the household level and advocated for
    at national level.
    The inequality in access and control and power exacerbates violence and conflict, which
    becomes the basis of economic exclusion, erosion of institutions and fuels
    extremism/fundamentalism. All the more there is a need to stress and ascribe importance
    to women’s human rights; the coping strategies in conflict take into account security and
    protection of women. During the peace process women have to be represented in
    negotiations and support given to development of wider civil society and social
    organization that encourage awareness of human rights of women, protection and
    participation of women.
    AKRSP has contributed to gender equity and enhanced the role of women in dealing
    with the management of conflicts in public sphere through their involvement in WO’s
    but due to enormity of the situation compounded by its complex dimensions it is a long
    way. Significance of developing ‘Networks’ at different levels become apparent. This
    would help to tackle the situation on long-term basis and take into consideration the
    mentioned levels of conflict discussed earlier.
    The opportunity for AKRSP exists in the form of ‘ affirmative action 6 ’ taken by
    government of Pakistan in line with its devolution plan where a good percentage of
    women have managed to become the local representatives. The positive aspect is the
    presence of WO members from the local communities as representatives in these
    forums7. It is an encouraging sign and conveys the gender mainstreaming agenda of the
    government. AKRSP also endorses its commitment in the Strategy Proposal 2003-2007.
    The capacity of this group needs to be build considering low literacy levels and little


6
    33% seats in Local Bodies and reserved seats in Provincial and Federal assemblies
7
    The Chitral region has undergone this process and Gilgit and Baltistan has yet to see the formal elections
exposure and confidence these women have to tackle the future challenges arising from
conflict situation at different levels where patriarchy, insecurities and poverty govern as a
norm.




                                     Bibliography

       Gender, conflict and development: Report No 34 Volume 1: Overview by Bridget
        Byrne December 1995, Institute of Development Studies Brighton
       Caught up in Conflict: Women’s Responses to political Strife Edited by
        Rosemary Ridd and Helen Callaway in association with the Oxford University
        Women’s Studies Committee.
       People, Scarcity and Violence in Pakistan by Asif Zaidi in Conserving Peace
        Resources Livelihoods and Security, International Institute fir Sustainable
        Development and IUCN, 2002
       Report on UNESCO’s Report: The Role of Women in Peace Movements in
        Stiehm, 1982
       Various reports and Studies on Conflict prepared in AKRSP
       Arms to Fight Arms to Protect: Women Speak about Conflict Edited by Olivia
        Bennet, Jo Bexely, Kitty Warnock, Panos, U.K, 1995
       Instituting Problem Solving Processes as a Means of Constructive Social Change,
        Carlos L. Yordan in Online Journal on Conflict Resolution

								
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