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Women's Role in Peace Building in Nepal

Samira Paudel


Introduction

Peace building is an inclusive democratic process that requires a close partnership, respect and dialogue among all stakeholders - including the ordinary citizens. It is the effort to promote human security in societies marked by violence and conflict. The overarching goal of peace building is to strengthen the capacity of societies to manage conflict without any recourse to violence, as a means to achieve sustainable human security and reconciliation in societies.

FES Nepal which was established in 1995, is currently working on activities and issues pertaining to democratization, conflict transformation and peace building. This reflects the basic values of FES namely, social democracy, social justice, solidarity and peace where peace-building is a very important theme for Nepal at this transitional period. After the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the CPN-Maoists (Communist Party of Nepal), the ongoing conflict was shifted into the peace process with the aim to hold Constituent Assembly elections by June 2007 so as to draft a new Constitution for a New Nepal. Already, Nepal has endorsed some international agreements on human rights, civil and political rights and social, cultural and economic rights, CEDAW and Beijing Declaration. Still, there is a big gap between the conditions of society and acceptance of human rights principles by CPN (Maoists) and counter-insurgency operations by the state. Further, conflicts are appearing in Terai, hills and mountains for rights, power, resource and identity.

The Framework Condition

In a developing country like Nepal where more than half of the population is women, it is very important to identify the conditions of women and realize the role of women in peace building. More then 13,000 people have lost their lives over the last 12 years due to CPN (Maoists)'s insurgency and counter-insurgency organized by the state. About 300,000 people were displaced from their homes. Innocent civilians mostly women and children were the victims of the ongoing violent conflict where it was estimated that about 37,000 women were affected by the violent conflict. Thousands of children have been affected directly and indirectly where 419 (295 boys and 124 girls) innocent children have lost their lives. Around 40,000 children have been displaced due to the armed conflict and more than 8,000 children have been orphaned. A total of 19 People (2 women) have lost their life in the April 2006 movement where 5,000 people were wounded. Despite women's crucial participation in political movement their role occupancy in crucial areas of decision-making regarding war and peace has been neglected by their male counterpart.

Nepal's historically evolved patriarchal tradition and caste-based social structure are not letting women come to the decision making level which indirectly effects the country's economy and this is also affecting the country's development. As the voice of half of population is unheard they are still living harder lives in the rural areas facing gender discrimination and exploitation. Women are excluded from the society both as beneficiaries and contributors. They have been deprived of most of the opportunities including access to business, trade and industry, gainful employment, entrepreneurial and skill development opportunities, education, health etc. They are discriminated even by the laws of the land on many matters and this begins from their early childhood socialisation where the preference for male child is still strong due to a religiously ingrained attitude. Conflict has affected men and women differently. Gender-based violence such as sexual violence, rape, unwanted pregnancy, forced recruitment as spy or in the fighting force, psychological damage, life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS, infertility, stigmatization and rejection by family members and society, alienation, divorce, being declared unfit for marriage and severe economic and social consequences, widowhood, psychological shock, economic burden for the family, etc have put women in a disadvantaged position.

Since April 2006 in the political arena, a condition of no-war-no-peace prevails in the country. Political leaderships have announced a series of reforms and committed to provide women 33% of seats in the institutions of governance. Still gender imbalance continues in every aspect of life, such as politics, labor market, education and empowerment. Women's organizations and the international community are, therefore, pushing for gender responsive governance. The recently published Interim Constitution involved 4 women in the draft committee. It shows a bit of change in attitude of leadership but no women was represented in the peace negotiation that produced the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. This also indicates that leaders have not outgrown their conservative thinking. But the implementation of Interim Constitution is likely to increase women's seat in the 330-member interim parliament and 425-seat for Constituent Assembly body and increase their voice and visibility in decision making. Gender responsive organizations are struggling to achieve equal outcomes for both men and women from national initiatives.

In May 2006, the parliament passed a proposal which obliged the government to issue a citizenship certificate to children with the mother as approver or legal guardian, to guarantee proportionate representation in all state mechanisms including jobs and other opportunities in the long run and to end all provisions in laws that discriminate against them. The post-conflict peace building efforts require alleviating their suffering and creating equal social, economic and political outcome for both women and men. On December 18, Nepal ratified CEDAW's Optional Protocol. This provides Nepali women the power to bring claims of gender discrimination directly to the UN committee. However, in rural areas, due to the lack of proper knowledge, law enforcement agencies are exploited by anti-social elements. Rural women require capacity building efforts including access to the institutional resources of the state, market institutions, civil society and the international community.

Women and Peace

Positive peace brings transformation in the society. It helps the citizens to achieve freedom and establishes equality of male and female in all spheres of human lives. The real meaning of politics is to serve public interest, hand out justice and set up cordial relationship between the political actors and stakeholders of the society. It should provide essential education for right conduct and talk about the freedom of all men and women. Proper education, teaching and socialization try to minimize the use of violent words in personal and public communication and action in daily life of society. Gautam Buddha said clearly that peace can be achieved only by peaceful means. This means a culture of peace is essential for the creation of a society for peaceful co-existence.

The recent restoration of democracy and conflict transformation in Nepal confirm the fact that the power of powerless is expressed fully through non-violent means of politics by solidarity, purposeful communication and collective action. This means expansion of the participation of women at all levels of society and every aspect of public life is a way to make politics human, non-violent and peaceful. This has been the cry of Nepalese women since the dawn of human civilization. It is a cry of the majority of the Nepalese population for building an order in society so that stakes for peace become a common concern for all members- women, men, children and disabled. Exclusion of women in the politics of peace means paralyzing more than half the population from creative change and making the change sustainable.

Violent conflict affects all the citizens; especially the weaker sections of the society like women, children, disabled and the poor. They lack sufficient mechanism for security, safety and protection. They are ones who are the direct victim of various kinds of conflicts direct structural and cultural. Even though the cost of the conflict is borne by these sections of the societies the benefits are shared and taken by the powerful actors and stakeholders mostly male ones. Therefore, the situation of conflict must be removed by the means of democratization of the state, political parties, civil society, economic institutions and also the community themselves. This is only possible when the collective voice of women is expressed in the public sphere and long-term realistic planning of society is made. Peace requires truth telling about the condition where political leaders conservatively maintain a creek between the promise and practice and ultimately fail to recognize the core meaning of politics which is to maintain morality in public life and not to lie to the people. Women's organizations in Nepal are struggling hard to minimize the level of violence in politics and seeking for legitimate roles in peace negotiation, mediation and in the conflict resolution process.

Some of the prominent organizations active in the fields of peace building involving advocacy, relief, education, communication, connection, small-scale development works, etc. are highlighted below.

Institutions working for Peace-building

Human Rights and Peace Institutions:

  • Nepal Maoists' Victims Association (NMVA)
  • Association of Suffers of Maoists' Atrocities (ASMAN)
  • Society of Citizens Disappeared by the State (SCDS)
  • National Network of Peace Communicators (NNPC)
  • Human Rights and Peace Society (HRPS)
  • Professional Alliance for Peace and Democracy (PAPAD)
  • Women Network for Peace (WNP)
  • Friends for Peace (FFP)
  • Nagarik Awaz (Citizens Voice)
  • Indigenous Nationalities Peace Commission Nepal (INPCN)
  • Collective Campaign For Peace (COCAP)
  • National Peace Campaign (NPC)
  • Civic Peace Commission (CPC)
  • Citizens Movement for Democracy and Peace (CPDP)
  • Civil Society for Peace and Development (CSPD)
  • Civic Solidarity for Peace (CSP)
  • Women's Rehabilitation Center (WRC)
  • Women for Human Rights (WHR)
  • Institute for Conflict Management
  • Peace and Development (ICPD)
  • Volunteers Mediators Group for Peace (VMGP), etc.

Advocacy Groups:

  • Nepal Federation of Ethnic Groups and Nationalities,
  • Nepal Dalit Association
  • Women's Pressure Group
  • Indigenous societies
  • Legal Aid and Consultancy Center
  • Paribartan Nepal
  • TEWA
  • Media Alliance against Caste Discrimination, etc.

Women for Human Right (WHR) is working on rehabilitation, reconciliation and income generating activities for conflict victim women and trying to integrate them. WHR has now 18,000 members and provides scholarship to 185 poor students. It is providing training on income generating activities, reconciliation, organization building and collective action programs for widows. As a result the real situation of conflict victim women is widely reported in the local and national media and the government has already begun to allocate annual budget for this organization.

Likewise, Sancharika Samuha Nepal, a forum of women journalists believes that the lives of women can be significantly improved and they can be protected from social discrimination through media interventions aimed to empower women. Media and women having both anti-establishment characters can contribute to liberate society from the prevailing socialization, such as manufacturing consent, indoctrination, instrumentalization and a culture of silence.

Similarly, Nagarik Aawaz (citizen's voice for peace) is a forum of non-partisan, not for profit, and secular organization working in an inclusive way for relief, support, and peace work. It works in conflict transformation and peace-building in Nepal. Due to the conflict situation brought about by the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, the number of innocent victims and sufferers are in large number. It is a forum to share the experiences of the victims of conflict and other concerned development professionals, as well as to educate others about the conflict. It has been providing a forum for interaction among concerned individuals on a fortnightly basis. It has been also working on the issues like: Volunteer program for displaced youths, counseling, feeding the hungry on special occasions, research on conflict widows, immediate relief programs etc.

Legal Aid and Consultancy Centre (LACC) is an independent non-profit, non-partisan and non-governmental legal resource women's organization. It was established by a group of lawyers for the protection and promotion of the rights and interests of women and children in Nepal. LACC has been working for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, abuses, exploitation, sexual abuses and violence against women and children through legal and judicial process. As a pioneer legal resource organization, it is dedicated to women's empowerment and advancement, uplifting of their dignity and socio-legal status and protection of child rights.

DidiBahini is also an organization established with a goal to facilitate gender mainstreaming into the development process at grassroots level. It conducts research on diverse areas with special focus on gender. It practices process-oriented approach to gender education and work with both women and men to achieve a positive change in behavior and attitude.

Besides this organizations listed above there are other women's organizations like Ama Samuha (Mother's group), Stri Shakti (Women's power), Nari Chetana Kendra who are also working for peace building in Nepal focusing on gender issues.

Conclusion

Women suffer most in crisis situation. It is men who predominantly fight and women stay behind to fend for families and communities. But they are neither consulted nor allowed to partake in decision-making. They are forced to bear the large part of the burden directly or indirectly. Therefore, it is not surprising that women are adopting strategies to play prominent role in peace building process in Nepal. Even if they are coming in the forefront, there are still lots of things they have to work on to make personal, family, society and life of the nation violence-free. The agencies of socialization such as media, schools, colleges and universities and political parties have to be re-educated so that the violent outcomes are made illegal by playing a vital role to stop the absurdity of Nepalese society. There is also a need to eradicate discriminatory nature of knowledge, institutions, laws and traditions that go against the empowerment of women. The virus of democratic politics should be spread into all levels of society from the family to international community so that the nature of violence is contained, completely moderated and finally eliminated from the life of women and the society. There should also be an inter-subjective framework of economic, social and political participation of women so that the rationality of liberation guides the conduct of men and women in public and private lives and role dualism of women in private and of men in public is removed. And finally, realization of the system of rights and human dignity must be created for not just the equal opportunities but also equal outcome for men and women.

Unless the role of women is identified, the restraints of past are addressed and the new possibilities of freedom, social justice and dignity and identity for both men and women are explored inclusive peace is not possible for Nepal. Once women get their legitimate role in the peace building process they would become part of the ensuing governance structures. This is the right time for the citizens to take into account how to achieve inclusive peace whereby Nepalese women can become an actor rather than a factor in politics-the politics of decision-making about peace, peace keeping and peace building.

 
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