Protecting Women’s “Security” in Cote D’Ivoire?
“They demand peace more readily than men. Which does not signify that there are no warriors among us. If needs be, I will fight” (Gylden, 2003.1).
It is not uncommon to see women portrayed as the victims and spoils of war. Used to justify military intervention on the basis of the “need to protect”, to highlight the impact and destructive nature of war through reports written and published by organizations from Human Rights Watch to UNICEF.
What is far less common is the illustration of women as warriors, rebel soldiers, army generals or security forces. Women are rarely acknowledged as active in the process of war making. This inability of mainstream/conventional security studies to acknowledge the participation of women in the practice of war has direct consequences on the perception of women’s involvement in peace.
General justifications of women’s rights and role in peace building are based on two assumptions: a) women are traditional peace-makers, endowed with nurturing, caring, sensitive qualities or b) passive victimes in need of protection.
This view further strengthens the dichotomy between war and peace, and the human characteristics associated with either. As a result this perception overlooks the gendered impact of violent conflict on women like men. Permitting the consolidation of identities of masculinity and feminity, where fighting becomes a precondition of “manhood” (Goldstein, 2001:3; Enloe, 1997). Women’s limited citizenship status in Cote d’Ivoire is a result of these created gender roles, and norms that define both the public political sphere of society and the privacy of the home.
This inequality is best expressed as a continuum of violence ranging from direct physical attacks (murder and rape) to structural violence embedded in the ideological assumptions about “women’s work” and the characteristics associated with “being a women” peaceful, dutiful mothers (True, 1996:232).
Genuine peace means address not only the wrongs done to women but also the eradication of unjust social relations (Sheehean, 2005:126; Brown, 2003:11). Unfortunately as long as war is expressed as savage, meaningless, uncivilized and illustrated as “men’s” business is will be impossible develop a gender inclusive peace process in Cote d’Ivoire. This in turn means addressing security in terms of direct threats, and defining peace narrowly as “lack of direct” threats.
The current peace process in Cote d’Ivoire supported and backed by the United Nation, ECOWAS, France and the US has failed to understand and acknowledge women’s diverse participation and role in the conflict. As a result women were not at the negotiation table, and have been largely marginalized of identified and classified as victims in the relief and rehabilitation process, pacified with empty promises.
For ten years Cote d’Ivoire has faced an ongoing struggle that was expressed in a number of ways, conflict of identity, tribalism, resource war and to this day the government and the people of Cote d’Ivoire those that have returned the diaspora abroad and those that never left face an enormous challenge-reconciliation, re-integration and reconstruction.
It is therein that the perspective, experiences and views of women in the conflict is most important, it holds the key to uncovering the myriad of reasons that created, sustained and ignited the conflict. Building peace in Cote D’Ivoire means challenging social, class and ethnic barriers, it means accepting that the outbreak of violent conflict in December 2010/2011 was not an isolated event but the accumulation of a long chain of actions. It means redefining security in terms of direct and indirect threats to an individual’s wellbeing, but most importantly it requires peacemaking to acknowledge the diversity of women in Cote d’Ivoire and their right to determine how and from what they wish to be protected.
By Veerle Triquet