The National Peace Essay Contest 2012-2013: Gender’s Role in War and Peace

I entered the following essay, as well as the listed works cited, into the National Peace Essay Contest and received an honorable mention for the state of Virginia.

In a complete state of nudity, or dressed in the symbolic materials of clay and sticks, 30,000 – 45,000 women took to the streets of the Ivory Coast in mid-march of 2011.  “The international community has forgotten us,” the organizer of the event, Toure, said.  She used the protest to reflect the state of her soul in the violence that ensued from Côte d’Ivoire’s second civil war, which ended later that same year.  The ideology of Ivoirite, the distinction between native born Ivoirian and immigrated Ivoirian, created the tension within the country almost leading to genocide.  The second civil war has ended, but the peace efforts of women, such as Toure, and men have only created greater strife.  In contrast the Sri Lankan civil war, that ended as of 2011 as well, their enacted peace efforts have been met with less animosity that those of the Ivory Coast.  A gendered approach to war and peace defines itself through the examples of Sri Lanka compared to the Ivory Coast in that an organized, social, solution proves necessary to affect reality. 

The Tamil, brought to Sri Lanka by the British to perform as laborers, faced oppression from the Sinhalese in the early years of the country.  The oppression led to tension, which in turn resulted in three Eelam wars, the beginning stages of the civil war, from 1983 to 1995.  The president of Sri Lanka at the time, Mahinda Rajapakse, consolidated the grip he held on the power over the people and their belief in a majority based democratic system which pitted the Sinhalese against the Tamil through even more discrimination.  The Tamil became rebels in the eyes of the Sinhalese.  In June of 2007, the police forced hundreds of Tamils from their homes in the capital, citing security concerns, and leaving many Tamils living as refugees.  Alcoholism, land disputes, and abductions occurred frequently between the two groups as their fear of each other grew. 

Pathma, for example, had been abducted on her way to school at age sixteen.  Her father had been out in the fields he worked when he was killed by the same individuals that abducted her, the Tamil Tigers.  A second girl, fifteen year old Rasanthy, was abducted as well from outside her neighborhood temple.  The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) worked to train and educate these women to fight, and in the end 3,000 of the 11,000 suspected individuals in the cadre were thought to be females.  In fact, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of Indian had been assassinated by an LTTE member in 1991 that the world had never considered before, a women suicide killer who challenged the assumptions of the role of women in war.  Some women, however, found violent free and satisfying ways to fight the growing disaster.

Committees began to form, such as:  Women’s Action Committee, Mothers’ Front, Women for Peace, Mothers and Daughters, and Women’s Coalition for Peace.  Women began to realize that violating the honor of women had become a key weapon in war that tore at the community in an identity based conflict, while they were still expected by their own community to reproduce frequently in order to meet the demands of the decimated population.  These women did not just seek their own freedom from the war, but their sons’ freedom.  The Mothers’ Front demonstrations in Jaffna demanding that the authorities tell them where the 100 young men and boys they had sent to fight went.  Visaka Dharmadasa, a mother who had lost her son in the war as he fought for Sri Lanka, launched a non-profit organization that began to bridge the gap between the ethnicities through motherhood alone.  Through the Mothers’ Front Visaka met with mothers LTTE soldiers, and together they fought for their sons:  demanding that the bodies of soldiers not be cremated, that DNA testing be used to identify those lost, and that each soldier be issued a dog tag.   In the end 100,000 Sri Lankans, Tamil and Sinhalese came face to face with death, and did not survive.

In contrast, the second civil war of the Ivory Coast received outside assistance for the majority of their peace keeping efforts.  The committees formed to assess and evaluate the disasters occurring during the war did not come from the home and the heart of the country as they had in Sri Lanka, and this prevented an easier transition from war to peace in the Ivory Coast.  A female police contingent, for example, came from Rwanda to the Ivory Coast as part of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). 

Instead of the committees observed from Sri Lanka, the Ivory Coast held organizations of protesters.  In early March of 2011, women marched by the tens of thousands to protest for the removal of Gbagbo.  Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat during the presidential election in 2010, which he had postponed for years, and called in March of 2011 for troops to open fire on the protesters.  Six women were killed, but a week later twice as many women took to the streets in honor of International Women’s Day.  The march of March and Toure’s protest demonstrate the desire for democracy among women in the Ivory Coast, but even the women holding the branches symbolizing peace had been gunned down by Gbagbo.    

In both cases, crimes against humanity occurred as war raged, women were raped, and villages were pillaged.  In Sri Lanka, one notorious case was the murder and rape of a sixteen year old school girl in Jaffna, Krishanthy Kumarasamy in 1997 which awakened much of the world to the atrocities war creates in the community.  In the Ivory Coast, one case of over 3,000 people makes the top of the list of crimes occurred as these citizens of Abidjan were killed and raped.  Yet the world still reprimands women for not meeting the supply and demand necessary in times of war, even after being violated.  The violation of women contributes to the systematic destruction of a society, a community.  Husbands, sons, and male neighbors also take a piece of the sorrow that comes with these violations as they know they could not protect their wives, their daughters, and their neighbors.

The approach women take in matters, such as war, differ from men.  In Sri Lanka and the Ivory Coast women took a social approach, one that would change the communities and not just the policies.  Women have been designated as the home governors and care givers of society, and the stereotype has a basis in the foundation of how women approach conflict.  Visaka and Toure worked to bring marginalized groups together, women of different ethnicities and social classes standing next to men.  The sons, husbands, and fathers lost in these civil wars demonstrate the mind set stereotype of men:  that politics and laws must be enforced and created in order to maintain peace.  Peace is not as simple as creating a safe haven for one side of the war, but includes the safety of those on both sides of the border. 

Gender orientation should be given to those striving to implement peace in conflicted areas, such as Sri Lanka and the Ivory Coast.  One drawback, however, is the impact these new ideals of women will have on the culture.  In some cases, women prefer to remain in the traditional roles of care givers to the house while others desire radical change.  The new roles women place themselves in the growing societies of these conflicted countries will change philosophical, religious, community, and family beliefs.

Successful peace-building requires organized committees, not protests, which demonstrate the social vicissitude necessary for the impact of war to curtail itself until peace is acquired.

Works Cited

Abeysekera, Sunila. “Women and Peace in Sri Lanka: Some Observations.” Isis     International. N.p., 10 May 2007. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Coll, Steve. “Sri Lankan Mothers Raise Their Voices In Protest.” Business | Sri Lankan    Mothers Raise Their Voices In Protest | Seattle Times Newspaper. N.p., 21 Apr.         1991. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

“Genocide Watch.” Genocide Watch. N.p., 25 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Kanyesigye, Frank. “Rwanda: UN Commends Rwandan Women Peacekeepers in Ivory            Coast.” AllAfrica.com: Rwanda: UN Commends Rwandan Women Peacekeepers    in Ivory Coast. N.p., 16 Dec. 2012. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Mack, Jessica. “The World Turns a Blind Eye to the Women of the Ivory Coast.” Ms         Magazine Blog. N.p., 31 Mar. 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Montlake, Simon. “People Making a Difference: Visaka Dharmadasa.” The Christian       Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 22 June 2009. Web. 25 Jan.           2013.

“Mothers and Daughters of Sri Lanka.” NGOs- We & Others Blog Archive Mothers and   Daughters of Sri Lanka. N.p., 3 Mar. 2007. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

“Sri Lanka Profile.” BBC News. BBC, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

 

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