By Ghadah Alrasheed
A gendered perspective is generally ignored in understanding causes of war. It is equally disregarded in understanding its dynamics and impact. Attempts to figure out war through a gender perspective have largely been inhabited by, among other factors, the myth that war is a gender-neutral phenomenon, affecting all types of victims: men, women and children.
War is brutal, but it differentiates and women are the most affected victims of war. 75 percent of fatalities in armed conflicts are women and children and they also comprise 80 per cent of the world’s displaced people and refugees. Women also face high levels of gender-based violence in armed conflict areas. Sexual and gender-based violence can be used as a tactic to disempower other communities or humiliate the enemy and, in many cases, happens as a by-product of the escalating violence associated with war. Women, additionally, play an active role in war. They can be complicit in war atrocities. More remarkably, they can be agents, who are capable of finding ways to resist the enemy, cope with war, and process (differently) their painful experiences.
In the policy world, discussions about the impact of violence and armed conflict on women has just recently entered the international landscape. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed the resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, the first UN resolution to address the impact of war on women and women’s contributions to peace-building. Negotiations and meetings in the UN about terrorism, war, and security are currently accompanied by references to “gender mainstreaming”, urging member states and stakeholders to adopt a gender perspective towards armed conflicts.
This recent attention to gender as an essential component of war and peacemaking efforts in the security sector, however, has not been matched by scholarly attention. Much of scholarly work in conflict and international studies is still neglectful of gender dynamics in thinking through war and conflict dynamics.
It is, therefore, urgent to cultivate a gender-based sense in the study of war. Scholars and researchers have to dig deeper to make sense of the intersection between gender and political or ideological violence. They, accordingly, have to look for women spaces in the larger war space, listen more attentively to pain, losses, and traumas they have suffered, and attune to their knowledge and values. Study of war should go hand in hand with gender as a unit of analysis and continually and constantly interrogate how gender shapes war and how war shapes gender.
In respect to the Syrian War, women were not quite visible in formal peacemaking negotiations. However, they have been present and active in restructuring themselves and their communities during the war. Among these spaces were virtual ones where Syrian women have been active. One site is the blog of Women Now: Empowering Syrian Women, the product of the “Press Training” program in 2017 to enable Syrian women to write about their experiences and realities in a professional way. A product like this would have been expected to have a text-based and factual orientation. But it defies journalistic and text-based expectations to be a repository of visually captivating stories.