By Emma Batha
LONDON (TrustLaw) - War-torn countries trying to break repeated cycles of violence should closely involve women in building a more resilient, wealthy and secure society.
That’s one of the lessons that can be learnt from nations making successful transitions from conflict to peace, according to this year’s World Bank development report.
Providing examples from Nepal to Nicaragua, the report says involving women in security and justice reforms as well as economic empowerment programmes can deliver quick results and support longer term institutional change.
For example, including women in the security forces can help rebuild confidence between citizens and the state.
Employing women police officers not only makes it easier for women to report crimes like rape, it increases the trust of the civilian population in the security sector, the World Bank says. Studies on policing have also found that female officers are better at defusing potentially violent situations.
Haiti, Liberia, Namibia, Nicaragua and Sierra Leone have all seen the benefits of introducing women into the force or increasing their participation. Some have also set up special units to handle cases of rape and domestic abuse.
Nicaragua’s police force has been described as the most women-friendly in the region and has been praised for its success in addressing sexual violence. Reforms initiated in the 1990s include providing police training on sexual and physical violence against women and introducing women’s police stations staffed by female police officers.
The report says widespread rape and violence against women is a characteristic of many contemporary civil wars which are often waged by small, poorly trained groups who can unleash great brutality on civilian populations.
Women are also far more likely than men to be uprooted by war; women and children make up close to 80 percent of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people.
The World Bank says helping women to recover socially and economically from violence not only benefits the women themselves, but also their families and communities. And targeting women’s economic empowerment can have more lasting effects on women’s status than national gender action plans.
The report cites a women’s programme in the southern Nepal which has produced a small but significant social shift within just a few years. The project provided training for 130,000 women from 1999 to 2001. Almost half gained a level of literacy, and two-thirds started a business, giving them an independent source of income for the first time.
However, women in fragile and post-conflict countries often face many challenges in setting up businesses, the World Bank says. Hurdles include limited mobility and access to markets, restricted access to credit, restrictive social attitudes and discriminatory legislation.
Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, has a host of laws which make it difficult for women to work. Married women need marital authorisation to start a business and banks generally require the husband’s approval if his wife wants a loan.
Women run only 18 percent of small businesses in Congo. But women in neighbouring Rwanda, which has no such regulations, run more than 41 percent of small businesses.
However, these legal, financial and social obstacles are not insurmountable, the report says. It cites efforts in Afghanistan to promote women’s access to finance, moves in Liberia to improve women’s participation in the national reconstruction effort and business mentoring opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Iraq.
The World Bank highlights women’s inclusion as one of five key areas of importance for states wanting to link rapid confidence-building measures to longer term institutional transformation. But its dense 325-page report contains relatively little discussion of women’s roles in state-building - which is perhaps a fairly accurate reflection of just how marginalised women are in many conflict-affected countries.
However, it is not just national governments which sideline women. In the last decade, less than 7 percent of negotiators on official delegations in peace processes have been women, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women.