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Gendered Conflict

Anuradha Chenoy

By Caroline O.N. Moser and Fiona C. Clarke
Zed Books , published in South Asia by Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 243, Rs. 300.00


Despite the volumes written on wars and conflicts there has been a vacuum in research that examines the gender aspects of political violence. Most traditional analysis of conflicts had a subliminal masculinity inherent in the texts. This is now being rectified with a surge of new work that inquires into the gender aspects of political violence and armed conflict. Current research looks at the multiple roles that women have in conflict situations from victims, supporters, caregivers, and peacemakers to re-builders in conflict and post-conflict situations. Moser and Clark’s edited volume is a collection of research around these themes, with additional questions that are raised.   The introduction sets a tone for the arguments of this collection by stating that while political violence is perceived as male domain, fought and negotiated by men, yet conflict and violence is gendered. Women are perceived to be victims even when they have multiple roles and men are perceived as heroes even when they were victims. There is a clear distinction in perceptions as women’s bodies continue to determine their roles. Of course, as the introduction states, the construction of identities varies with each social context and construction of masculinity varies in different societies. Besides the introduction the collection has two theoretical essays and the rest are case studies on conflict situations.   Cynthia Cockburn’s essay on “The Gendered Dynamics of Armed Conflict and Political Violence” theorizes gender as an integral aspect of power. Cockburn argues that there is need to look at power relations of gender before, during and after conflict when studying political violence, because the gendered aspect of power shapes every site of human interaction from household to inter-state relations. This is evident in all aspects of how women and men’s bodies are nourished, trained and deployed. In the economy it is linked to how property and distribution of resources and in politics of how political power is controlled. Cockburn then goes on to show the importance of uncovering the gender aspect in conflicts and in peace negotiations.   Cockburn’s arguments that militarized societies are necessarily undemocratic however are not fully accurate. As studies show even democratic systems and societies can have aspects of militarism. This militarization is contested by other ideologies but they nonetheless exist. For instance, take the most blatant example of the USA. The post September 11, 2001, events showed how easily that society constructed an enemy ‘other’, resorted ...

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