Regional Dialogues on Women Building Peace
'Strengthening Women Building Peace in South Asia', Kathmandu, June 25-28, 2001
What could women living in the ‘garrisoned' Kashmir valley have in common with women coming from a militarized situation of 50 years of a ‘self determination' struggle in Nagaland? What could women living in conflict polarized Sri Lanka have to share with women faced with fault lines dividing once co-existing communities in Manipur? Indeed, could the identity of women as a potential peace group produce an alternative narrative to bridge the emerging conflict divide between Metei and Naga or Kuki and Naga women? Could Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) and Kashmiri Muslim women find a common language born of pain and grief to begin a dialogue reaching beyond the blaming syndrome towards empathetic mutual understanding? Could women forge a coalition on the basis of cross cutting identities challenging polarised Sinhala-Tamil or Tamil-Muslim ethnic constructs? That is, beyond their common identity as victims, do these women have the potential to mobilize as a constituency for peace? The Kathmandu regional workshop was organised to engage with these questions.
It brought peace activists negotiating conflicts in Sri Lanka, Kashmir and North East (India), to explore what they could learn from each other. Could they learn to empathetically listen and talk to each other across the conflict divide and to move beyond victimhood to recognizing the need and value of mobilizing together for peace. It also drew upon the resources of women activist scholars from New Delhi, Dhaka and Lahore. The workshop benefited from the participation of some S E Asian delegates of Harvard University's Women Waging Peace network.
The Kathmandu workshop set itself the task of a) mainstreaming gender in the peace process including reconstruction and rehabilitation; b) heightening the profile of women's peace activism at the humanitarian and political level; c) empowering and safeguarding the ambivalent gains in gender relations arising from conflict and d) constructing gendered maps and developing a methodology of cartographic representation by women of their experience of militarization of civilian space and co-existence.
The workshop sought to strike a balance between creating awareness and hands on practical strategies of coalition building and mobilization. It explored the process of how gender identities get constructed in national struggles, identities that undermine women's autonomy of being. The workshop affirmed the importance of recognizing women's activism as political and the need to translate authority in the informal sphere into the formal sphere of politics.
The Kathmandu workshop experimented with an exercise in gendered mapping of conflicts, urging the women individually and collectively to map or spatially represent their lived experience. The mapping exercise like women's testimonies seeks to validate women's particular experience and reveal the gendered nature of that experience. It challenges the dominant geo-political representation of conflict (parallel to constructing women's histories of conflict which challenge the dominant historical narrative) by constructing maps from the margins - from women's perspectives. The methodology de-centres maps which are drawn from a state centric perspective, that is, where knowledge tends to be constructed from locations of political, economic and cultural power and privilege. Instead, gendered maps privilege private topography as opposed to public topography.
Women were invited to use their imagination and in-depth understanding to represent their lived experience of militarized civilian space. The activity was successful in providing an alternative form of communication. Indeed, map-making afforded a structure and a focus for women to dialogue that was seen as less confrontational that the formal structure of participants around a table proved at times to be. Each participant's (or group's) map provided an opportunity to represent an individualized (or group) perspective to the participants. Grassroots activists tended to construct maps of their conflict zones and their places within those conflicts, often drawing themselves or their homes into the scenario. A juxtaposition of maps representing the experience of women across conflict divided spaces, produced new meanings and understandings of co-relations, similarities and differences. See the SAFHR publication on the proceedings of the Kathmandu workshop titled ‘Women Making Peace' for examples of gendered mapping.