STORY

Women’s agency in war and peace

Placeholder Video training in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Image: Berghof Foundation

Although women sometimes comprise up to 30 per cent of the membership of armed resistance and liberation movements, their voices and aspirations are regularly sidelined during peace negotiations and post-war transitions. The important role played by female combatants through participation in the conflict is often difficult to translate into participation in peace processes and post-war political settings, where men routinely assume the leadership positions and presume women will find their place in the domestic sphere.

In 2019, the Berghof Foundation provided support to women in eight resistance and liberation movements to enhance their inclusion in peace processes, during peace negotiations and political transitions, and documented the experiences of five other groups after transition has been completed.

We worked with six local researchers, all of whom are themselves ex-combatants from demobilised armed groups in Aceh (Indonesia), Burundi, Mindanao (Philippines), and Nepal. The researchers collected and shared firsthand knowledge of the experiences of female combatants and their engagement in political transformation processes. Overall, they recorded 43 video interviews with their peers, identifying key lessons learned from their shared experiences.

The resulting short film and booklet, ‘I Have To Speak’ – Voices of Female Ex-Combatants, seek to amplify some of the hidden and forgotten voices in conflict and show that women and their experiences of armed conflict need to be taken seriously in order to build sustainable peace. They also aim to show other female ex-combatants that they are not alone in their sense of being marginalised during such war-to-peace transitions, and that they have reason to feel empowered by their strength and resilience.

Hopefully, this book can provide a lesson to our friends in other countries who are still in conflict so they can learn from the determination, enthusiasm and struggles we have documented.Salawati S.PD., teacher and action researcher, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

The stories collected are those of friendship and camaraderie, of life and death, of perseverance and resistance, and of rebuilding lives after war and continuing the struggle in peaceful ways. Tripani Baijali, one of our Nepal researchers, urges “[the women’s] political awareness, skill, and experiences should be transformed into useful human resources for the mainstream political scene by creating opportunities for them.”

The interviews, film and stories are now used to train and build the capacities of women in resistance and liberation movements who are currently in the process of emerging from armed struggle.

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