Women for Human Rights has travelled twenty-one long years of not-stop journey aiming to address the multiple marginalization of single woman in Nepal. During these turbulent years, it has treasured valuable experience of building a community of single women including those of conflict victims which is committed to wipe out their tears away, re-sparkle eyes and dispel melancholy. The current discussion on strategic plan is reflective exercise to craft the governing mechanism of its policies and uplift women’s critical mass at the decision making level. In this context, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, one of its oldest partners, congratulates WHR’s leadership’s incessant struggle to keep single woman’s hopes alive, wishes success in its social enterprises and expresses solidarity to its vision and to its dream.
I recall WHR’s journey to peacemaking began much before the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) was signed. The display of drama in Dang portraying the plight of war widows and relief support to them had created an emotional moment and awakened the sleeping humanity of Nepali society. It projected women’s experience and perspective in peace. Self-sacrifice love to those in distress is a powerful praxis to change the society. The participatory peace building based on livelihood economy, social inclusion, justice, accountability and life-supporting resources undertaken by WHR are essential to eliminate conflict-producing causes and make a journey to peace rewarding. The spirit of CPA has yet to sensitize the leaders to resolve the vicious nexus between structural injustice and conflict and engage them in modern politics—a politics that can persuade them to act for public interest and choose not violence as an instrument of politics but engage in the rational construction of social and political order. The experience of WHR in supporting multi-dimensional peace during ongoing conflict and after the peace accord by giving desperate woman a genuine hope for survival and their children dignified living radiated across the nation and the world.
The journey to provide Chhahari (shade) for single woman has inspired others to join its rhythms. So does the realization of their rights, justice, peace and recognition. Regular hands-on training on alternative leadership, a leadership from civil society of single women can inspire more others in cooperative action and enlarge the area of peace. It is crucial in Nepal because the perils of violence have not dissipated nor has society been totally pacified for peaceful cooperation. The dark cloud of renewed violence trembles the fledgling foundation of its democracy and puts salts in women’s war wounds. Top political leaders habitually think peace in terms of monopoly, oligopoly and balance of power, not in terms of truth, reconciliation and distributive justice. The game of United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led 30-party alliance and a coalition of Nepali Congress led ruling parties does not promise better human prospect. So long as they are not able to look beyond power calculation to a future of public good they will be boxed in their own partial framework, muddle around and cannot achieve negotiated social contract. Irresolution of many contesting issues at the top such as power-sharing, nature of polity, federalism, judiciary, land reforms, election system and citizenship have overshadowed root causes of conflict, exposed women to the state of nature and unveiled the utility of bottom up equitable solution of conflict.
The experience of conflict-victim women and men in coping with the conflict is particularly useful because their experiences differ from that of other women. It is also because of inherent gendered power relations, dissimilar need for transitional justice and a growing recognition to redefinition of gender role in society and life. Reform in these areas including knowledge production, policy engagement and re-socialization is likely to expunge the bourgeois separation between the private and the public sphere and conflict between the principle of women's equal role in peace building and the general conduct of political life in Nepal.
State and Non-State Obligations
The contribution of international community to enable Nepal implement the provisions of the UN Conference in 1985 in Nairobi aiming to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women, their participation at all levels of society and their role in education for peace is vital. Approving the changing narratives and resolutions of women's global conferences, Nepal has gradually reformed its laws, practices and institutions as well as increased the representation of women in the institutions of governance.
The Beijing Conference stressed on gender-balanced participation in conflict resolution, peace, security and decision-making at national and international levels through the structural transformation of public sphere. The state is implementing the National Plan of Action on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and 1820 for the prevention, protection, relief and rehabilitation of women affected by armed conflict. The Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security” provides multi-track engagements of women in sustainable peace building. It supports local women’s struggle and home-grown processes based on equitable distribution of social, economic and political power between men and women. Likewise, Nepali state is implementing National Plan of Action on UN Security Council Resolution 1612 for the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Children affected by armed conflict. NGOs, community organizations, civil society, human rights bodies, media and social movement groups at the local level have become active agents of peaceful social change, dialogue, mediation, reconciliation and peace-building. The reconciliatory rituals-civic and peace education, volunteerism, charity, compassion and public action have healing effects.
In Nepal, peace building approach includes the engagement of potential and left-out actors of society including single woman. Reconstruction—physical, social and spiritual—requires faith-based, homegrown and experience-based international approaches. Single woman’s equal participation in conflict management, transformation and reconciliation can help reconstruct a shattered society, heal the wounds of war and address conflict residues.
Non-Linear Approach to Peace and Justice
A peaceful order in Nepal can be possible if there are substantive changes in the attitudes and institutions. This means knowledge should be rooted in enlightenment, politics in cooperative action, economy in peace, culture in tolerance, society in conciliation, structure and policy on survival rationality of species and peace with nature. There are some specific points to be pursued:
First, wider engagement of single woman at various level of society in the promotion of democratic values and institutions and civic initiatives can liberate politics from impunity and expand social rights in public and private life. It can lead to their empowerment in multi-sectoral areas—legislative, executive and judiciary and public sphere. Politics is essentially public and politicization of single woman can increase their leadership, participation in public affairs, such as voting, discussion, experience sharing, social learning and finding solution of practical problems.
Second, in times of political transition, WHR has offered single women a choice to discover, envision and learn about the cost of conflict and benefit of peace giving them both confidence and ability to plan ahead. Political and economic choice can be exercised through adequate awareness about the rights, responsibilities and opportunities created by the constitution of Nepal. Offering single woman learning opportunities enabled them to reflect their conditions of life and engage in reform and rationalization.
Third, post-conflict context requires Nepal to transform economy of violence into economy of peace--income-generating, skill-oriented jobs, cooperatives and management of saving and credit. These roles rightly assumed by WHR aim to mitigate the suffering of women, earn them livelihood and regain self-confidence and increase their share in provision and production of goods and services. Many conflict-victim women who are hard core poor require means and skills to sustain their living and uphold the future of their children.
Fourth, engagement of single woman in peace advocacy, peace education and peace movement by highlighting the importance of connection of victims of conflicts, engagement in solidarity and non-violent change motivated them to engage in the invocation of just peace that is both participatory and democratic.
Positive peace in Nepal is linked to the promulgation of a new social contract. Nepalese civil society groups have demanded women and children as well as educational institutions as a “zone of peace.” The CPA, Local Peace Committee, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, etc provide space for conflict affected women certain roles in reconciliation, trauma healing and peace dividends. Emergency Peace Support Project of Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction offers support to conflict affected families, families of widows killed in conflict and capacity building. Similarly, multi-donor Nepal Peace Trust Fund supports them in justice, jobs and human security and helps bridge the “empathy gaps” between the rival sides. Likewise, the Emergency Fund of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare has created another window of opportunity for single women to tap the resource. The duty of civil society including WHR rest on exposing the irrationality of brutal acts such gender-based violence. Creating level playing field for men and women, reporting about human rights and peace indicators and searching for common ground for cooperation at various levels of society are equally essential. Constant monitoring of media about the health of the nation enables the political leaders not to lose sight of ever-changing nature of conflicts and create political will for women's voice, visibility and collective action.
The post-CPA conflict dynamics opened at societal level requires multi-track approaches including enhanced role of single woman in peace building. It also entails undistorted communication about hostility-fuelling sources— faith, reason, greed and needs deficits, removal of misconception and beginning of trust-building policies and institutions. Behind the success of WHR are trust, team work, transparency and ability to offer voice to war-traumatized and limping women. Its conflict-sensitivity lens has informed both policy and decision-makers to understand the increasing complexity of the life of single woman, suggested the optimal choices to solve it and elicited their partnership in its pursuit of positive peace.
Peace-enhancing reeducation of family, community, society, media, civil society and political institutions can stoke the spirit of civility capable of detesting blind faith, disciplining criminals, rights violators and conspirators and enabling women to use their rights as a matter of civic virtue. Conflict-sensitive socialization can reform the irrationality of dominant actors' position and interests and incline them toward a civic culture of compromise, reconciliation and peace—the ideal paths of democracy. Civic bodies ought to free themselves from the frame of parochial politics based on patriarchy and hierarchy and articulate the shared vision of all citizens. WHR has enabled the constructive participation of the victims of violence in the pursuit of restoring single woman’s dignity, built society's trust in them and helped transform the links between structural injustice and spiral of violence against weaker sections of society.
Single woman’s condition of peaceful life can flourish in the realization of their positive and negative rights and improved opportunity and dignity. The rehabilitation and integration of combatants are good signs. It helped to increase the outreach of the state in society. But the implementation of peace building measures requires constant social learning to changing conflict dynamics around power-sharing, unresolved grievances and violence against women and children. Stakeholders’ solutions requires each actor to communicate public purpose, restore the balance of state-society ties, pursue mediation efforts and offer human security. Active participation of single women is vital in breaking the cycle of violence. What they need is participatory resources as social stratification affects the efficacy of participation.
Conflict is rooted into interest, ideology and identity. Peace, by contrast, is rooted in the culture of promotion of human rights and human values and justice which turn peace into a common good. An integrated strategy for peace building begins with reconciliation, trauma healing, counseling, reintegration and renewal of civic life. Recovery requires extensive collaboration among political parties, law and order agencies, media, women's associations and international development partners. I believe, WHR has learned a lesson that a stable peace rests on collaborative efforts of women and men in sharing the social burden, a common process of learning about a public culture of democracy and economy of peace and fill the mind of single woman with hope and feed them the spirit of creative action.
Dahal is Head, FES Nepal Office