Imagine this. Decades of death, hundreds of thousands killed. Men raiding, burning, killing, committing mind-numbing atrocities against their neighbours, retaliation following upon retaliation. A collage of images of women and children; their villages and homes still smouldering in the background, gathering the children, rescuing the pots and pans, stoking fires, warming dahl.
And then imagine those women leaving their pots for awhile, 104 of them, rolling up their sleeves, hiking up their kurti, elbows out, taking all manner of transport from Nagaland and Meghalaya and Manipur to Guwahati in the state of Assam to get themselves trained, equipped to step out of their place, to take their place.
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War is a rather gendered thing
The Washington Post has named the North East of India as one of the six most under-reported war zones in the world. Six hundred thousand people have died. Male combatants make war and male combatants are given priority at tables of peace negotiations. Women are expected to accept ‘top-down solutions imposed on them’ in the course of discussions to which they have not been invited. As if ‘you need a gun to get to the table’.
A recent op-ed in the Toronto Star posed the question: ‘Why are women not included in peacebuilding efforts?’ Exactly our question. Because we know it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing. The International Peace Institute analysed 156 peace agreements and found that, when women are included, there was a 35% increase in the chances of accords lasting more than 15 years. We know that ‘equality between the sexes is directly linked to peaceful societies; better security for women means that countries are more security and experience lower levels of conflict and war.’ As one of my posters says, ‘When any society marginalises 50% of its population, it condemns itself to a permanent warrior culture and permanent underdevelopment.’ Then why the ongoing exclusion?
Women who have had the opportunity to challenge social norms that limit their participation at tables of all sorts – from the kitchen table to tables of economic, social and political decision-making — are like butterflies emerging from their pupa. Enter these 104 women, sleeves rolled up, leaving the kitchen to the family to sort out, ready to transform themselves into agents of change, agents of peace. They’ve had enough. They’ve had enough of the domestic violence within that escalates in tandem with identity-fueled violence without. Weary of losing their mother’s grip on sons training for war. Weary of starting over again.
I’m thinking, women bring a different perspective, more aware of the economic, social, cultural and political rules that get in the way of their agency – and in the way of peace; perhaps less attached to the history and the boxes that divide tribe from tribe. And so that’s where we’ll begin. I am imagining that very large circle of 104 women and finding out what they believe they bring that’s different; what’s missing and why they are confident they can fill the gap. And what do we need to do in order to make that happen. STAY TUNED! and DONATE!