My First Book Review

The Aftermath: Women In Post-Conflict Transformation Editors: Meintjes, Sheila; Pillay, Anu; and Turshen, Meredeth Paperback, 2002; 258 pages; Zed Books Ltd, London and New York ISBN: Hb 1 84277 066 7 Pb 1 84277 067 5 Women and children displaced by conflict in a camp in Azerbaijan. © UNFPA Azerbaijan. Photo by Farid Khayrulin. images (9)

War is only half the story. The other half of the story is of conflict – the story of what it takes for individuals to learn to live again, to rebuild destroyed lives and homes, to restore civil societies, to address the lingering wounds of war while struggling to create new avenues for peace. There is great optimism in the words of the polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, “Reality demands that we mention this: Life goes on”.“The Aftermath: Women in Post-Conflict Transformation”, an edited multidisciplinary volume, explicitly aims to broaden that understanding of what “Life goes on” really mean for women who had undergone the tribulations of war and armed conflict. It is the other half of the story – that of conflict – that puts them into more hardships and trauma. Their identity and relationships are at stake as they wake up to new realities, new understanding of their community, and a wish for reconciliation, even as they reach out to build solidarity and construct peace. It analyses how everyday life is politicised and they are victimized by a culture of violence that quickly bleeds into all aspects of the social and civic arena. It raises questions about the lacking of men as to what makes them inflict violence on women. It shows how violence is legitimised as a means of maintaining the status quo, sustaining power, or achieving change. This book shows how it is often too late for women in the aftermath to transform patriarchal gender relations of power and authoritarianism. The authors admit that they do not fully understand why gender roles revert in the aftermath. However, they illuminate the dynamics of the making of identities, the institutions that govern social and behavioural norms, and the different levels of the state. With numerous case studies they substantiate their claim that reconstruction plans are usually blind to gender issues.The book is based on many workshops and conferences and is divided into two parts – the running themes; and contemporary case studies – to illustrate the wartime gains and potential for transformation in the post-war period. The authors indicate the great diversity of women in varied situations of war-torn societies and show how limiting the response of international agencies is when survivors are lumped together in one category. Paradoxically, they highlight the opportunities that war offers for women to transform their lives and how these war-time gains are drowned in the pain and suffering that they encounter. They fail to consolidate their gains as they are denied autonomy, sexual control, and access to resources. During war women are caught up in struggles over large and small assets. The politically and militarily strong try to wrest assets from the weak. Through continuous exposure to violence, women are not only stripped of their economic assets, but also of their political assets, which are their virtue and their reputation. The book is definitely of new taste and just like a Hollywood wartime movie, is packed with gripping experiences full of action, grief, emotions and intrigue: “Women left behind whatever they had and ran for security. Sometimes they left their children behind or threw them into the river because they couldn’t copeanymore.” (p.7)In another riveting experience in the Zimbabwean war, Nancy Saungweme reminisces: “ … I was beaten; my buttocks hurt. Sometimes I wished I were dead…. Whilesome people suffered beatings, others died from disease. Our hair was full of lice.Jigger flies ate away the flesh between our toes. To me that was the war.” (p. 67)The discussion on the underlying causes of violence against women though might seem inadequate, yet the book is an honest attempt to highlight the psychological construct that reduces women to property and objectifies them as the “other”. The authors have tried to trace the roots of the backlashes of war in the older generation’s attempt to reassert control and re-establish traditions. They have identified the seeds of transformation and showed the important role of solidarity with women in conflict zones. They appeal to develop conscious strate

Source: My First Book Review

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