Returning Home: Women in Post-Conflict Societies

71 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2010

See all articles by Naomi Cahn

Naomi Cahn

University of Virginia School of Law

Dina Francesca Haynes

New England Law | Boston

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School; The Queens University of Belfast


This paper explores the situation of women returning to their homes and communities after their countries have experienced major conflicts. In that context, it assesses the range of barriers and challenges that women face and offers some thinking to addresses and remedy these complex issues. As countries face the transition process, they can begin to measure the conflict’s impact on the population and the civil infrastructure. Not only have people been displaced from their homes, but, typically, health clinics, schools, roads, businesses, and markets have deteriorated substantially. While the focus is on humanitarian aid in the midst of and during the immediate aftermath, the focus turns to development-based activities for the longer-term.

Development activities provide a significant opportunity (and mandate) to ensure that gender is central to the transitional process. Here we take gender centrality to be a first principle of response – namely planning, integrating and placing gender at the heart of the development response to conflict. First, many of the post-conflict goals cannot be implemented when the population is starving, homeless, and mistrustful of government-sponsored services. Women constitute the overwhelming proportion of refugees displaced by war; not responding to their specific needs to return home dooms the reconstruction process. Second, women are central to any socioeconomic recovery process.

The paper first looks at the need to integrate development and post-conflict, and then turns to an analysis of why gender matters. It then looks at development as both a short and long-term process, using the model of “social services justice” to describe immediate needs as the country begins the peace stabilization process. Social services justice serves as an “engendered” bridge between conflict and security, running the temporal spectrum from humanitarian relief through post conflict to longer term development, any of which is inclusive of transitional justice. The goal throughout is to respond to the immediate needs of the population post-conflict, ranging from livelihoods to health to education.

Keywords: refugees, post-conflict, gender, development, human rights, immigration

JEL Classification: D63, F22, J16,J61

Suggested Citation

Cahn, Naomi R. and Haynes, Dina Francesca and Ni Aolain, Fionnuala D., Returning Home: Women in Post-Conflict Societies. University of Baltimore Law Review, Forthcoming, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 500, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 500, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-14, Available at SSRN:

Naomi R. Cahn (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Dina Francesca Haynes

New England Law | Boston ( email )

154 Stuart St.
Boston, MA 02116

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-2318 (Phone)
612-625-2011 (Fax)

The Queens University of Belfast ( email )

University Square
Belfast, County Down
Northern Ireland

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