On the Frontline: Gender, War and the Post Conflict Process


Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-20

Posted: 22 Aug 2011

See all articles by Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School; The Queens University of Belfast

Dina Francesca Haynes

New England Law | Boston

Naomi Cahn

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: May 11, 2011


On the Frontlines gives a comprehensive overview of the post-conflict terrain as it is experienced by women across multiple jurisdictions and in the wake of numerous conflicts. In creating and applying the concept of gender centrality the book addresses how gender can be made central to a range of post-conflict processes, and in so doing how the experiences of marginality and exclusion for women can be structurally and substantively addressed. The book draws on a range of contemporary feminist theorizing to frame its analysis of how gender is pivotal to the post-conflict context. We address: intervention, peacekeeping, development, rule of law, constitution making, DDR, security sector reform, truth processes, and criminal accountability for gender based violence.

Countries in the post-conflict transition process provide multiple opportunities for transformation on many different levels, including accountability for human rights violations committed during hostilities; reforming local and national laws; reintegration of soldiers; rehabilitation and redress for victims; the establishment or reestablishment of the rule of law, human rights institutions, and governance structures; changing cultural attitudes; and improving socioeconomic conditions. These opportunities are rare in stable and non-transitional societies and explain in part why societies in conflict garner such significant international and institutional attention. The opportunities for massive transformation are, in theory, open-ended.

We explore the role that gender plays in the construction and implementation of the post-conflict transitional process. The book’s approach is feminist in form and in methodology. Multiple strands of feminist theorization provide the foundations for our analysis and some offer contradictory advice on how to proceed. As feminist scholars influenced by varying theoretical outlooks, we draw on a wide range of feminist approaches and theories to inform our thinking on the numerous issues addressed. Viewing processes of transition in conflicted societies through the lens of the multifaceted social movement that constitutes feminist theory and action provides a unique means to assess political, social, and economic change as it works or does not work for women. This methodological choice affirms the importance of a gender lens by firmly unmasking the ways in which situations and constructs appear neutral, but are in practice gendered masculine. We situate the visibility of women’s concerns to the forefront of our inquiries and ultimately seek a recalibration that requires a rethinking of both the masculine and the feminine in conflicted and post-conflict settings.

Conflicts affect both men and women, but women face additional issues during and after wars that men do not, including, of course, pervasive sexual violence, forced impregnation, reproductive violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and forced abortion. Women and their children experience internal displacement and dominate the refugee populations across conflicts. Women are also differentially affected because of their role as the primary caretaker of the household and family. In this regard, traditional gender dichotomies may be further entrenched and exacerbated during times of extreme violence. By contrast, during some conflicts in which aspects of a functioning state and economy continue to exist, women can take on roles as workers and laborers outside of the home, opportunities which would never transpire were the society not in conflict. In this way, as other feminist scholars have noted, conflict opens up intended and unintended spaces for empowerment, “effecting structural and social transformations and producing new social, economic and political realities that redefine gender and caste hierarchies.” In other conflicts, however, women are the least often employed or employable because of their often legally enforced second-class status in many conflict zones. Across most post-conflict transitions, women are the first to be fired and the last to be hired with the large exception of the false economy build-up around the presence of the international community, in which women are paid to fill the “camp follower” positions as housekeepers, cooks, administrative employees, and, of course, for sex. Peacemaking agreements and transitional structures, however, rarely account for these paradoxical roles.

The primary focus of this book is surveying the interplay of gender with conflict and post-conflict processes, allied with the recognition that women must be central to the powerful and transformative potential of the post-conflict terrain. Conflict-ending and transitional processes are already deeply gendered, drawing on existing cultural, legal, and political practices that are deeply embedded across societies and cultures. The entrenched gender coding of such processes is predominantly masculine and operates to include or make women visible in highly selective ways. A core concern here is the assumption by states and international institutions that conflict endings are the same for women as for men. We consistently challenge that assumption. We also contest the idea that the end of conflict constitutes the end of violence, confrontation, vulnerability, or related manifestations of war for women. As the motif of this book’s title suggests, women are invariably at the frontline of conflict, in the physical and metaphysical sense. Their bodies are in the frontline of military strategy and targeting, and the social networks and spaces women maintain are also frontline targets for destruction and undoing. As examples from multiple jurisdictions indicate, the formal end of hostilities between generally male combatants often have little effect on the quality of life for women as they remain vulnerable and at the vanguard of hazards and threats despite paper agreements between elite actors.

Keywords: gender

Suggested Citation

Ni Aolain, Fionnuala D. and Haynes, Dina Francesca and Cahn, Naomi R., On the Frontline: Gender, War and the Post Conflict Process (May 11, 2011). ON THE FRONTLINE: GENDER, WAR AND THE POST CONFLICT PROCESS, Oxford University Press, 2011, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-20, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1838490

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain (Contact Author)

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

Dina Francesca Haynes

New England Law | Boston ( email )

154 Stuart St.
Boston, MA 02116

Naomi R. Cahn

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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