Discourses about women and conflict often focus on women’s sacrifice or their innate affinity for peace (Smeuler, 2015; Alison, 2004; Afshar, 2003). Indeed, as a vulnerable population worldwide, women are uniquely affected by conflict and suffer particularly (Smeulers, 2015; Parashar, 2009; Carter, 1996); This manifests itself in the targeted combating of women and girls through systematic sexual assault and slavery, as well as in the economic responsibility that many women have to assume when the men in their families fight or are killed, wounded or imprisoned (Yusuf, 2009). . In this narrative of women as victims or peacemakers, female fighters have to be understood somehow. Why does it include a woman who should naturally abhor violence? Often she is branded as brainwashing; she must have suffered from Stockholm Syndrome; she cannot possibly have chosen this for herself (Gowrinathan, 2018b). Many women fighters, especially those in rebel groups or paramilitaries, are actually kidnapped first or feel that they have no choice but to join. However, some of these women continue to take leadership roles in their organizations and stand up for the cause. Calling them brainwashing is denying them freedom of choice (Gowrinathan, 2012; 2018b).
As “liberation movements”, both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Colombia could not only provide ideological space for the inclusion of women, but also for the improvement of their position in a future society, which leads to a high number of committed women in their ranks. But was this theoretical commitment born in practice? And what happens to women fighters if the liberation offers from their organizations fail? This article uses the literature on gender in war and peace to examine the role female combatants – and their representation as political actors – play in the LTTE and the FARC both during and after violence. Ultimately, it turned out that in the absence of a victory, the gender realities of these combatants improved very little, if at all.
Women in Conflict and Peace: Agency
Stockholm syndrome was first coined in a bank robbery in the Swedish capital (Namnyak et al., 2008). Two women were held hostage by robbers, and yet in negotiations with the police she insisted that the safety of their kidnappers be ensured – a criminologist and psychiatrist present at the negotiations claimed they must have a syndrome to behave like this. One of the women, Kristin Enmark, is quoted as saying, “If you say that these girls or I have this syndrome, you don’t have to pay attention to what they are saying” (Gowrinathan, 2018b). Natasha Kampusch, another woman “diagnosed” with the syndrome, describes it as follows: “Stockholm Syndrome victimizes victims a second time by depriving them of the power to interpret their own history – and by making the most important experiences from their history transformed into the product of a syndrome ”(ibid). Namnyak et al. Questioning whether the syndrome is really nothing more than an “urban myth”; They argue that “the existing literature does very little to support their existence … We also suggest that labeling the hostage victim with psychiatric syndrome makes their story more readable and is more likely to promote media circulation” (2008: 10), possibly due to the social anchorage of gender roles and views about women.
If women are not seen as agents, as full beings, it is the responsibility of society (read: men) to look after them and protect them, but also to control them. In this context, it is easy to understand how killing unarmed women provokes more outrage than killing unarmed men. how violence committed by women provokes greater repulsion than that committed by men (Smeulers, 2015; Gentry & Sjoberg, 2015). Many feminists argue that when women are given the chance, they can lead better. Of course, they tend to listen, to care, to compromise. This explanation may be flattering, but it is essential. It is assumed that all women share basic traits based on their biology (Gentry & Sjoberg, 2015); It is the same reasoning (though applied differently) that justifies the patriarchal systems that have oppressed women for thousands of years. It is not for the benefit of women or feminism or liberation to paint women as all good things – women are complex and chaotic, like all humans by nature by their humanity (ibid.). In short, women, like men, contain a multitude. Cages are cages regardless of the material they are made of.
In 2016, President Juan Manuel Santos achieved what many believed was impossible: He successfully negotiated a peace agreement with the FARC that will hopefully bring the persistent and bloody war between government forces, paramilitaries and the FARC to an end (Alvarado Cóbar et al., 2018) . Since it emerged as an independent state in the early 19th century, the history of Colombia has been marked by extreme violence, predominantly between the political right and the left. It is debatable when today’s conflict actually began, with some tracing it back to the 1960s and others to the beginning of the Republic. But whether one regards its creation as La ViolenciaIt is clear that a period in the 1940s and 1950s marked by intense conflict between the Conservative and Liberal parties, or seen as a suitable starting point for the land reform campaigns of the 1930s, stems from a long history of political turmoil ( Aranguren Romero), 2017).
La Violencia began in 1948 and lasted ten brutal years as the two ruling parties vied for power. Its completion was announced by the National Front, an agreement to ensure power-sharing through the balancing of conditions. While it ended the violence, it also effectively excluded any political opposition. Closing politics to dissident voices is one of the reasons for the rise of armed insurrections, but the legacy of the FARC rests even stronger in La Violencia. Manuel Marulanda Vélez, Commander-in-Chief of the FARC until his death in 2008, was a guerrilla who at the time was armed by the Liberal Party (Molano, 2007; BBC, 2016). However, the actual formation of the group did not take place until 1964, when the military led communist strongholds led by Vélez and comrades. The other left-wing guerrilla movements in Colombia soon followed: the National Liberation Army (ELN) founded in 1964 and the People’s Liberation Army (EPL) three years later (Molano, 2007).
Right wing paramilitaries emerged in the 1980s and were born out of a government overwhelmed by its struggle against the FARC. They are collectively known as the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) and, like the FARC, are heavily involved in drug trafficking and coca cultivation as the main source of funding (Coleman, 2018a). Because of their killing patterns and widespread human rights violations, the government declared them illegal in 1989 (ibid.). The groups were reportedly decommissioned in the 1990s, but the numerous attacks on community leaders, journalists and left-wing politicians since the peace accords were signed have been attributed to the remnants of the AUC (Long, 2018).
After the Sinhala Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka gained independence from Great Britain in 1948, they quickly built a state that marginalized their Tamil minority by downgrading the Tamil language and designating Buddhism as the official religion of the state. After a period of unsuccessful nonviolent protests, activists turned to violence and the LTTE was born in 1976 (BBC, 2019). While their desire was first for self-determination in a semi-autonomous region, it quickly turned into a campaign for a state of its own. The LTTE fought a series of three Eelam Wars, the first beginning in 1983; The first attempt at peace talks followed in 1985 (ibid.).
During the three decades of civil war, the Tigers controlled large parts of the Tamil-majority country in the north and east of the country and established parallel government structures in these areas (Coleman, 2018b). In addition to the women’s front, the LTTE also includes the Sea Tigers, a naval unit, and the Black Tigers, its suicide commission (ibid). Suicide bombings became increasingly part of their military strategy from 1987 after they were successfully used in the attacks on the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa (De Silva, 2005).
In contrast to Colombia, Sri Lanka’s “peace” came after a failed peace process in 2002 and a possible military victory by the Sri Lankan military over the LTTE in 2009 (BBC, 2019). During the conflict “the number of internally displaced persons ranged from half a million to 1.2 million” (Gowrinathan, 2013: 13), and after the war many of these people remained in camps. Previously, areas controlled by the LTTE were heavily militarized. Gowrinathan (2013) reported that many resettlement villages were directly across from military camps and that the occurrence of checkpoints had increased dramatically after 2009.
Women at war
Although the LTTE’s conflict is ethnically and the FARC’s ideological one, they both have much in common. Alison (2004) argues that “anti-subversive … so-called” liberal “nationalisms often offer women greater ideological and practical space for participation as combatants than institutionalized state or pro-state nationalisms” (448). While the FARC is not strictly a nationalist movement, it is in fact both subversive and liberating. In its ideology Marxist, it therefore pretends to be interested in feminism and gender equality, insofar as these are essential for the foundations of communism (Franco & Sanín, 2017). One can therefore put both the FARC and the LTTE in this framework. Anti-state projects are generally more willing to transgress social norms and therefore include women in their ranks despite the gender roles and taboos that exist in their cultural context (ibid) – this is certainly evident in these organizations, which both reports say are roughly contain 30% women (Gowrinathan, 2013; Franco & Sanín, 2017 – although everyone has claimed much higher percentages at different times).
Indeed, both organizations make their theoretical commitment to women clear. The goals of the LTTE Women’s Front in 1991 demonstrate its intent to “end all discrimination against Tamil women and all other forms of discrimination, and to ensure social, political and economic equality; ensure that Tamil women control their own lives; and to ensure the legal protection of women from sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence ”(Alison, 2003). The FARC’s claim to be “the people’s army” depends on the inclusion of as many sections of the population as possible and indicates that it has “succeeded in creating a racist and gender-neutral organization in which women are treated as equal partners” (Herrera & Porch, 2008).
Although the FARC had been active as an organization since the 1960s, it did not begin to allow women to participate in active struggles until two decades later. In its first iteration, the FARC maintained a “family” structure in which men brought their families with them – the women and children did not fight, but they were present and played other roles such as cooking (Franco & Sanín, 2017). The change in policy came after the organization was renamed an “Army” at the 7th Conference. At this point, they also decided to collect rent to grow coca. Franco & Sanín argue that “based on ideology, the FARC was actually able to see recruiting women as a plausible alternative. Only when the organizational conditions aroused an explicit need did women actually begin to occupy the ranks of the group as fighters ”(2017: 775). Although “all non-state armed political groups in Colombia
have used female fighters … Guerrillas are predominantly female ”(Tabak, 2011: 131).
Most scholars seem to agree that women (and men) join the FARC for want of a better option (Tabak, 2011; Herrera & Porch, 2008). As the organization operates in remote and extremely poor areas of the country, its recruits often do not have many other options. The reasons for joining, however, also focused on idealizing and romanticizing the guerrilla lifestyle, from the desire for weapons to the desire for freedom and community. Women in particular sought refuge from abusive situations and the threat of sexual and other violence (Tabak, 2011; Ebrahimi-Tsamis, 2018). While it is difficult to argue that women were not sexually exploited within the FARC, many of its female members enjoyed the sexual freedom offered as a haven for a strongly patriarchal culture (Herrera & Porch, 2008). Conversely, the most common cause of desertion among women in the FARC was their policies on contraception and abortion: former combatants report that the introduction of an IUD or similar part was part of the women’s focus. Despite these preventive measures, women became pregnant regularly and had the most frequent abortions (Amnesty International, 2004; Piñeros, 2018). Victoria Sandino, currently Senator of the FARC and one of the women who rose in the ranks of the organization, described its policy as follows: “Motherhood and war are incompatible” (Piñeros, 2018).
Similar to their male counterparts, female recruits most frequently cited nationalism as the reason for joining the LTTE (Alison, 2003), although this sentiment was often linked to other experiences of oppression within the Sinhala majority state. Many of Alison’s respondents had a desire to fight to the death or displacement, usually of a close family member but also that of friends and others in their community: one woman stated that “our people have suffered” (2003: 41). . Gowrinathan (2013) argues that the recruitment of women can best be explained by state repression, as portrayed in the interplay between displacement and gender-based violence. Tambiah (2004) highlighted, among other things, the vulnerability of Tamil women to sexual assault and violence by the Sri Lankan military. While some of Alison’s (and Gowrinathan’s) participants cited experiences of rape and assault as motivating factors to join the LTTE, others were more concerned about safety – both their own and others’. Some felt that joining the Tigers would protect them from attack, and more interestingly, some wanted to protect their community: “I am a woman; I have to free the Tamil women from the occupation. I, we also fight for the liberation of women ”(Alison, 2003: 43). In its role as the de facto government in many Tamil areas, the LTTE ran a number of social and women’s programs. Similarly, they maintained strict policies regarding domestic and sexual violence in their population (Alison, 2003).
Gowrinathan’s 2017 work explores the reasons why women abducted or otherwise forcibly recruited by the LTTE so often stay in the movement, and sometimes even reach high-level positions. She notes that previous personal experiences with militarization greatly influence engagement with the organization, with high levels of exposure resulting in high engagement. It is clear in both the LTTE and the FARC that while the influences that lead women to struggle are many and varied, their agency lives in the decision to move on.
Women in peace
After peace negotiations – or military victories – revolutionary movements tend to give up their fiery feelings about gender equality. or as Samarasinghe puts it: “Evidence from other liberation movements shows that women are often politely asked to return to the reproductive sphere and to the kitchen” (1996: 218).
While the Colombian peace process has been heralded as “one of the most innovative and comprehensive peace agreements ever made on gender” (Alvarado Cóbar et al., 2018: 14), it would not have done so without pressure from women in civil society. The negotiating table in Havana was predominantly male and strongly linked to the military or security sector (Céspedes-Báez & Ruiz, 2018). This shows that even if society makes women peaceful rather than violent, it is men who are at war. Be invited to make peace. Immediately after the negotiations began, Colombian activists founded Mujeres por la Paz (Women for Peace), “a coalition through which more than forty organizations expressed the demands of women” (ibid .: 94) in order to be included in the process to use. One of the forty, by the way, was Red Nacional de Mujeres Excombatientes, a group of former female combatants. This coalition turned out to be quite powerful: due to its intervention, the government appointed two negotiators and set up a sub-commission on gender (ibid; Herbolzheimer, 2016). The panel was tasked with “reviewing all documents issued in the framework of the peace process and ensuring that they are gender specific [sic] Language and regulations ”(ibid .: 6) and consisted of women from both sides as well as international participants.
One of the tenets of the peace accord was to guarantee ten seats in Congress for FARC politicians. Since moving to a political party, she has taken eight of her seats (one politician is in jail and another has refused to take his place in protest) despite receiving less than one percent of the vote (Long, 2018). Of these eight representatives, two are women: Sandra Ramírez and the infamous Victoria Sandino (oxígeno.bo, 2018).
Although Colombia has been demobilizing fighters since 1990, the new peace accords have led to a sharp increase in the number of combatants, along with related challenges, one of which is the specific needs of women in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs (GDR) (Castañeda & Myrttinen, 2014 ). One such challenge is the victim-perpetrator duality that encompasses many female combatants. In the words of a former FARC fighter, “You [society] has harmed me, but I have also harmed. So you become victim and victim ”(Ebrahimi-Tsamis, 2018: 99). This is a widespread phenomenon because of the FARC’s tendency to recruit poor, marginalized, and often abused by family members or other conflict actors (not to mention its tendency to allow or overlook abuse within the organization).
A group of demobilized women FARC got involved in the post-conflict discussion on gender-based violence by creating the Corporacíon Rosa Blanca to speak out against abuse within the organization, and they even joined Elda Neyis Mosquera aka Karina FARC -Commander widely regarded as one of its most powerful leaders (Orth, 2018). Sandino responded to reports of abuse within the FARC by saying, “I can assure you that it was not FARC’s policy to harass its own women [the women] Masochists or what? “(Piñeros, 2018).
Women have certainly played an important role in the Colombian peace process, from advocating gender-based violence and land reforms to participating in government. Women combatants are often overlooked in the implementation of peace, and there are concerns that this could also be the case in Colombia if the GDR programs are not tailored to their needs. While the agreements are groundbreaking in many ways, it remains to be seen what can become of them. The current government poses a great threat, but perhaps more critical is that the whole country has great amounts of healing to do. The length and brutality of this conflict have spawned a culture of fear and violence that requires much more than signing an agreement to resolve.
Sri Lanka was the first country to set up a sub-commission on gender as part of its peace process in 2003. However, the commission met only once (Herbolzheimer, 2016). This has not been a bad metaphor for engaging women in peacebuilding ever since. Her suffering has been largely overlooked and her concerns dismissed (Yusuf, 2009). One of the stumbling blocks in the sub-commission, as well as in the subsequent organization of women, is the separation between the experiences and thus the needs of women in the Tamil north and east as opposed to those in the rest of the country (Gowrinathan, 2017). One Tamil activist commented: “[t]They couldn’t understand that this, militarization, was the first and greatest problem facing Tamil women. After that we can only talk about alcohol and other social issues ”(ibid .: 335).
The situation of Tamil women appears to have worsened since the conflict ended. For large parts of the population living in highly militarized areas, particularly in resettlement camps, they are increasingly vulnerable to sexual assault by the Sri Lankan army (Gowrinathan, 2013). This can be classified as politically motivated, especially if the victims are former LTTE cadres. Gowrinathan observes, “While strict codes of conduct prevented moral values from falling under the LTTE, early marriages, domestic violence, alcoholism and low school attendance increased sharply in the post-hostilities period” (2013: 23). . The effects of sexual violence are particularly worrying in Tamil society. Survivors spoke of long-term poverty because they could no longer marry and of the shame the incident would bring younger siblings and parents (ibid). Aside from security concerns, the LTTE’s absence has also led to political frustration among women: without them, there are very few opportunities for resistance.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been involved in the reintegration of women cadres, including securing them employment in factories and local shops (Murray, 2010). Sonny Inbaraj says, “The biggest problem ex-combatants have is that civil society does not allow them to use the skills they have developed in the armed movement,” and encourages them to “sew or do housekeeping instead of being a carpenter, being a bricklayer, being a bricklayer or computer repair ”(ibid). Gowrinathan (2018a) calls this“ re-feminization of programming ”; it is in stark contrast to the LTTE-initiated employment programs for women, one of which is women helped to train as a car mechanic and then to open a car repair shop (Alison, 2003) In the words of one ex-combatant: “I can neither sew nor be interested in it. Only after I finish my training does the government consider me de-radicalized” (Gowrinathan, 2018a).
So the condition of Tamil women in Sri Lanka after the conflict is no safer or more successful than their lives in and under the LTTE. Unless women are able to unite across ethnic and other divisions (which include, in particular, Sinhala women who recognize the specific challenges Tamil women face) and push for engagement, they are unlikely to find the Sri Lankan State granted a large participation.
Ultimately, it is clear that women’s participation – and even apparent equality – on the battlefield does not necessarily lead to a change in attitudes in peacetime. As Wilford (1998) noted, “struggling with men for independence does not guarantee the inclusion of women as equal citizens” (2). For groups like the FARC and the LTTE there is little impetus to advocate for gender equality outside the movement. Why should they fight for women’s liberation and equality in the current system if they intend to reduce them? Of course, in both cases these riots have proven unsuccessful in many of their goals and are therefore unable to achieve equality for women, even if they really wanted to.
Western feminists have often been guilty of placing the politics of femininity above the reality of multiple identities. Many criticisms of the participation of women in (especially nationalist) violence have reflected this reducing attitude. Intersectionality (Hooks, 1984) addresses this by rejecting the demand for one identity to be preferred over another, as women so often have to do. While Western feminists insist that Tamil and Colombian women prefer their gender to their ethnic or ideological identity, organizations like the FARC and LTTE often force them to do the exact opposite, giving up their concern for equality until their rebellions succeed were. each deprives combatants of the fullness of their identity and the ability to inhabit them. In addition, both organizations provide examples of how women arm (or perhaps are forced to) their femininity for the cause, whether through intelligence gathering by seducing police officers (Herrera & Porch, 2008) or by disguising bombs in their traditional clothing (Parashar , 2009). Parashar explains that “women’s bodies and gender identities are becoming the areas in which militants and counter-militants wage their wars and display their ideologies” (2009: 238); This is evident not only in the conflicts in Sri Lanka and Colombia, but also in their peace. Even the women who choose to join armed struggles – and in many cases ultimately lead them – remain trapped in the gender-specific cages built by their organizations and around the world. The case of women combatants is another example of the restrictions placed on women’s freedom in both conflict and peace.
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Written at: Trinity College Dublin
Written for: Dr. David Mitchell
Date written: April 2020