WOMEN IN CRISES: RECENT BOOKS
Twenty years have now passed since govts adopted the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, yet only in
recent years has attention been brought to the challenges faced by women
in emergencies, most notably through the range of field case studies
published by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women & Children (NY).
The books reviewed below build on the example of H O'Connel's 1993
anthology "Women & Conflict"(published by Oxfam UK), which described
"women's added vulnerability to rape & sexual abuse in times of conflict;
the rapid increase in numbers of households dependent on women's labor to
survive; the total disruption of economic & social life; &,
paradoxically, the opportunities this creates for women to overcome some
aspects of the traditional gender division of roles." In O'Connel's book,
Fiona McLachlan's chapter on Afghanistan reports "one of the main findings
was the high incidence of psychosomatic disorders among women since the
war. All complained of headaches; some had them permanently.. ..some
women's grief was so great they had attempted suicide." McLachlan wrote
this several years before the Taliban even entered Afghanistan, & well
prior to the current campaign to sanction the Taliban over its treatment
of women, spurred in part by the 1998 report by Physicians for Human
Rights (see their report: www.phrusa.org/research/exec.html).
- "THE GENDERED TERRAIN OF DISASTER: THROUGH WOMEN'S EYES"
edited by Elaine Enarson & Betty Morrow (1998, Westport CN: Praeger Pub)
questions the social construction of gendered vulnerability to disasters.
Several authors observe that disaster relief is managed largely by men,
even if women are instrumental in hands-on delivery. Drawing on her
experiences in Latin America & Africa, Letizia Toscani finds "at the
community level, women spontaneously mobilize to help affected relatives &
neighbors." The editors conclude "disaster specialists rarely speak in
the language of empowerment, but social justice is in fact the linchpin
of effective disaster mitigation; women's services, organizations &
grassroots advocacy can & must make the voices of women heard - in risk
assessment & hazard planning, in crisis & in reconstructing human
- "ENGENDERING FORCED MIGRATION: THEORY & PRACTICE" (1999)
edited by Doreen Indra (Oxford: Berghan Books) includes an interesting mix
of ethnographic narratives from recent crises. Several parts of the book
argue that asylum practices are particularly unreceptive to women refugees
who are Muslim. Authors looking at the Somali refugee camp of Hagadera
where maternal mortality was high, due to anemia, eclampsia & hepatitis E
observe that women were also disproportionately at-risk for malnutrition &
scurvy (vitamin C deficiency). Surveillance, health services, &
compliance experiences were all biased against women, suggesting that
"health professionals themselves offer gender-unequal care:" in the
field, health data is not collected or analyzed in a gender-specific way,
allowing inequalities to go unnoticed. Authors writing about the
diasporas out of Africa explore how it promotes the emancipation of women.
Writing about Afghanistan, D Cammack observes that whereas intl agencies
working with Afghan refugees a decade ago adapted a more relativist
perspective on women's rights, today the same groups, working now inside
Afghanistan, are less inclined to compromise. "relief agencies have come
To realize that the lack of participation by women in relief programs is
Dysfunctional.. ..in fact, NGOs in Afghanistan have success over time
convincing the Taliban that to make programs work, agencies must ensure
women have fully developed roles." The lengthy interview with Barbara
Harrell-Bond is worth the price of the whole book.
- "WHAT WOMEN DO IN WARTIME: GENDER & CONFLICT IN AFRICA"
edited by Meredith Turshen & C Twagiramariya (1998, London: Zed Books)
draws on recent cases from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia Angola,
Sudan & S. Africa to show women as active participants in war & peace:
"in modern war.. especially civil wars & wars of liberation, women are
also combatants; women resist & fight back, & become involved in truth
commissions. Turshen observes that proliferation of light weapons in
Africa has fostered "militarization that has permeated African societies..
..current & former military men displace civil authorities; soldiers replace
religious figures, health workers & teachers as the leaders of villages.
Several contributing authors provide evidence that even after conflict, a
culture of domestic violence persists, with increasing incidence of rape.
- "WOMEN IN THE HOLOCAUST" EXPLORES WIDE RANGE OF TRAGEDIES MET BY WOMEN
in W. & E Europe, in ghettos, labor camps & partisan groups. Edited by
Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman (1998, Yale Univ Press) & collecting 23
it includes broad analysis as well as personal recollections. Gender-
based divisions of labor & coping are common threads. "In many forced-
labor..& concentration camps, visibly pregnant women were selected for
immediate killing." Myrna Goldenberg's review of memories illustrates
"the importance of connectedness, nurturance & caregiving .. social
bonding, encouraged the women to struggle to survive." In attempting to
look from different angles at gender aspects of vulnerability, this book
actually provides one of the most contextual & layered looks at the social
conditions of Jews before, during & the Holocaust.
- "SOUTH ASIAN WOMEN: FACING DISASTERS, SECURING LIFE" ED.BY P&V FERNANDO
is a collection of papers published by Sri Lanka's Duryog Nivaran Pub
(1997) & includes chapters on the Rohinga refugees from Burma, drought,
cyclones in Bangladesh, & various cases of Oxfam-organized programs to
empower female headed households. One relief program in Pakistan
demonstrated "in a polygamous society, the registration of women [emphasis]
as heads of households ensured that each woman & her dependents got the
assistance; the food distribution was fair & efficient."
- "BATTLE CRIES & LULLABIES: WOMEN IN WAR, PREHISTORY TO PRESENT"
by Linda Grant De Pauw (Univ of Oklahoma Press) shows that "every nation
has had a history of women in war," citing examples from each side
in WWI, WWII, the Boer War, & a range of other cases in W. Africa, India,
China, Iran & Afghanistan. Although "during wars women are ubiquitous &
highly visible, when wars are over & war songs sung, women disappear."
The author seeks to expose the myth that, as in WWII "women were not sent
into harm's way, so essential to the myth of war as an exclusively male
activity, persisted among Americans" even "despite the clear fact that
American nurses were in the hottest combat zones." In her concluding
section de Pauw describes a this irony: although many continue to object
to women serving in combat roles in modern crises, they find no problem
with women in humanitarian aid work (e.g., nursing) even though the data
show they suffer significantly more casualties as aid workers than when
serving in regular armies.
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