Gendering Fragile States- roles, capabilities and activities of women CSOs in the context of a fragile state
Zwaan, Nikki de
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In fragile states, society is fragmented by deteriorating or conflict conditions that result in lower levels of trust and tolerance among people. This polarization between different groups has an effect on the possible civil society activities. Typically, capacity deficits of fragile states also manifest themselves within civil society. However, attention for CSOs in unstable societies is necessary to make sure they have a positive influence, where they can have a negative influence as well. Expectations that civil society actors can and will bring about changes that international state-building strategies have not themselves managed to accomplish are necessarily bound to fail. Context-specific characteristics influence the possible roles, activities and capabilities of CSOs and the relation between the state and civil society. Therefore it is important to look at the quality of civil society initiatives and evaluate these in every specific context. An important critique on the international community is that it does not link its strategy of civil society development with its initiatives for state-building, where in fragile stated state-building often gets priority. However, state-building and civil society-building need to go hand in hand. Cooperation between the state, civil society and the international community is important to link these different strategies. Some critics have argued that CSO-activities are bound to fail in fragile states because of the lack of proactive conditions such as safety, a cooperative government, financial resources-or the complete absence of a civil society in general. Having reviewed the existing literature on this subject, it is however clear that, although perhaps difficult, it is necessary to focus on CSOs in fragile states. As examples from many different fragile states such as Haiti, Angola and the DRC have shown, civil society is necessary, especially in establishing stable peace constituencies and stimulating non-violent conflict resolution. As part of this strategy, involvement of women and women’s CSOs might have a potential to contribute to a more vibrant and inclusive civil society in fragile states. It is acknowledged in both theory and practice that women can help to build peace across cultural divides and in (re) building civil society in unstable regions. Considering the high level of distrust and lack of capacities of civil society in fragile states gender-identities of women could be used to bridge other differences. Many examples from different countries show, that women’s organizations worked to rebuild core institutions and services after violent conflict. In the case of fragile states it is important to stay aware of which activities are best supported and undertaken by women CSOs. Therefore the activities of women CSOs can be different or might have to adapt in a fragile state. Most importantly, there should be a certain amount of coordination between supporting governments in fragile states and supporting the activities of women CSOs. Cooperation between women CSOs and the state can be important, to promote women’s rights and can contribute to a more mainstreamed attention for women and gender-sensitivity. Gender inequality is an important aspect of state fragility. Attention for women CSOs is necessary because empowerment of women is often accomplished through organizations. A number of international development agencies are beginning to formulate policies for effectiveness in contexts of state fragility. The relative absence of a conscious policy on gender-sensitivity in fragile states is striking. As was shown in this thesis, donors choose to address these issues in a minimalist way rather than embedding gender equality in a broader context. This is even more striking once it is realized that gender equality is officially recognized as crucial for development. Organizations, national governments and donor NGOs have acknowledged that protecting women and promoting their participation is crucial to preventing conflict and building sustainable peace. The failure of these organizations to address gender inequalities in policy and programming in fragile stated may undermine the effectiveness of strategies to address development and security. In light of the agreements set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is essential that a more conscious policy is put in place that combines gender-analysis with concerns of state fragility. Although progress is made on some of the MDGs (for example on MDG1 on the reduction of poverty and hunger world wide), little or no progress has been made on MDG3, the equity of men and women en the equal representation of women in politics and social life. The problems addressed in the MDGs are most strikingly in fragile states. Poor people, and especially women, lack the resources to organize and influence unequal distribution and bad service delivery by the government. Supporting and focusing on women CSOs is of course only a part of the puzzle. Gender-mainstreaming within other CSOs and promoting female leadership are equally important. As well as recognizing that power differences also exist along the lines of socioeconomic differences, class and religion and amongst women. Nevertheless, if international organizations, national governments and NGOs are serious in their efforts to improve gender-equality and creating sustainable development in fragile states, they must support those women in fragile states who are willing to organize, and support their activities.