A Brighter Future Begins in a Classroom

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign by individuals and groups calling for an end to all forms of violence against women. This year’s theme is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All”. For the next 16 days, Peace is Loud will be sharing reports, quotes from our speakers, and other resources around this theme. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and join the conversation!

 At Peace is Loud, we recognize peace to be more than just an absence of war, but a societal transformation towards inclusion and a celebration of diversity. Similarly, building peace requires a measurable shift in how we treat the people we share a home, classroom, workplace, community, country and world with. A holistic issue requires a holistic response.

In many parts of the world, access to safe, quality education is not a right but a privilege, and requires several factors to converge: Parents or guardians must first decide that their child should be and stay in school, and not be married off at a young age; school facilities and materials must be accessible and affordable; teachers, staff and school officials must be dedicated to a violence-and-harassment-free environment; and school policies must communicate and enforce policies towards that end. All too often, one or more of these factors fail to fall into place. The damage in a child’s life, and to the world as a whole, is monumental.

For the more than 14 million girls in conflict-affected countries who are out of school, the 28 girls married before the age of 18 every minute, the 120 million girls worldwide who have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime, the 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men who were sexually abused as children, and the LGBTQ youth who feel unsafe in their school because of bullying, awareness-raising and calls to action should be scaled up not just during these 16 Days, but every day moving forward. From a young age, children need to be taught that they deserve lives free from violence, that they deserve quality education, that consent is their right, and that their voices deserve to be heard.

We are fortunate to work with incredible women who have been dedicated to ending violence and promoting safe education for many years.  From Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who set up secret schools for girls in Afghanistan during Taliban rule, to Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda’s tireless call for an end to child marriage and Leymah Gbowee’s support for girls’ education In Liberia, we are inspired every day by the work of our speakers and their colleagues.

If you’re wondering how to make an impact at an individual, local level, particularly around ending child marriage, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Peace is Loud speaker and African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage has a message for you:

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To learn more about Peace is Loud or bring a women peacebuilder public speaker to your classroom or event, please visit our website.

Swat Valley: an Example of Militarization’s Detraction from Long-Term Peace

By Saba Khattak

Pakistan has experienced military-led governments for thirty out of sixty-seven years of its existence. While the military plays the dominant role even in civilian democratic setups, violent conflicts within the country result from this militarization. Violent conflicts also intensify people’s need for military security to return the situation to ‘normal.’ I explore two questions in the context of Pakistan’s Swat Valley—a site of active conflict between 2007-2010: How do such conflicts impact women’s perspectives and rights? While military presence promises immediate and short-term security, does its’ continued presence detract from long-term peace?

Swat experienced a virtual Taliban take-over late in 2007 and was cleared of Taliban control in July 2009 after two military operations and the displacement of approximately 1.5-2 million people. Swati women were relieved to be rid of the Taliban brutalities and restrictions while many also blamed themselves for having supported the Taliban initially. But in the early period, Maulana Fazlullah (the local Taliban leader) had given them a sense of empowerment through his radio sermons, whereby he exhorted them to force their husbands to pray five times a day, to grow beards and work for a perfect society reflective of true Islamic principles. Power dynamics within the household changed to many women’s advantage while they also felt pious. When the Taliban took over, they meted out their own version of justice through brutal killings for what they considered offences, e.g., killing policewomen and men for serving the Pakistani government, killing primary healthcare workers for propagating fahashi (obscenity) through family planning, singers, dancers and beggars for following an “un-Islamic” way of life, and civil society activists and political party representatives for upholding women’s rights. Besides the killings, the severe restrictions on women’s movement prevented their access to education, health and livelihoods. Later, many women explained their support for Fazlullah by saying they were duped by his sermons and promises.

The fact remains that people’s perspectives change radically depending upon how they experience a conflict situation. In this particular case, women changed from hating the Pakistan government and viewing its army as bootlickers of the US (thanks to right wing views propagated by Fazlullah and others), to looking upon the army as their protector and savior.

Initially people appreciated the army’s role in ridding them of the Taliban and undertaking reconstruction and development. It rebuilt schools, colleges, hospitals, roads and bridges, and other infrastructure destroyed during conflict and later, floods in 2010. The issue of militarized development aside, men and women regained their mobility; women got enhanced opportunities to access work in both the public and private sector.

Within a year after the Pakistan army regained control of Swat, disillusionment with the military set in spurred by its highhanded attitude especially in connection with disappearances. As the army had the dominant role, it took control of detention centers under the police and put in people it suspected of Taliban links. The lack of accountability as well as the appearance of dead bodies of victims allegedly due to heart attacks at detention centers became an issue, especially for the women relatives (in many cases there were only women and children left behind in families) and human rights activists. Men did not dare protest lest they be hauled into indefinite detention, while women managed to organize themselves with the support of right-wing political parties as well as human rights organizations.

There were irritants also—long queues at check-posts on roads where people were stopped and physically searched. Men expressed greater unhappiness with the military than women. This was in part because the military assigned itself the role of a guardian even within the private sphere, e.g., it conducted house-to-house searches while men were ordered to wait outside. By entering the private sphere/home, soldiers established their authority over and above the male household heads. By ensuring women exercise their rights in the public sphere, army-men reinforced their dominant position vis a vis local patriarchies both in the private and public spheres thereby creating friction.

Furthermore, the military continued to exercise control over local civil administration to ensure security. Of great concern were the setting-up of ‘peace committees and jirgas’ whose heads were told to assemble ‘lashkars’ (local militias), and the setting up of ‘village defense committees’ (VDCs) whose members were given arms licenses and responsibility to ensure the security of their village. Many people used their VDC membership to settle old scores and enmities by declaring one person or another to be aligned with the Taliban. They also had the freedom to openly display their arms and status. All this was possible in the name of security. Thus pre-existing conflicts became part of the on-going conflict while local society became more militarized.

To conclude then, while militarization as seen in Swat provides immediate and short-term security, it simultaneously detracts from long-term peace by reinforcing militarist thinking and solutions. In the short term, Swati women have used the opening up of institutional spaces in the economic, social, political and legal arenas to their advantage by negotiating with public and private patriarchy effectively. The knowledge that the state supports them has helped them push institutional boundaries to exercise their rights whether in the form of police protection or court intervention in their favor. In turn, the different institutions no longer view women as passive beings to be protected, because now they are represented in the police force, in the legal system, and an integral part of development planning and policy. For women in Swat, the stakes are high, but then the payback is high too. Thus, their ‘bargains with patriarchy’ indicate greater awareness of the importance of having a collective voice.

Can this push for rights also help women change the larger framework of militarization that continues to set the terms of negotiating with patriarchy? This is not only a question that women in conflict contexts can respond to, but one that transnational feminist networks would need to take on as well.

Saba Gul Khattak is an independent researcher with a PhD in Political Science. She has been a Member (Social Sector) of the Planning Commission of Pakistan and Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad. Using feminist perspectives, Dr. Khattak has published widely on development and social policy issues, including peace and violent conflict, social protection, population, education, and labor. She serves in an advisory capacity on a number of national and international boards and commissions.

No longer just caught up in the crossfire: Gendered attacks on education as a tactic in violent conflicts

By madeleine kennedy-macfoy

One of the many strengths of the 16 days campaign is the fact that every year, the minds of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people across the world are focused on the same topic, with a clear call to action. This means that no matter the specific sector in which we may work, or whether we work on advocacy, policy, communication or research or in a women’s refuge, during those 16 days, we all focus on the wide range of people living and working in all types of places and spaces, whose lives are negatively impacted by gender violence.

When governments adopted the Dakar Framework for Action at the World Education Forum in 2000, armed conflicts were identified as a major barrier to the achievement of education for all (EFA). Eleven years later, the issue was once again highlighted in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, which laid out evidence showing how armed conflict is a hidden crisis within education; ‘one of the greatest obstacles to accelerated progress in education’.

2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the third deadliest hostage crisis and biggest terrorist takeover of a school the world has ever seen: 331 people, including 176 children, were killed when security forces attempted to rescue hostages from School No.1 in North Ossetia, fifty-two hours after terrorists took over on the first day of school, September 2004. Over the last 10 years, it has become clear that students, teachers and educational settlings are increasingly targeted prior to, during, and after situations of armed conflict. Attacks that target educational buildings and institutions, or use them for military purposes, are not necessarily gendered; men and women, girls and boys can all be affected. However, since 2009, there is growing evidence, including the explicit references to gender in the rhetoric and ideological posturing of violent extremist groups, to show that attacks on education are gendered.

This blog calls for reflection in solidarity and, more importantly, action to protect those whose lives are so deeply affected when the fulfillment of their right to education is seriously hampered, or as is the case far too often, made impossible as a result of violent armed conflict.

Attacks on education

In their most recent report (Education under Attack 2014), the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) documented ‘attacks on education’ in 70 countries between 2009 and 2013, including 30 countries where there was a pattern of deliberate attacks. An ‘attack on education’ is widely defined as the intentional use or threat of force against students, teachers or other educational support personnel. The evidence presented in the report shows that students of all ages, teachers, academics and education support personnel, teachers’ unions and educational institutions were all targets for intentional attacks for a range of reasons that can be political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic or religious.

The types of attacks are also varied, ranging from killings, disappearance, torture & imprisonment, military use of schools and universities, destruction of educational buildings and materials, sexual violence, attacks on students and educational personnel at or on the way to or from schools or other educational settings. The UN Security Council has expressed ‘deep concern’ about attacks and threats of attacks against schools and the closure of schools in situations of armed conflict (see UN Security Council Resolution 1998, adopted in 2011).

The evidence available suggests that deliberate attacks on educational institutions and their constituencies of staff and students can be considered ‘a common tactic in situations of conflict and insecurity around the world’.

Gendering attacks on education

The 2011 GMR contextualised attacks on education in relation to the changing nature of armed conflicts in different parts of the world today, which is radically different from the wars and conflicts that characterised the first half of the last century. During the latter half of the 20th century, many wars and armed conflicts occurred within, as opposed to across, national borders. There has also been a rapid increase in conflicts that involve military intervention by other states (as evidenced in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia). In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighbouring states have provided financial, political and logistic support to non-state groups involved in armed conflict, with violence spilling across national borders (GMR, 2011:137). It is in the changing nature of armed conflicts – how they are carried out and by whom; who finances them and why – that we can most clearly discern the role that gender plays within the tactical use of attacks on educational settings, on students and on educational personnel.

And there is a certain logic to this, if we contextualise war and conflict as ‘the explicit expressions of deeply gendered, as well as ethnicised and classed, long-term dynamics that precede the outbreak of conflict, escalate dramatically, and persist long after ‘peace’ has been officially declared and the transition from overt warfare is taking place’ (Mama and Okazawa-Rey, 2008).

In patriarchal societies, gender norms position women as the custodians of culture, responsible for transmitting the myths of nationhood and traditions to future generations, and restricted to the private domestic sphere. As future women, girls (specifically their bodies and minds) are, therefore, perceived as legitimate subjects of control within their own communities, and in situations of armed conflict, as legitimate targets by enemy armies or factions. Evidence gathered by Save the Children shows that female students and teachers and girls’ schools are especially targeted in contexts where the subjugation of women is an explicit objective of armed groups. Female students and teachers no longer ‘just get caught up in the cross-fire’ when schools and other institutional settings are attacked; they are specifically targeted.

The right to education enables individuals to learn about and claim their other rights; it is no wonder that girl’ education is perhaps perceived as the biggest threat to the warped plans of terrorist organisations or networks.

It is estimated that as many as 900 government and private schools were closed in Pakistan in 2010 after the Taliban issued an edict banning girls’ education. Joint 2014 Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, is one of the 120,000 girls’ who were prevented from attending school. In Afghanistan, the Taliban and associated armed groups have poisoned food and water meant for school girls as a way of preventing them from obtaining an education; in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram’s opposition to what they refer to as ‘western education’, has been well documented since they began their insurgency in 2009, culminating in their most audacious attack on education in April this year, when they kidnapped close to 300 school girls from a government school in Chibok, sparking the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Time to join the dots

So as we focus our thoughts and actions on securing the right to education for those who are deprived of it as a result of armed conflict, we might also consider how to ‘join the dots’ – between sectors, movements and communities – in order to strengthen our advocacy and activism.

It is timely and strategic for us to see different social justice agendas as the sum parts of a greater whole; as such, each of our areas of concern stands stronger and is more likely to make an impact when we reinforce and support each other’s messages and demands.

It behooves us to make the links between our different focal areas concern, and to carry each other’s messages and demands along with our own. For example, the staggering impact of armed conflict on girls’ education makes it clear that education activism needs to incorporate the demands of the women, peace and security agendas, and vice versa. Not only are we stronger together, but because violence against women and girls is manifested in all areas of life, our responses need to be linked and to mutually reinforce each other.

madeleine kennedy-macfoy works on gender equality issues at Education International, the largest global trade union federation, which represents 30 million teachers and other education employees worldwide.