The Gender Security Project
Engendering DDR: Towards Embodied ‘Reconstruction’
By Stuti Srivastava
Image: Inclusive Security
While disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) officially recognizes women as central subjects to its practice and as a vulnerable group at which it is aimed, it would not be wrong to say that DDR policy and scholarship has failed to address the variety of ways women are affected in pre-conflict, conflict and especially post-conflict situations (Avoine, 2021).
Whereas disarmament and demobilization are the immediate aims of peacebuilding in a post-conflict society, reintegration is the long-term goal that aims to restore society to ‘normalcy’ and assimilate ex-combatants and other people in conflict related roles, back to civilian society and life.
DDR is aimed mainly at adult combatants, children involved in violent conflict, those working in non-combatant roles and their dependents. A huge part of this population is women, especially since a large number of women are engaged especially in non-combat roles (such as providing medical aid, care work for combatants, or as partners of male combatants) and are also often dependents within families.
Often, DDR efforts, though aimed at women, fail to include them in their ambits properly – and through a protectionist attitude, fail in the consideration that women can be more than victims in conflicted settings. Though DDR processes are often taken to be important opportunities to bring about peaceful gender transformation in societies, there has been a lack of intervention that takes into account the manifold experiences women have in conflicted societies. Not just as combatants, but as mothers, sex workers, caregivers, and members of different communities. There is little to no political agency for women, and the top-down approach that is followed, rarely leads to sustainable change. An active assessment that puts gender and overlapping identities at its center while working towards reconstruction and rehabilitation is needed to ensure that the victimization rhetoric is removed completely from dialogue around peace and security.
An embodied perspective on reconstruction takes the varied areas of emotions, body, social position and mental and physical trauma into consideration. Reintegration into civil society after years of being a combatant is often a process of disembodiment. Returning to civilian life means disembodying combat: laying down weapons is a strong emotional event (Avoine, 2021).
It is transitioning from one way of life to another – adopting decided rules and performing civil social norms. Very often, for women, it is going back from an egalitarian set-up to a patriarchal setting. The political experience of combat and resistance is collective and shared. It is often based on community identity and common experiences of oppression and marginalization. An embodied perspective on DDR is to be people oriented, and focus on trauma work, social life and assimilation into society, and to focus on sustainability and longevity. Justice, primarily transitional justice would also form an important aspect of embodied reconstruction - with a focus on institutional reparation, creation of a culture of accountability while unmaking historical cultures of silence, along with a view of identifying perpetrators of violence in the state and public institutions. Understanding the affective implications of war for female combatants (ex.: trauma, psychological affectation, the joy of militancy, affective relationships) should be central to their reintegration, not only for them but for the whole society who should also be fully involved in this process of war recovery (Avoine, 2021).
It is important to consider normative dialogue around what motivates women to join combatant groups in both violent and non-violent roles. It is assumed that women take these roles due to romantic affiliations or religious extremism – which erases the agency that is needed to figure out a sustainable process of reintegration. It is often that international actors and state agencies locate in peacebuilding patriarchal concerns of protectionism. This places women on the victim stand and encourages paternalism in policy. International peacebuilding efforts tend to be underpinned by cosmopolitan values that emphasize cis-gendered notions of civilized society (Duriesmith and Holmes, 2019). In turn, this creates a situation conducive to traditional gender norms and structures. In post-conflict situations, men often reoccupy what new social spaces women were able to create in the conflict as part of a neo-traditionalist return to a ‘golden past’ when ‘men were men and knew what that meant’ (Myrttinen, 2003). It is important that reconstruction focuses not on going back to pre-conflict society, but to bring about structural change in it – to transform gender relations and not push women back into the exploitative spaces they had previously escaped from.
In Nepal, for example, Sthapit and Doneys (2017) argued that “female ex-combatants returned to status quo ante bellum (or the pre-war status).” Despite the fact that the Maoist resistance in Nepal had stressed the end of patriarchal oppression, reintegration aimed at nation building failed to consider this aspiration of the people. The question arises – is post-conflict nation building inherently counterproductive in providing safe spaces to women (both ex-combatant and civilians)? If so, the need is to focus on rebuilding society and preventing further outbreak of violence by creating a space of cooperation and collaboration between communities, rather than focus on narrow modules of nationalism and nation-building.
Masculinities in Conflict
Embodied reconstruction is not just about women, it is also about transforming men and masculinities in post-conflict settings. Peacebuilding processes such as DDR often end up victimizing women and dehumanizing men - neglecting women as important actors and referring to men mainly as perpetrators of violence and architects of atrocities (Hauge, 2019). We must seek a reappraisal of the definition of men and women along the victim-actor axis, and instead of creating binaries, understand that ‘victim’ and ‘actor’ are often overlapping identities.
Situations of conflict create perceptions that link violence and armament to masculinity – in such circumstance, disarmament may feel like a ‘crisis of masculinity’ to male ex combatants – which in turn translates to rigid control over women’s bodies and reinforcing patriarchal norms in the family as a display of masculine aggression. Preventing militarised masculinity from turning into socialised masculinity by according both men and women equitable economic roles and acknowledging struggle, trauma and most importantly, agency for all groups, is an important way of preventing this.
As Lund (2016) argues, ‘post-conflict is hardly the definitive end of violence’ and the institutions that emerge after ruptures are not free of the institutional debris of the conflicts that shape them (Duriesmith and Holmes, 2019). More often than not, conflict arises out of situations of exploitation and marginalisation. A return to such a system does not guarantee sustainable peace. Instead, it ripens the condition for more violence. Constructing societies accepting of ex-combatants, and societies working constantly towards justice, equality and peace is the only conducive way to prevent conflict in the future. This calls for engagement with affected peoples – both civilian and combatants, and allowing them voice and agency in reintegration programs and processes. Loss of weapons must not translate to loss of power: alternate systems of non-violent involvement in politics and other forms of civic engagement should also be created within the DDR process.
An intersectional, embodied approach that moves beyond nation-building and assimilation processes, and brings into consideration gender, community, emotions, trauma and psycho-social reflection is key to building sustainable peace in post-conflict societies. An engaging and collaborative effort with the people, rather than a top-down approach based on Western modules of the civilised nation and its people should form the basis for international peacebuilding plans and transitional justice frameworks.
Duriesmith, D., & Holmes, G. (2019). The masculine logic of DDR and SSR in the Rwanda Defence Force. Security Dialogue, 50(4), 361–379. doi:10.1177/0967010619850346
Hauge, W. I. (2019). Gender dimensions of DDR – beyond victimization and dehumanization: tracking the thematic. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 1–21. doi:10.1080/14616742.2019.1673669
Lund C (2016) Rule and rupture: State formation through the production of property and citizenship. Development and Change 47(6): 1199–1228.
Myrttinen, Henri. 2003. “Disarming Masculinities.” Disarmament Forum: Women, Men, Peace and Security 4: 37–46.
P. Avoine, 2021. ‘Disembodying Combat: Female Combatants’ Political Reintegration in Nepal and Colombia’ In Defence and Security Foresight Group
Sthapit, Lorina & Philippe Doneys. 2017. “Female Maoist Combatants During and After the People’s War.” In Women, Peace, and Security in Nepal: From Civil War to Post-Conflict Reconstruction, edited by Åshild Kolås, 33–49. New York; London: Routledge.