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Bosnia; the Postwar Moment; Lessons from Bosnia Herzegovina

By Cockburn, Cynthia | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Bosnia; the Postwar Moment; Lessons from Bosnia Herzegovina


Cockburn, Cynthia, Women & Environments International Magazine


A postwar moment is one of promise -- but too often of missed opportunities. So long as there is war or threat of war, heavy militarization and preoccupation with security strategies can be justified. Every kind of progressive social or economic policy and development in that society may be held hostage. Not now -- later!

A postwar moment is the time when policy can diversify again. There may be policy moves on several fronts at once, demobilization, the reconstructions of the economy, the shift from emergency services to social rehabilitation, the reconstruction of state, political structures and law in a new constitution. But will these changes bring a democratic, inclusive and equal society necessary for postwar healing, social justice and substantive peace? This depends on many factors but one that is crucial and often overlooked, is whether the transition includes the questioning and transformation of gender power relations.

In October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted its Resolution 1325. It called on all actors involved in conflict and post-conflict conditions to incorporate a gender perspective in their work. What is more, it called on the UN to recognize gender issues in its own field based operations and to expand women's role, especially among military observers, civilian police, human rights and humanitarian personnel. It committed the Security Council to work in consultation with local and international women's organizations for these purposes. The resolution had identified, as many women knew, that international peacekeepers have very often neglected women's needs and strengths. What is more, the peacekeepers had played into the militaristic cultures found in war zones and in some cases even contributed to the exploitation and abuse of local women and girls.

This new gender thinking in the UN, its peacekeeping operations and postwar interventions is solidly based on our bad experiences, the effects of mistakes made in past interventions. Bosnia Herzegovina is one such experience. I would like to illustrate this theme of postwar moments, gender issues and the effectiveness of this new thinking in postwar reconstruction by highlighting what went wrong in Bosnia, some of the effects and attempts at correction. I will be drawing on work that is gathered in my publication: "The Postwar Moment: Militaries, Masculinities and International Peacekeeping".

Why are women likely to have a particular agenda for the postwar moment? What's the essence of women's take on a peace process? Why is it that from where men stand it often looks as though using a gun may be the best way to solve a problem, while women don't agree? It's not because women have some natural inborn affinity for peace. It's women's experience of life. It's that the system we live in puts women in a particular relation to society.

Three ideologies tend to be very influential in societies that have been at war. They're the `brother' ideologies of militarism, nationalism and patriarchy. The inequalities and distortions of gender in a patriarchal society, that masculinity and men are ascribed higher values than femininity and women, are part and parcel of the power relations of militarism and nationalism. If women are given importance in these cultural constructs, it is as wives and mothers, not for their value as human beings themselves. Women's independence and autonomy, their choices and their self respect do not flourish in militarized, nationalistic or patriarchal societies.

The General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina was negotiated in the US air force base in Dayton, Ohio and signed in Paris in 1995. It brought to an end four years of death and destruction, confirmed the ceasefire, provided for the withdrawal of foreign combatants and established a zone of separation between warring factions. But Dayton wasn't just an agreement between the war makers to end the fighting. It actually introduced a whole new constitution for the country and a system of electoral politics.

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