Women empowerment, women’s lib movement, women’s rights, women’s march – we have heard it all and more, and we cannot stress more than enough about the power of women and the important role the female gender plays in our society. While it is not about establishing the superiority of genders we speak of here, it is about working together, hand in hand, towards a positive and progressive future. So, the other important question is ‘how do we play to our strengths’?
Naga Women: A Force to Reckon With
Peace-building is a long-term and complex endeavor. It is, at heart, a transformation agenda for social change. The UN Peace-building Commission explicitly affirms, ‘the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts’. Women peace builders bring a different perspective to men, and their role in re-establishing the social fabric of the society is vital. But whilst women peace builders have made vital contributions to peace processes in diverse places such as Northern Ireland, Guatemala and Liberia, the reality remains that women are denied meaningful participation in many peace processes.
Women’s involvement in peace-building in Nagaland is as old as their experience of violence and discrimination. Naga women have played a variety of roles throughout history that support a war, and other forms of violence, from warriors to supportive wives and mothers calling men to the battlefield. However, their gender identities allow them to do some form of peace-building that men cannot do. In addition, some women have found it advantageous to draw on skills, assets, and capacities that are available to them in oppressive patriarchal systems and harness these for productive use in peace-building. They do not operate independently of a social value system. It can be argued that one reason the Naga women in the peace movement have achieved such success is that these movements do not challenge the traditional role of women but instead negotiated spaces within their roles.
Women have played a vital role in stopping violence throughout Naga history. As socially sanctioned peace-makers, women have historically intervened in the midst of battle and appealed for an end to violence. This cultural role has enabled Naga women to protect their communities through informal mediation, to mobilize for reconciliation, and to shape the formal peace process, such as the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA). In the 1990s, when the violence began to take its toll on the communities, the NMA decided to take up the call for peace. During the NMA General Assembly held at Zunheboto in 1994, a resolution on ‘Shed No Blood’ was adopted. A peace team comprising members of the NMA was formed and it visited the various factions of the rebel groups, held consultations with them and facilitated dialogues on reconciliation and peace.
NMA has proactively engaged with the Government of India during the peace talks that were held with the NSCN-IM. It also partnered with the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Naga Students Federation and the Naga Hoho on a ‘Journey of Conscience’ initiating a people-to-people dialogue to strengthen the process. It has also vociferously campaigned for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and for 33% reservation for women in municipal bodies in Nagaland.
Naga women have a brilliant approach towards peace making in the society. Naga women live in a politically sensitive environment given the people’s prolonged struggle for self-determination. They also face the complexity of the society that is undergoing the binary change and continuity, with the pull towards modernity on the one hand and strong undercurrents of traditional and customary particles on the other.
Naga Women organizations should have the mandate of the people and represent the voice of women most of who were borne out of the conflict and are therefore an integral part of nation building. Women in numerous Naga villages have intervened during battles. Some have gone into the midst of firing and clutched into guns, and pleaded the men to stop the shooting.
Where violence has become a part of the day-to-day life, women, in general, have played a constructive role. Yet, women on the front-line of efforts to end violence and secure a just peace, seldom record their experiences, activities and insights. Each woman has a story which is inspiring, teaching lessons of values, integrity and compassion. They have often acted as the bridge between civil society and the group involved in conflicts.
Traditionally, women have been left out of peacemaking and peace-building, or regarded simply as ‘the homemakers’. For peace-building initiatives to remain sustainable in the long term, women must be included in every level of the process. Yet current formal peace-building processes often remain largely male dominated in many societies with no exception to Naga Society. Their work in rebuilding communities, building peace and resolving conflicts has often been ignored and remain invisible. Women are also clearly under-represented or even absent in formal peace negotiations. Even if women leaders and organizations are active in civil society forums, they do not necessarily find their way into the formal peace processes. Women not only call for issues specific to themselves but raise issues that affect society as a whole such as individual and social disorganization. Thus, without the inclusion of women as equal partners in every stage of peace and security governance, in policy-making, planning, and implementation, the likelihood of creating a sustainable peace is much diminished.
As activists and advocates for peace, women contribute to reducing direct violence. As mediators, trauma healing counselors, and policy makers, women work to transform relationships and address the roots of violence. As educators and participants in the development process, women contribute to building the capacity of their communities and society to prevent violent conflict.
Naga women have proven themselves to be successful peace-builders and that their sacrifices and efforts should be acknowledged. Naga women’s understanding and wisdom of the workings of peace-making procedures should be appreciated and employed on a wider scale in order to meaningfully transform the Naga society.
*This article (abridged version) won the first prize in the inter-college essay writing competition organised by the North East Institute of Social Science and Research (NEISSR), Nagaland under the theme “Role of Women in Peace Building in the Context of Nagaland”.