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Library Contested Terrain: Oxfam, Gender, and the Aftermath of War

Contested Terrain: Oxfam, Gender, and the Aftermath of War

Contested Terrain: Oxfam, Gender, and the Aftermath of War

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Date of publication
November 2001
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The topic of gender relations in the context of conflict covers highly sensitive terrain, not only within the war-torn society, but for intervening institutions. Like other international humanitarian agencies, Oxfam Great Britain (GB) has faced difficult questions about whether its presence has sometimes done more harm than good. External agencies also have to ask themselves whether their interventions impact negatively on women and gender relations. Generally, ideas about the importance of harmonising short-term help with long-term goals are not realised in practice and this has serious implications for gender power dynamics. Oxfam GB has a number of sets of guidelines and standards relating to gender for its emergency programming and while these have been implemented successfully in some instances, they are not routinely applied.Oxfam GB's programme in Kosovo revealed how conceptual and programmatic divides make implementation complicated and difficult. These divisions have critical implications for gender equity goals in responses to conflict and its aftermath:•Relief versus development responses - this divide persisted in policy and practice despite an acknowledgement that longer-term prospects for the survivors of conflict should influence relief efforts.• Conflict versus post-conflict contexts - the Kosovo intervention did not take into account that conflict-prone societies experience cyclical dynamics of turbulence and peace, rather than a linear progression from conflict to peace.• Technical versus social interventions - the emergency situation in Kosovo was not considered an appropriate setting in which to address gender relations because challenging gender power relations is difficult and does not produce obvious tangible results. Therefore, questions about the impact of technical interventions on gender relations were not considered.Such divides also created tension between those working on short-term goals and those working on a long-term timeline, particularly as funds were largely focused on short-term relief and technical work. Due to perceptions of the 'private/domestic' as separate from the 'public' sphere and their associated gender ideologies, interventions were focused on the 'public' without consideration for the link with and impact on 'private' issues.To overcome these limitations, the Oxfam report recommends:• The systematic integration of gender equity goals within all aspects of emergency response programming. This would help to establish greater coherence between immediate emergency relief and longer-term recovery work.• Clear analysis of the dynamics between violence and conflict and the maintenance of gender identities, interests and power. For example, a clearer understanding of the links between gendered violence and armed conflict would help Oxfam GB overcome the divide between the private and the public spheres and direct its programmes towards peace and human security at all levels, from the household to the nation.Gender standards for humanitarian response have since been developed by the Oxfam Humanitarian Department and have been used in the post-conflict Sierra Leone and Angola, as well as other humanitarian responses in Cambodia, Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, West Bengal and Mozambique.

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S. Williams

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