By Zubeida Mustafa
ARMS TO FIGHT, ARMS TO PROTECT; Women Speak Out About Conflict, edited by Olivia Bennett, Joe Bexley and Kitty Warnock. Published by Panos Institute, London. 282 pp. ₤I 0.95.
This book, recently published by the London-based Panos Institute,should be of special interest in the context of the grim crisis which has gripped Karachi for the last several months.
Arms to Fight Arms to Protect: Women Speak out about Conflict records the testimonies of 200 women from 12 countries who have been affected by war in one way or another.
The conflict in Karachi might not have escalated to the scale of the aimed confrontation in Bosnia, Lebanon, Somaliland, Sri Lanka, Liberia, Uganda, Tigray, Nicaragua and El Salvador (some of the countries where the studies were carried out) yet. But the firsthand accounts of the women who have been victims of war should serve as a warning to those who control the destiny of this strifetorn metropolis in Pakistan.
It emerges clearly from the harrowing tales of women who have been active participants in the .armed struggle or silent victims of the violence perpetrated by power-. hungry men that recourse to force does’ not always pay. Wadad, a Lebanese woman whose husband was kidnapped, says, “the damage is done, what’s happened to the country (in terms of) victims and ruins and twisting of minds. But the more dangerous thing that I fear is that we are building for a new war.”
Others fear that their sacrifices have been in vain. Sabaah from Somaliland speaks of another war that was inflicted on the widows of the first war.
Significantly, quite a number of the women interviewed by Panos did not show any involvement in the decision to go to war. Some like the women from Uganda perceived the war to be a struggle between power-hungry men wanting to get rich by force. Even where the women identified with their men because of ethnic or ideological factors they were not generally a party to the decision-making which led to the conflict. But that does not imply that all women are peace-loving and do not take up arms. They, • however, by virtue of their roles as carers and mothers in the home and organisers of peace and rehabilitation in society are less inclined to take up arms.
Rarely have conflicts led to the liberation of women. On the contrary, the repercussions of war on women have been traumatic. They have been more vulnerable especially when rape is used as a weapon of war to demoralise one side. In many cases, the agony oft women has intensified after the** war has ended. They have had to bear the ‘brunt of surviving in a shattered economy and, destabilised and fragmented society.
Marie of Lebanon put it suecinctly when she said, “War is what happens afterwards.” The task of rehabilitation and reconstruction” is after all not an easy one, especislly when women continue to be the victims of social prejudices and discrimination.
Panos has done an excellent job in putting this book together. For the women who participated in the project the process of sharing their experience and recalling their past was a valuable exercise to ease the*- pain many of them continue to feel years after the war has ended as in Vietnam and when the fighting still continues as in the Balkans. For the readers the book is important to help them understand and learn from the experience of others. If this book can preempt even one conflict, it would have served a use-‘ ful purpose.