Global war and its impact on African women

In a 2006 interview, George Bush referred to the war on terror as World War III. Perhaps he was right. We are witnessing a modern day world (or “global”) war, very simply put between those who claim to be fighting to uphold freedom from extremist religious fundamentalism, and the other side waging war against “unbelievers”. (And yes, Bush is also a cause of the global war but that’s another story.)

Everyone is not as gloomy as Bush about the state of the war, however. Last weekend, Bush’s global-war-ally, Tony Blair, shared an alternative view. In a Guardian OpEd, Blair wrote, “There is hope for the future amid the turmoil of the Middle East”. In true psychopatic Blairite fashion, he was obscuring the seriousness of the problem to protect his own power-hungry interests.

The situation seems in fact graver than ever. Despite Obama’s claims that Al-Qaeda is near defeated, the 19 US embassy closures this week including four in Africa (Madagascar, Rwanda, Burundi and Mauritius) suggest otherwise. The circumstances are not aided by the increasing number of western-based jihadists, such as Denis Mamadu Cuspert, a Ghanaian-German former gangsta rapper known as Deso Dogg who is now a Jihadi rapper, Abou Maleeq, and is fighting in Syria and whose disquieting Youtube videos encourage blowing people up with bombs and grenades.

Of course, all Africans are impacted by the global war and its steady spread to African soil. Like Professor Wole Soyinka says about war and fundamentalism in the remarkable book Of Africa – “As if the African continent did not have enough on her plate, enter a shadowy but lethal force determined to reenslave a continent” – but  nevertheless African women are especially affected for several reasons of which I’ll name a few.
First, the militarisation of Africa as a result of the global war strengthens male dominance and compromises all the hard-earned changes women have fought for. As the Nigerian feminist, Amina Mama, writes in her insightful analysis of African womanhood in the age of war, there are “links between war and the male domination of political and economic arenas”. Furthermore, African women are losing their sons and husbands to spreading conflicts. Widowhood is thus on the rise with its own set of harsh consequences for many women. Also, young girls are increasingly recruited for wars and rape and violence is at an all time high. Add to this that issues that are to do with gender, war and migration such as sex trafficking, peace-building and poverty, affect African women’s lives disproportionately.

Women have the right to a peaceful existence and the right to participate in the promotion and maintenance of peace. – The Maputo Protocol, Article 10

I keep on postingposting and posting about the African Women’s Decade and the Maputo Protocol on my blog because I think you should all save a copy of it and if your line of work permits, use it as the tool that it is. Heck, use it whatever your line of work is. I’m posting the link in this instance because the devastating impact that the global war has on many African women’s lives should also be understood within the remit of the African Women’s Decade.

I’ll leave you with a line by Yvonne Vera that I think captures a real danger faced. “The war begins. A curfew is declared. A state of emergency. No movement is allowed. The cease-fire seizes. It begins in the streets, the burying of memory.”

Would love to hear your thoughts as always.

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  • Doreen

    A lot of good thoughts here, I’m not sure I have anything to add! I enjoyed reading. I would say that it does a disservice to women to consider the ways that affect women to be gender. Civil war and conflict in general affects men and women in different ways- ways that are gendered- but the ways in which women and men are affected are both gendered. Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, to end up single heads of households, to be impoverished, but men are more likely to be killed, to be recruited, and sometimes they are also on the receiving end of wartime rape.

    That said, gender mainstreaming definitely needs to become a part of the conflict resolution discourse. I am doing a Masters in peace studies right now, in which other Masters students studying PEACE think that “women” are a secondary, specialized concern.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Doreen, thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear from a student in Peace Studies on this topic! Your point about how war affects both genders is true and my aim is not to diminish the impact war has on African men, or men and women in the rest of the world for that matter. However, I also get the feeling that women are seen as a secondary, specialised concern in war discourse and I believe that this could not be further from the truth.
      Why do you think gendering the impact of war does a disservice to women? I didn’t quite understand that part.

      • Doreen

        Thanks for our response, Minna!

        Maybe I just didn’t phrase myself well/did’t read properly- I think taking a gendered approach to understanding war and approaching peace building is crucial, but that what I meant by “disservice” was considering gender to be how it affects women, and the “regular” way in which war impacts people to be how it impacts men.

        I don’t know if I’ve made myself clearer, or just muddled my words even more!

        • MsAfropolitan

          Oh, I see what you mean. To avoid making the male experience the “regular” one and as a result women’s war experiences secondary. It’s tricky because this is what people automatically seem to do, for instance Africanist debates on AFRICOM most often outgo from a male-centric perspective (of course without realising that this is what they are doing). So there is a need to address that war comes with specific impact for women and yet how to do that without reinforcing the idea that women are almost an after thought…


  • Zara Chiron

    A great read!

    My mother was in the Nigerian civil war and she was still so traumatized years afterwards! She was only a teenager and the first daughter who was forced to grow up fast and take care of her siblings due to the chaos going on around her. She was also made to disguise herself as a pregnant woman to avoid being raped.
    There were no systems in place to help people deal with the after effects of the war – she had to heal on her own.

    Some may not recognize the importance of this subject. In Africa, we have so many things to work on and every single issue counts to the greater good of the continent’s progress.

    Thank you for this brilliance.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Zara, thank you. Thanks for sharing. What I find whenever this topic is brought up is how much closer to all our lives war stories are. The impact is tremendous.
      I can’t imagine the strength it took your mum to heal and you as well, knowing the things she went through.

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