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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .


Sites of Violence: Gender and Conflict Zones
Wenona Giles and Jennifer Hyndman eds.

Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004,
pp1-361, 15.99, pb, ISBN 0520237919.


This edited volume is the result of collaboration with a group of international feminist researchers within the Women in Conflict Zones Network, hosted by York University in Canada. As the title of the network suggests, the book presents original research illustrating feminist analyses grounded in particular conflict zones around the world. From Iraq and Afghanistan to Guatemala and Somalia, the book notes how the rules of war are changing as the distinctions between battlefield and home, soldier and civilian, state security and home security break down. In essays on nationalism, the political economy of conflict, and the politics of asylum, the authors investigate what happens when the body, household, nation, state and economy becomes sites at which violence is invoked against women, men and children.

The authors? starting point is that conflict resolution, reconciliation and prevention cannot begin until we understand the gendered politics that perpetrate and perpetuate violence. To advance this understanding, the book divides into four parts: ?Feminist Approaches to Gender and Conflict?; ?Making Feminist Sense of Violence Against Women in War and Post-War Times?; ?Feminist Analyses of International Organisations and Asylum?; and ?Feminist Futures: Negotiation Globalisation, Security and Human Displacement?. The success of this book is that it moves beyond an analysis of gendered politics in sites of violence to extending a feminist understanding of transversal politics. Transversal politics, now adopted by a range of feminist researchers working on collaborative projects, recognizes the specific positioning of political actors and the situated nature (and limits) of knowledge claims. Transversal politics emphasises empathy and openness to other positionings rather than differences from them. Both Nira Yuval Davis and Cynthia Cockburn have used this approach to show how women can build feminist coalitions based on strategies of resistance, despite the diversity of their cultural backgrounds. Both have chapters in this book, but it is Cynthia Cockburn?s that best explains this approach. Cathy Blacklock and Alison Crosby?s chapter on undertaking research by ?outsiders? with ?insiders? in the Guatemalan post-war environment is particularly significant in this context. They note that feminist researchers should be sensitive to the demands they make of women?s groups and pose pointed questions about who are the beneficiaries of ?conflict? research.

Since making links between these different sites of violence is a theme running throughout the book, Cockburn develops the concept of ?a continuum of violence? to illustrate these links. Her chapter draws on examples to show the links between the gender violence of everyday life, to the structural violence of economic systems that sustain inequalities and the repressive policing of dictatorial regimes, to the armed conflict of open warfare. Audrey Macklin?s chapter is also particularly useful in that it develops links between the abusive power of multinational companies in conflict zones and the abuse of power within intimate relationships. Macklin uses the example of a Canadian oil company in Southern Sudan to show the impact of global capital investment on human displacement. She discusses how security has been redefined, not as the protection of human rights, but as the protection of oil company stock prices. She links the way women who have been displaced by the oil company, in collusion with the Sudanese military, move north to escape rape and enslavement only to be arrested for selling illegal alcohol on the streets of Khartoum. The members of the Canadian task force, of which Macklin was one, were sent to investigate the potential abuse of human rights by the Canadian oil company (Talisman Energy Inc.), but they met with little success when their report was produced. Her chapter raises serious questions about the complicity of the Canadian state in the war in Sudan.

The themes of globalisation, ethnic nationalism, and militarisation are pursued in other chapters which show how women?s lives are effected by political and gender violence. Shahrzad Mojab connects war and honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan whilst Morokvasic-Muller highlights the way in which women in mixed marriages became the first targets of ethnic cleansing and remain in the position of ?other? in the post-Yugoslav states. Preston and Wong link the legacy of British colonialism and structural adjustment policies to recent militarised conflict in Ghana and show how this has contributed to women?s increasing social and economic marginality, as well as their vulnerability to various forms of gendered violence. The chapters on the role of international organisations in refugee camps, using case studies from Kenya and Sri Lanka, conclude that for women in particular, ?place matters?. De Alwis?s chapter on the relocation of Muslim women in Sri Lanka turns the concept of ?no man?s land? on its head. She shows how those organising the refugee camps did not consider the ?spatial? importance of privacy, placing toilets where women felt they had to parade past groups of men and categorising them as ?loose? women. The loss of cooking utensils takes on a particular significance in such camps and needs to be better understood by those tasked with helping women to reconstruct their lives. The concept of women?s space is also well explained in Asha Hans? chapter on Afghan women?s flight, first from the Taliban and then from the war. In these chapters, and those on Kosova and Serbia, women?s displacement is reinforced in the exclusionary process of nation-building.

The innovative theoretical, methodological and empirical approaches to gender politics, and the ways they are employed to incite and exacerbate violence, make this an excellent textbook for students of ethnic conflict and peace studies. The book will also be essential reading for those researching in the field of globalisation, human security and human rights. The strengths of this book are in its interrogation of new concepts such as ?human security? and the overlapping civilian and military spaces that constitute sites of violence. Both of these are approached from a feminist perspective and help to broaden the analysis of what constitutes a conflict zone. In ?Sites Of Violence?, Giles and Hyndman have produced an excellent book that succeeds in discerning common patterns of waging war and forging links among those who resist or refuse to participate in fuelling violent conflict. This book should help us to think about the ways in which power is negotiated so as to prevent further zones of conflict escalating in the future.


Monica McWilliams, Professor of Women?s Studies and Social Policy, University of Ulster



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