Claiming Space: Reconfiguring Women's Roles in Post-Conflict Situations


Koen, Karin. 2006. "Claiming Space: Reconfiguring Women's Roles in Post-Conflict Situations." Institute for Security Studies 121: 1-16.

Author: Karin Koen


The paper explores the utility of women in peace negotiations, peace building and post-conflict reconstruction efforts throughout Africa. It links the discussion with international rights-based frameworks that afford women political gravitas. The paper focuses on the violence women experience in conflict situations and on state policies and practices as corrective measures for gender inequities.

Keywords: globalization, women's rights, post-conflict reconstruction, gender transformation


  • This paper presents an overview of the effects of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction on women and girls, particularly in Africa. It focuses on the violence that women face during times of conflict and assesses the possibility of using international organizations, such as the UN and the AU, to incorporate women into the post-conflict peace-building process.
  • In her section “Engaging the State,” Koen writes that the transition to democracy, which usually occurs as part of the post-conflict reconstruction process, oftentimes provides an opportunity for a shift in gender relations. Using African states as an example, she argues that transitional periods open up a space for women to engage with the state, allowing them to be integrated into the process of policy reform.  Because the state is the most powerful agent of social and political change in many African countries, it is crucial that women become engage with the state as much as possible in order to achieve gender equality.
  • Koen proceeds to examine why women face such high levels of violence in times of armed conflict in her section entitled “Reconfiguring justice in post-conflict situations.” She writes that in war and conflict situations, “justice systems and structures are usually among the first institutions to collapse” (3), so the laws preventing gendered violence no longer apply.  Oftentimes, gender-based violence crimes are not considered war crimes, so they are not brought to the International Criminal Court.
  • In the following section, Koen explains that women have been excluded from the reconstruction process in African countries for decades. She outlines the history of various African countries’ transitions to democracy, explaining that women’s emancipation has always been secondary to national liberation. In fact, the struggle for gender equality was oftentimes viewed as undermining national reconstruction efforts. While women in post-conflict situations may use international organizations to assist them in their acquisition of rights, they are often hindered by lack of access to these organizations as well as the deep-seated patriarchal values that underlie their societies.
  • Koen delineates the various declarations and charters that grant women rights, but she explains that these statements have been largely ignored by the governments of Southern African countries. Because these male-dominated governments rarely implement institutional policies that empower women, women are oftentimes denied the opportunity to participate in post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Koen attributes the failure of these gender equality initiatives in part to the rise of religious fundamentalism and conservatism on the African continent. Additionally, because the transition to democracy in many African countries was so rapid, there was little time for the evolution of institutional developments that would promote gender equality.
  • Koen concludes that due to globalization, women’s organizations now have more power to influence the state and integrate female-friendly policies into the national political agenda. She writes that the documents created by international institutions should be implemented by the state in order to achieve the ultimate goal of gender equality.

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa

Year: 2006

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