THE BLOG

Why the Education of Women Is Essential to Create Conditions of Peace

10/01/2014 16:29 GMT | Updated 12/03/2014 09:59 GMT

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When the cry for battle comes it is normally men who pick up their machetes and AK47s and begin their march towards the enemy. Whether men go to war by choice or by conscription, in most cases women are not called upon to seize arms and fight alongside their husbands, fathers and brothers.

Women face enormous challenges during war, whether it's in Syria or South Sudan. War is more than fighting, it is about helping her family to survive both during and after the conflict, long after the media has departed the battlezone.

The list of countries currently engaged in armed conflicts with heavy fatalities - Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Syria - have traditional family structures: the woman is the caregiver and the man the provider. When the man dies during war, so too does the household income. This leaves the woman alone, often with few skills and psychologically affected by the war, to support her family.

At the end of November 2013 reports flooded in from Syria that 6000 women have been raped since the start of the conflict in March 2011 (Figures from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network). The same report stated that women were often used as human shields, and that women are being used as human currency, bartered in exchange for prisoners. According to statistics provided by the survivors-fund.com between 250,000-500,000 women were raped during the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide. As a result of this, it is believed that 25,000 children were born. These tragic statistics show the high cost of the other side of war-the war that gets less media attention because it lacks big toys, loud weapons and guns.

Thanks to traditional cultural norms women are often the main survivors of war. Like men, total war means that women are also left with psychological scars. But, as survivors, women are increasingly looked to do help rebuild their communities as quickly as possible for the sake of global stability.

How can they do this with no resources, few skills and a lack of education? It is essential that women are begun to be seen more as equal partners in the developing world and less as property or baby-machines. In South Sudan, just 16% of women can read and write, making it the lowest ranked country in the world for literacy.

On top of disease and homelessness, not being able to read and write makes it extraordinarily difficult for female survivors of war to start rebuilding their communities. The call for wider education for women should be loud and global. It is not stated in any religious text that women should be repressed: women make up more than half of the world's population so should be educated equally to men. With education comes a basic knowledge of business, language and the world. In peacetime, this translates into greater economic gain.

Charity Women for Women International believes that if women shared the political stage in many countries at war there would be greater stability. Russian feminist Tatyana Mamanova argued that "women give life. She is organically against war." Although feminists may wish to argue that women should be against war, as a person, not as a mother, the main role of women in today's conflict zones is as a mother, a caregiver.

Based in eight countries including South Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq, Women for Women International supports women by putting programmes in place where they are able to learn how to develop business models, become leaders within their communities and start social enterprise schemes. By teaching women in South Sudan how to bake bread, the charity is helping women develop skills for a sustainable and viable business model. In turn, this will bring money into the community which will enable schools, shops and other essential infrastructure to be built. Other charities doing crucial work with women in conflict include Care International and Womankind.

The UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict pledges to give survivors economic support to rebuild their lives, counselling and legal support. However, this is relatively worthless without trying to stop the violence, abuse and war at the very root of the problem, something that education would go far towards resolving.

This is a plea to remember the other side of war. Not the death, the fighting, but the malignant cancer of post-war suffering. We need to ensure that war's survivors are given the best chance to rebuild their communities. Let's start with recognition of women. Let's follow that with education. And let's end it with peace.