The Peace Counter
In militarised situations violence against women (and minorities) rises.
Last October, a new index was released at the United Nations but drew very little attention around the world—in itself an indicator of how much work remains on the subject of the index, “Women, Peace and Security.” Developed by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo and the Georgetown Institute on Women, Peace and Security, the new Index pulls together information about how women fare around the world on three indicators critical to peace—inclusion, justice and security.
What does this mean? For over a century, women peace activists have been pointing out that women experience and suffer differently during any kind of conflict. More recently, feminist scholars are also pointing to ways in which crises and conflicts disrupt old patterns—not just displacing women and their families but also offering them opportunities to learn, to become leaders and to step outside traditional housebound roles.
In October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted the first of what we now call the “Women, Peace and Security” (WPS) resolutions, 1325, mandating the inclusion of women in conflict resolution and peace processes. This Index gathers and organises the statistical evidence that policy-makers and activists can use to further this mandate. In so doing, it also offers us a good way to capture the status of women in different parts of the world, in both absolute and relative terms.
The WPS Index uses three dimensions for this assessment. The first is inclusion, which they measure through political (parliamentary representation), social (education) and economic (financial inclusion, employment and cell-phone use). The second is justice, operationalized as discriminatory norms, legal discrimination and son bias. Finally, they offer a way to operationalize women’s security, as organised violence (counted in terms of battle deaths), community safety (safety on the streets at night) and intimate partner violence.
While inclusion is a common indicator in most studies of women’s status and gender gaps are also now measured by various agencies, their measurement of security is innovative. They bring to it a feminist understanding of violence as a spectrum that takes in both the interpersonal (intimate partner violence) and the public (street safety and battle-deaths).
While data collection is imperfect and usually not disaggregated by gender, this remains a very important innovation because it allows us to quantify two relationships that we know exist, but through anecdotal accounts. First, when levels of violence against women (and minorities) rise in a society, it is a reliable early warning for conflict and militarisation. Second, in situations that are militarised or where protracted conflict has been experienced, violence against women (and minorities) rises.
So how does India fare on each? The Index includes data on 152 countries; India ranks 131. On the inclusion dimension, Indian women go to school for about five years on an average. About 71% use a cell-phone, although only 43% have a bank account and 29% are employed. Women make up only 12% of the Indian Parliament. On the justice dimension, India does better on paper with low scores on legal discrimination and discriminatory norms at work, but son bias, measured as the “extent to which the sex ratio at birth exceeds the natural demographic rate of 1.05,” is high. That is not news, but the mapping offers an extra advocacy tool. The point is, as long as we continue to prioritise males over females, laws and rules will make no difference.
On the security dimension, 66% of Indian women reportedly feel safe in their neighbourhoods. However, the Index tells us that 37% of them experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Battle deaths in India are low. Where are these numbers coming from? The Index does not list every single source in the public domain edition.
On the more general note, the authors tell us that where statistics were not available, they used regional data or projected data from one locality to the national average. That makes the 66% number interesting; is it from New Delhi or is it from Satara? The intimate partner violence numbers may be from the National Family Health Survey series because we are told that table has been drawn from national demographic and health surveys.
The organised violence numbers come from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program whose data are not gender-disaggregated. Moreover, one gendered consequence of conflict is that more men die so that only indicates the general social context. Finally, in a large country like India, where intensity of conflict is local, these numbers may not say much. This need not detract from the value of the Index itself—especially when the authors are candidly conscious of its lacunae—but must point to the importance of better gender data collection.
To return to the comparative context, at 133, India ranks twenty from the bottom, doing better than Pakistan (150) and Afghanistan (152) in our region but trailing behind Nepal (85), Sri Lanka (97), Bhutan (108), Maldives (120) and Bangladesh (127). Iran ranks 116 and Myanmar at 119.
In the face of these abysmal indicators that around half of India’s population is not doing well, our global aspirations take on the quality of the folktale about the trader who dozed off beneath a pot of grain that was his key to prosperity. In his dreams, he acquired an empire but as he flailed his arms to show off its expanse, he hit the pot and his dreams scattered (and shattered).
The WPS Index could shake us out of denial, and in India we are somewhat in denial about both gender inequality and conflict. In post-2012 India, we do acknowledge gender inequality but have turned it into commercial capital, while each of us would like to believe that we are exceptionally liberal and egalitarian. Official India believes no conflicts wage within its borders and that therefore, norms like 1325 do not apply.
The Index, linking ‘peacetime’ and ‘wartime’ in the way it measures inclusion, justice and security, renders the false distinction between the two irrelevant. This means that in addition to the open conflicts we recognise, we also acknowledge the conflicts embedded in social structures, paving the way to building a sustainable, just peace.