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Women in conflict, peacebuilding and reconstruction: Insights from the aftermath of Nepal's Maoist insurgency

Smita Ramnarain, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation looks into different aspects of women's lives in the aftermath of Nepal's ten-year long (1996–2006) Maoist insurgency. It consists of four essays, each focusing on the experience of Nepali women in a particular aspect of post-conflict development and reconstruction activity. The first essay undertakes an examination of the survival and coping strategies of widow-headed households (WHHs) in Nepal in the aftermath of the Maoist conflict. Using qualitative data from in-depth interviews, the chapter analyzes the material consequences of the conflict on such households, the strategies such households have adopted in the aftermath to cope with economic uncertainty and insecurity of livelihoods, and the role of social and cultural processes in determining these strategies. Social and cultural norms pertaining to widowhood emerge as salient determinants of the level of kin and non-kin support widow heads of household can muster, of their workday structure, of their choice of employment and of their children's welfare. Contradictory outcomes prevail in determining WHHs' actual outcomes, which are also dependent upon class, caste, location and ethnic background. The second essay is a case study of peacebuilding and reconstruction activities undertaken by women's savings and credit cooperatives in Nepal in the post-conflict period. Using secondary data from a peacebuilding project called the Developing Democracy in Nepal (DDN) carried out by the Canadian Cooperatives Association (CCA) and the Center for Microfinance (CMF) in Nepal in the cease-fire period (in 2009), the chapter examines "bottom-up" peacebuilding and the role of women's cooperatives in reducing violence, promoting reconciliation and building peace in their local communities. The case of the DDN becomes a starting point to scrutinize the nature of peacebuilding and reconstruction—including its gendered elements—undertaken by cooperatives, and the dilemmas and challenges that appear herein. Lessons from the Nepal case are distilled for future development and peacebuilding practice. The third essay draws examples from qualitative (interview) data on Nepal's Maoist conflict to illustrate the ways in which attention to women's lived experiences of violent conflict can be used to inform policies and programs of post-conflict reconstruction and development in war-torn societies. Using women's narratives from in-depth interviews, it is argued that such a feminist perspective complicates conventional understandings of the processes and effects of violent conflict and encourages a closer look at the definitions, concepts and assumptions employed in exercises of post-conflict reconstruction or peacebuilding. The crucial insights gained from women survivors' narratives suggest a reflexive approach to policy-making and program design in war-torn contexts. The final essay is a quantitative exploration of the hypothesis that the incidence of female headship increases after periods of violent conflict. Using district level data from the Nepal Livings Standards Surveys and conflict intensity data from a human rights organization in Nepal, the chapter uses regression analysis to trace the relationship between conflict intensity and female headship. While the hypothesis is not borne out in the case of Nepal, the role of migration and geographical terrain emerges as relevant for female headship in the case of Nepal. The findings of the dissertation support its initial premise that it is essential to view material life and economic phenomena through a gendered lens in order to uncover the social, cultural and institutional constraints that are in operation for particular groups, especially women. In looking at how these constraints are exacerbated, or may provide opportunities for agency and action, important insights can be afforded into social processes and development outcomes.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Economics|Peace Studies|South Asian Studies|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Ramnarain, Smita, "Women in conflict, peacebuilding and reconstruction: Insights from the aftermath of Nepal's Maoist insurgency" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3518410.