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Women and Nation-Building

Women and Nation-Building by Cheryl Benard. RAND, 2008, 225 pp.

Women and Nation-Building captures the reader’s attention from the start with an unnerving cover shot. The photo may appear to be only a snapshot of a female police recruit and a female captain in the Afghani police, but this picture is worth a thousand words—as compelling as the book’s content. As you turn the pages with image-driven urgency, you learn why the eyes of the women on the cover were seemingly begging you to dig deeper. As a woman, I found this a difficult read at times because the stench of oppression was so clearly portrayed, but the sweet aroma of hope always drew me back. The content calls for a way of being where the spirit of women is celebrated, marginalized status is removed, and women are fully brought into the nation-building process.

Funded by a grant from the government of Qatar and drawing on data and comments from an impressive list of partners’ fieldwork, RAND’s Initiative for Middle Eastern Youth and Center for Middle East Public Policy examined a key principle: the often overlooked role of women in nation-building. Dr. Benard presents a well-reasoned collection of findings in social progress and cultural change in a country immersed in nation-building activities. Women and Nation-Building goes beyond the normal declamatory evidence by analyzing the value of women in the nation-development process. This is not just another cursory review of one step in the long history of women’s development but a focused case study using what many other studies have worked hard to obtain—contemporary data presenting a balanced assessment of both the successes and failures to date. Taking the perspective of women as critical elements in postconflict nation-building, this eye-opening monograph relates the effect of Afghanistan women on current reconstructive activities in their war-torn nation.

Women and Nation-Building reformulates relationships at a time when postconflict reconstruction and putting new governments and social compacts into place have tended to outweigh gender uniformity issues. Afghanistan’s transition to democratic governance and the establishment of a common, global identity (sans gender restrictions) offered the perfect opportunity to develop roadmaps for improving the lives of the marginalized and disenfranchised. In addition to examining the Afghani women’s role, the treatise contains broader analyses of elements valuable for strategic, global partnerships. We are reminded that nation-building matters because world security is dependent upon the smooth integration of all states into the global community. Though gender parity is not the traditional enemy, it has come to the table as a common force that needs reckoning—a common denominator in contemporary nation-building and universal democratic governance. Findings of the case study point to the need for an essential shift toward gender equivalence in all areas of nation-building: human security, consistency, reconstruction, and reconstitution.

Women and Nation-Building is an important reintroduction to the unique features of nation-building, intersected with contemporary values characterized by gender equivalence as a pertinent constituent. The reader is provided a comprehensive introduction to the subject, followed by four chapters of primary success indicators: (1) security dimensions and women, (2) women’s health and education programs, (3) governance, and (4) economics. Each chapter describes basic concepts, systems, and social trends. An extremely strong chapter, "The National Solidarity Program," is steeped in compelling topics such as gender mainstreaming, community implementation, and the “ongoing interactive process” of women’s inclusion. The evolution of gender parity in Afghanistan, as documented in the National Solidarity Program’s Operation Manual, serves as pivotal information for the revolutionary trend in the current march toward acceptance. This chapter is focused on “opportunities, challenges, and successes of female inclusion,” sautéed in analysis and recommendations for future growth.

Benard does not place her faith wholly in the power of the alliances and top powers at play in this chess game, but the research anchors the proposed praxis in analytic and policy recommendations. She presents evidence indicative of the efforts required to shift from the usual, revving alliance machine to a strong coalition for women’s inclusion and social reform. There is clarity, purpose, and scope in the developmental measures recommended. The findings and resulting recommendations are supportive of both theoretical and practical leverage for future US- or UN-led initiatives. Recommendations for both policy makers and practitioners invoke contemporary methodologies on nation-building theory to bring about advances in data collection and gaining local support and cultural understanding.

Benard recommends constant vigilance when she asserts, “evaluation [of initiatives] will need to be outcomes-based and will need to focus on the female majority of the populations in question.” Women and Nation-Building asks the international community to focus goals on agreed-upon, defined, women’s rights; to resource/support the development of native “capacity-building” programs; to address inefficiencies in data collection and assessment of women’s participation in reconstruction efforts; and to resolve any contradictions associated with social change. This interesting and informative book takes a view into the soul of discord and unfairness surrounding current nation-building tactics that those in the throes of the process may not see clearly.

Several chapters present keen insights regarding the role of women in civil affairs, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, health, education, elections, economics, and security forces, while others look at the current status and prognosis of women in Afghanistan, addressing the spirit of women and their contributions to nation-building in a well-orchestrated blend of social, political, and economic history. Benard’s diligence provides the reader with a rich review of women’s influence in nation development and the fodder for further research and refinement of the nation-building agenda. Women and Nation-Building manages to bring the collateral damage (marginalized females) of unmodified, postconflict reconstruction before the reader’s eyes. Because these revelations are accomplished primarily through the exposure of elements paramount to the birth of a new generation of nation-building, this book is a “must-read.” It provides essential information for those involved in nation-building strategy and should be required reading for strategists involved in collective action for women’s rights.

Patricia Maggard, PhD

Squadron Officer College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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