By: Lina Castellanos
Reintegration of ex-combatants is one of the main challenges in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration processes. Not only ex-combatants need to be given mechanisms for a sustainable reintegration, but they also need to have the determination to engage in what will be a complex long-term process. Still, one of the most relevant aspects in reintegration is the contribution and participation of society as a whole. Social Absorption –the ability of a community, economy and/or country to include ex-combatants as active full members of the society- is determinant when contemplating a sustainable reintegration. A national feeling of ownership of the process in which citizens are taken into account when planning and implementing DDR is crucial, but even more important is the ability of society to accept ex-combatants and participate in the absorption itself. The willingness to understand and accept that not all ex-combatants are the same, having in mind their live experiences, stories and roles in the past can contribute to planning and implementing accurate mechanisms for reintegration.
The Second Generation of DDR caseloads were no longer exclusively military male (which was the case in the first generation). Women and children were now new actors within armed conflicts. However, their experiences, roles and needs are often under-represented. In the case of women, considering all as victims or simply supporters of male combatants is inaccurate. Women’s experiences and roles inside armed conflicts are numerous and diverse. It is clear that some women experienced sexual slavery, forced sterilization, abortion, the suppression of their femininity and other traumatizing consequences in the context of conflict. Yet, others committed crimes, had coordination responsibilities or for example, were given nursery roles. Not all women experienced the same, and not all fit in the stereotypical conception of women perceived as caring, protective and maternal; some of them actually don’t want to fit in those categories.
Understanding the complexity of individual experiences and expectations will enable a realistic absorption capacity. Considering women’s perspectives, opinions and needs in peace-building is fundamental for sustainable reintegration. Women have the ability of bringing communities together, rebuilding societies and fostering a culture of peace. In that sense, the inclusion of women in DDR is not only a duty but a benefit for society in general. Conditions that allow demobilized women to become productive members of their communities must be one of the main goals in reintegration processes because the failure to do so can jeopardize the whole DDR.