Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in November 2006, in 2010 more than 19,000 Maoist Army combatants were living in cantonments in Nepal waiting to be integrated into security agencies or to return back to civilian life.
Saferworld conducted an assessment investigating the different needs, concerns and priorities of male and female combatants. The research involved focus group discussions and interviews in and around five cantonments as well as in communities where former combatants have already returned. We also interviewed security agencies, political parties, the private sector and the international community.
Our research found that both male and female combatants were concerned that families and communities would perceive them as a failure and reject them – but the reasons for this differed between men and women. Approximately 70 percent of men interviewed feared being humiliated for returning home 'empty handed' whereas women were more concerned about being seen as acting against culturally determined gender roles, entering into inter-caste marriages or behaving in ways regarded as promiscuous or aggressive.
We found that some female combatants who have already left the Maoist Army have been rejected by their communities because of stigma resulting from their inter-caste marriages or because they had suffered gender-based violence. These women were then left without a support network and many have moved to urban areas or to India, with some ending up in the sex industry.
Based on these findings a key recommendation from our research was to create specific rehabilitation options for women and men, based on their particular needs and priorities, including support for pregnant former female combatants and their dependents. We also emphasised the need to address the social stigma experienced by returning male and female former combatants through promoting community-based reconciliation and challenging rumours.
Several of these recommendations have been included in the Nepal National Action Plan (NAP) on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security which was endorsed in February 2011. In particular the Relief and Recovery pillar of the NAP recognises the need to identify the health, education and economic needs of former combatants; to ensure that female former combatants participate in the design of relief programmes targeted at them; and to provide income–generation training and seed money as per female combatants' needs.
This project, which marks Saferworld's first in-depth research into issues of gender, peace and security, demonstrates clearly that if we are serious about building more peaceful societies, we must empower women to have an equal say in the decisions that affect all our lives.