The revival of knitting clubs in the UK has created a new social scene for modern women, but in former war zones they’re being used to address war trauma and help reconstruct peace.
Research by an expert at The University of Nottingham has focused on how international aid agencies are sponsoring handicraft schemes run by women in countries like Bosnia and Liberia.
Dr Vanessa Pupavac, from the School of Politics and International Relations, has been studying the role of woman as peace-keepers in these former war zones; Bosnia particularly.
“In the last 20 years, international conflict management approaches have taken up the idea of women’s peacekeeping role,” explains Dr Pupavac. “International NGOs like International Alert have gender and peace-building programmes and lobbied governments to bring women into the peace processes.” The 2000 UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was an important global statement affirming women’s role in peace building.
The idea of woman as peace-makers is not a new one — as other academics like Kathleen Herbert have pointed out — the term ‘peace-weaver’ traditionally refers to women who were married to bring enemy tribes together. The metaphor of women as peace weavers is being translated into real practical programmes.
“Whether an Afghan Women’s Sewing Initiative, an African Amani Sewing and Reconciliation Project, or Burmese Weaving for Women project, it is striking how many NGOs support women at the loom or needle,” says Dr Pupavac.
International sewing projects in Liberia, for example, have been directed towards helping 20,000 female fighters reintegrate into society.
In Bosnia microenterprise schemes have been supported to help create livelihoods in a country which sits on an unemployment rate of some 40 per cent.
“The knitting and weaving projects proved very popular among refugees during the war as a form of occupational therapy,” says Dr Pupavac. “However they are struggling to provide secure long-term livelihoods. One problem is the dwindling numbers of international peacekeepers in Bosnia who have been the key customers for the handwoven rugs and other handicrafts. Unfortunately most locals cannot afford the luxury of handicrafts. Such microenterprises need broader economic development to be viable.”
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