Conflict and war impact on women and girls in specific ways. Their experiences of trauma, abuse, and bravery often go untold or unheard.
This week from the Jaipur Literature Festival in India, Jasvinder Sehgal hears from women writers in Bangladesh, India and Kosovo on what it’s like to be a woman in a conflict area.
Facing the fury of Islamic fundamentalists, Bangladeshi author Tasleema Nasreen has been living in exile since 1994.
Today she’s here at the Jaipur Literature Festival, where hundreds have gathered to hear her read from her memoir, “Exile.”
She has witnessed writers hacked to death in Bangladesh, and explained how she fled the country fearing for her safety.
Tasleema is known for her powerful feminist writing and unflinching criticism of religion.
She first started writing at age 13 and today has published more than 40 books. But at home her work has been blacklisted and banned – forcing her into exile as she fled multiple fatwas calling for her death.
But that hasn’t stopped Tasleema from voicing her views.
“I believe in one world because I don’t believe in nationalism. I believe in humanism, I believe in rationalism, I believe in rights and freedom,” she told the audience.
Shazia Omar is another writer from Bangladesh, who is also keenly aware of the limitations at home.
In the last two years, thirty writers, bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh have been killed in attacks by Islamic extremists, hacked to death by machetes. All thirty of those murdered have been men.
“I think there are not enough female writers to begin with,” commented Omar.
“This movement of Islamisization, a radical version of it, I believe we have to stop it by creating dialogue about plurality of faith, about different ways of expressing Islam,” she continued.
Omar, one of the very few Bangladeshi English-language fiction writers, has written on drug abuse, intentional happiness and Islam.
But writing from Bangladesh is becoming increasingly difficult she says.
“I faced fear, I had to question myself many times that should I write a book that explores different dimensions of Islam when it is such risky topic in the country?”
She continued, “and sometimes I thought I maybe shouldn’t, why am I putting my neck out? But at the end of the day as a writer I found, I couldn’t write a book that didn’t address the topics that I wanted to address.”
For the first time this year the Jaipur Literature Festival is hearing from women in conflict zones; about the unique challenges and perspectives women face in times of conflict and war.
Like those of activist Ruchira Gupta, who shared her experiences of working in Kosovo for the United Nations.
“The violence at that time I saw which is related to conflict was heart wrenching. There was trafficking of women, there was also the use of local women by soldiers who were posted there and supposed to guard them and taking sex against favors that they were doing in time of shortages during war,” said Gupta.
“The brothels opened in absolutely normal residential neighborhood to feed this growing army of soldiers from different countries,” she revealed.
Gupta was instrumental in the passing of resolution 1325 at the UN Security Council, which addresses the impact of war and conflict on women and girls.
Kashmiri poetess Naseem Shafaei – the first woman poet from Kashmir to win the prestigious Sahitya Akadmee literary award also joined the discussion.
Shafaei writes about the turbulent atmosphere of Kashmir – one of the most militarized zones in the world – from a woman’s perspective, especially the impact on her family life.
“It was difficult because my family went through very difficult times. My husband was abducted and was shot five times in abdomen and shoulders,” explained Shafaei.
“It took me so many years and then I had to move from Kashmir to Delhi for his treatment. We came out of that period, that trauma; God has been very kind to me.”