Project: Culture and Conflict

This article focusses on the findings and recommendations specific to India from the Culture and Conflict project. Overall findings for the project can be found here.

Working across four countries, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, this research investigates the value of culture to women in conflict settings, seeking to understand gendered economic exclusion and its relationship to peacebuilding, economic agency and empowerment. It uses a cultural mapping methodology to explore how communities of women across different conflict contexts rely on coded and tacit knowledge to rebuild their lives and to understand how cultural practices continue to exist and resist in these challenging contexts.

The following article focusses on the findings and recommendations from India specifically. You can find findings for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka linked here and below.

  • The women are able to use the training to effect and produce high value products quickly. The desire to make money and a living flows from the training as the women come to realise their own skills and self-worth as artists in the context of a patriarchal society that traditionally prioritises the skills of men.
  • Internally displaced women can make a viable income through craft making. The internally displaced refugee camps in this context are situated outside of the cities where there are few options for work. Craft making enables the women to generate an income from home and avoid expensive travel into the cities, leaving behind their duties of care.
  • Senior bureaucrats indicate differences of perspective of craftswomen and artists. One senior bureaucrat indicated interest in our training which provided much needed market driven design skills. This senior official has indicated interest in cascading training to wider craft clusters within the remit of their office. Another bureaucrat indicated concerns about training women in innovative design indicating possible dilution of traditional ways of making and obsoletion of heritage. This bureaucrat also dismissed women as hobbyists who cease to work upon marriage. Indicating that men were artists and worthy of training. A senior bureaucrat also indicated appreciation of the project, indicating access to further funding which enhanced the scale of this research and its applicability.
  • Inter community healing and relationship building. The project brought together a historically divided community where religious identity has created fractures. Hindu women who fled from persecution in 1992 returned for the first time to Kashmir for training in December 2023 with their Muslim counterparts. The Hindu/Pandit women continue to live in camps for internally displaced people in the neighbouring region of Jammu. After a few days of training, they shared tea, they sang songs, and lit a fire of dried chinar (maple) leaves and spoke about their emotional journey through an intense conflict, their desire to assist others in their community through income generated via craftworking. They spoke about shared skills, and cultural cohesion. This is a huge step in this context as the conflict has ripped apart the Kashmiri community and middle ground for dialogue is extremely limited.
  • Young women artists have ambition and resourcefulness to push the project into legacy mode work. These women have worked with our Indian partner to drive forward further funding to enable the cascading of training beyond the focus groups. Design innovation through content and material explorations is continued with vigour and deep interest well past the training phase of this research project.
  • Early Career Researcher Team has shown great promise. There is a very interesting dynamic between the six ECR’s in India – all from the region, and of approximately the same age, and different ethnic and religious background, they are an exemplar of community based participatory action-based research that is ethically sound, sensitive to difference, and inclusive in their operations.
  • Conflict systemically excluded women from the political narrative because of their gender, other factors like class, social status, ethnicity, religion, and cultural background added to their suppression even more. Women from communities that have been suppressed based on religion and ethnicity, caste, class, or geographical area (e.g., being located in a remote village), have suffered more because of the impact gender has on their location in the hierarchy. They are rendered invisible and voiceless.

Indian Government and Community Organisations:

  • Inclusion of the younger generation of women artists and craft makers from marginalised backgrounds and locations is key to rebuilding fractured societies and economies. It’s easy to work with English speaking, educated young people who are mobile and city based, but it is crucial to also work with those who are geographically remote and ethnically marginalised. Inclusion should not only be applied through a selection of most educated, English speaking, city-based partners alone. Women from an intersectional approach should be included in work. Tacit knowledge here is key and must be understood clearly.
  • Investment in community peacebuilding approaches through a gender lens is key. To begin dialogues between communities, such as in Kashmir and Jammu, a gender lens is crucial to ensure that all community members are recognised and being included in peacebuilding activities.