Military occupation, human trafficking, forced migration and forced prostitution… Did you know that these challenges affect women in very specific ways? Moreover, its effects are leaving a mark for generations.
The nature of conflicts engages and deeply affects the non-combatant population, often in gender related ways. International relations function according to the principle of state sovereignty established by the Treaty of Westphalia. The very idea of sovereignty has made it difficult to intervene in cases of abuses of human rights, ethnic cleansing, massive rape and genocide.
In situations of a conflict there is an increase in the threat to women’s physical security, an increase in domestic violence and the risk to become rape targets in the context of state or ethnic violence.
When violence is directed at civilians, there is a need to identify the other, the group that is becoming the enemy. Violating women sexually is one way to assert domination over the other in the most humiliating way possible.
In war-torn countries women are often affected by conflict in ways that differ from the experiences of men.
Rape is as old as war itself, a weapon often more powerful than a bullet.
“First they shot her husband. Then the soldiers killed her two sons, aged 5 and 7. When the uniformed men yanked her daughter from her hands next, Mary didn’t think it could get any worse. We don’t kill the women and the girls,” the soldiers told Mary. “They said they would only rape us. As if rape were different than death,” says Mary.
“At least with a bullet, you die. But if you have been raped, you appear to the community like someone who is cursed. After rape, no one will talk to you; no man will see you or marry you. It’s a living death.” (Time, The Secret War Crime)
Rape remains one of the most underreported war crimes. Women, if they survive the attack, rarely tell anyone else. It became less taboo after being prosecuted as a crime against humanity for the first time in 1998.
Some facts on conflict situations and gender dimensions:
- Pre conflict situation:
Increased mobilisation of soldiers which leads to an increase in commercial sex trade, including child prostitution around military bases and camps.
Nationalist propaganda is used to gain support for military action which sharpens gender stereotypes and puts pressure on men to defend the country.
Mobilisation of pro-peace and activist organisations. Women have been active in peace movements all around the world.
Increasing human right violations. Women’s rights are not always recognised as human rights and gender based violence increases.
- During conflict situation:
Psychological trauma, physical violence, casualties, death.
Men make up the most part of armed forces, yet women become combatants as well. Women and girls are more often victims of specific forms of violence, including rape, sexual mutilation, humiliation, forced prostitution and pregnancy during times of armed conflicts.
Social networks and families are destroyed. Gender relations, the division of labour, the number of dependent women become responsible for changes.
The creation of refugee camps and internally displaced people is another stringent issue. The average amount of time people worldwide spend living in displacement is 17 years, according to 2015 data. (UNCHR)
- During reconstruction and rehabilitation:
Elements of conflict and gender dimensions remain visible in this phase.
Outside investigators and peacekeepers are brought in, which are often not focused enough on gender specific violence and women’s rights as human rights.
Reconstruction programs may not address or support women and girls’ health needs or needs for skills’ trainings. In demobilization combatants are often assumed to be all men and women are not included in land allocation or credit schemes.
Women start participating in the community and become active at grass roots levels or activists, recreating a sense of community.
Women’s actions have a significant impact, they have the ability to mobilise others and formulate their struggles into legitimate social concerns. They contribute to building new cultures of peace across the world with impact on non-governmental organisations, peace organisations, education, community reconciliation and policy making.
Equality and just peace cannot be achieved without a full integration of a gender perspective and equal participation of both men and women. The achievement is only possible with a guarantee of security for all. (United Nations former secretary Kofi Annan report: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, March 2005).