Women and The Armed Conflict
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY MARCH 8
Let’s acknowledge the role she plays in a conflict zone, writes Nazia Manzoor Khaki.
Woman is always treated inferior in any power structure, be it a family or outside world. She is subjected to all the possible kinds of violence ranging from physical to psychological. In the so called safe premises of her house, she is subjected to violence ranging from domestic violence to dowry deaths. Keeping in view the 100 years of observance of International Women’s Day, a woman is still suffering on many fronts. Here the attempt is to look at the violence which women face outside the family in situations of armed conflicts, in civil wars, insurgencies, communal violence etc. The years following the cold war witnessed the rise of civil wars and intra-state conflicts in many parts of the world where the majority of victims are women. The assumption is that woman suffers most because her gender is used as a site of violence in conflicts. In such armed conflicts, she finds herself in new spaces carrying different roles and undergoing all burdens. Such conflicts blur the divide between the private and public sphere. In an armed conflict a woman finds herself in varying roles from wailing mothers to combatants to peace-builders. They find themselves in the public sphere which was predominantly controlled by men.
The notion is that there is a feminization of enemies as symbolic domination. There is a tendency that enemies and subordinates are gendered feminine. As a result, recurrently,
victorious soldiers express domination by raping conquered women. The work of Joshua S. Goldstein in this area is worth mentioning. He has dealt in greater detail on the concept of universal gendering of war in his book on War and Gender. His hypothesis on feminization of enemies as symbolic domination proposes that men’s participation in combat depends on feminizing the enemy and enacting rape symbolically (and somewhat literally), thereby using gender to symbolize domination. Male soldiers use gender to represent domination. Psychologically, they assume a masculine and dominant position relative to a feminine and subordinate enemy. He has quoted historian Richard Trexler who has documented the “inveterate male habit of gendering enemies female or effeminate” throughout the ancient world.
The assumption is on the ground that woman in any conflict bears the double burden. One, being the direct victim and the other, being a woman. This is a gendered aspect of conflict where woman are the victims. Such conflict shatters their lives and the worst violence which they face is of rape. Rape is recognized in international law as war crime and crime against humanity because of the increase in the genocidal rapes in many conflicts. The woman’s body is the embodiment of honor and prestige of a community. In armed conflicts, whenever rape is used by the armed groups, the rape victims are further victimized by the society by imposition of dress code, by not marrying them and so on and so forth. History is witness to such treatment woman has met in all major conflicts. Atrocities in World War 1 and 2 often included rape-numerous cases were perpetrated by all the armies. In Bosnia, rape was an instrument of ethnic cleansing –used to humiliate and terrorize a population from one ethnic group in order to induce it to abandon desirable territory, the number of women raped (mostly Muslims raped by Serbian forces) has been estimated at 20,000( by a European Union commission) to 50,000( by the Bosnian government). Rape occurs in nearly every war, but in this one, degradation and molestation of women was central to the conquest. Some rapes were peculiarly oriented towards forced impregnation as a part of ethnic cleansing. The Bosnian war resulted in the inclusion of rape for the first time in an international tribunal’s indictments for war crimes. Bosnian war is not an exceptional case in magnitude. Systematic mass rape during conquest occurred in the Pakistani war against Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 (200,000 women). After the war, the government of Bangladesh had the greatest difficulty in trying to persuade the husbands of raped women to accept their wives. Simultaneously with Bosnia, rape played a role in the genocide in Rwanda and in the Haitian military’s suppression of resistance. In one town in Mozambique in 1991, “every woman and girls in the town had been sexually assaulted” while the town was occupied by rightwing guerrillas. In the “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovo by Serb forces in 1991, rapes were common, though apparently less systematic than in Bosnia. Other reports came from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Uganda, Algeria, Indonesia, Kashmir and Burma. At UN refugee camps, workers were regularly providing morning after contraceptives pills to women raped in or just before arriving at the camps as reported by Human rights watch. (Human Rights Watch 1995 Haiti: Human Rights Watch 1994 Mozambique: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch 1997 Sierra Leone: Human Rights Watch 1993 Kashmir).Indo-Pak partition reveals an ugly history where rape was used at an enormous level by both the factions. The other examples can be of Sri Lankan civil war, the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, Naga, and Assam conflict in India and the conflict in the Chittagong hill tracts.
Women suffer on many fronts in all the conflicts and particularly in armed conflicts she is exposed to all the vulnerabilities. Her experiences in war are determined by the gender culture in which they live and by the nature of the conflict. Whether they are victimized, liberated or express a conservative feminity, they have had strategic and symbolic functions in different conflicts and a sense of generalization can be gathered by the fact that despite the differences in conflict, woman because of her being woman receives the same gendered treatment. And even when she indulges in all the possible kinds of non-traditional work, she is still being discriminated against and projected as the victims in the humanitarian front of war story and their activism is highly undervalued. It is here where need is felt to incorporate changes and International Women’s day as United Nations says, such a day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
(Nazia Manzoor Khaki is pursuing Masters in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia , New Delhi)
Lastupdate on : Sun, 7 Mar 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 7 Mar 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 8 Mar 2010 00:00:00 IST
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