In times of war and political crisis, when on the run, in refugee camps and also in the post-war confusion, women are too often targets of massive sexual violence. This includes gang rape, special forms of torture, forced prostitution, sexual harassment and sexual abuse. However, also in times of social repression and crisis, and in the post war period, women are widely exposed to sexualized violence against women.
For example, immediately after the Tsunami catastrophe, there were reports of rape and gang rape cases in the aftermath of the chaos. Male leaders of refugee camps misused their power to exploit and embarrass women.
A look at some figures:
Japan: During the Second World War, the Japanese army abducted an estimated 200,000 girls and women from various East Asian countries to serve as so-called 'comfort women' at the front. The proper term for this is sexual enslavement.
Rwanda: During the civil war and genocide of the 1990s, up to 50 percent of the female population experienced sexualized violence.
Bosnia: between 1992 and 1995, at least 20,000 women were raped.
Women represent in patriarchal thinking the family, culture and civil life. Therefore wartime rape not only has the aim to destroy the personality and identity of women as individuals but functions at the same time as an attack on the integrity of the community.
Sexualized violence is also used for the humiliation of men. This is an even bigger taboo. Now, 10 years after the war, it slowly becomes public that in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that about 4000 men had been sexually harassed and raped in Bosnia.
And there is a close connection between the presence of military/UN troops and the increase of, in a lot of cases, forced prostitution. Like, for example, in Cambodia and Kosova, Bosnia and Liberia.
There is a connection between sexualized violence, war rape, peace missions and the development of forced prostitution. In highly militarized environments sexualized abuse, torture and murder are considered as legitimate practices and as a matter of course. Trafficking in women has other significant intersections with issues related to poverty and access to the labour market in war countries, feminization of migration, women's low social status and therefore their vulnerability to sexualized violence.
War and terror have the effect, sometimes deliberately achieved, sometimes incidental, of rending apart the fine fabric of everyday life, its interlaced economies, its material systems of care and support, its social networks, the roofs that shelter it. This affects women, who in most societies today have a particular responsibility for the daily reproduction of life and community, in ways that are both class and gender specific. The poorest are least able to escape the war zone or buy protection.
It is perhaps in brutality to the body in wars that the most marked sex difference occurs. Men and women often die different deaths and are tortured and abused in different ways, both because of physical differences between the sexes and because of the different meanings culturally ascribed to the male and female body.
There could be three explanations for the widespread use of rape of women in war.
• First is the booty principle. It has always been an unwritten rule of war ‘that violence against women in the conquered territory is conceded to the victor during the immediate postwar period... Normally the orgies of violence toward women last from one to two months after a war and then abate.
• Second, while rape serves to humiliate enemy women, it also ‘carries an additional message: it communicates from man to man, so to speak, that the men around the woman in question are not able to protect “their” women. They are thus wounded in their masculinity and marked as incompetent’. This is a particularly powerful motivation in ethnocidal wars. Women analysing the epidemic of rape in the wars associated with the break-up of Yugoslavia have noted how women’s bodies have been used as ‘ethnic markers’ in nationalist ideology. When men too are raped, sexually humiliated, or their genitalia mutilated, the act is no less gendered: it is their masculinity that enemy men are deriding.
• The third explanation could be that rape (particularly gang rape and systematic rape) is permitted to men by officers, and engaged in by the rapists themselves, because it promotes soldierly solidarity through male bonding.
In warfare, therefore, but also in political terror, the instruments with which the body is abused in order to break the spirit, tend to be gender differentiated, and in the case of women, to be sexualized.
Finally, in some parts of the world slavery is persisting or returning, and war is a primary source of slaves.
For example tens of thousands of women, mainly Dinkas, seized in the war in southern Sudan have been sold by their captors into sexual servitude.
The Japanese Government have recently acknowledged what was effectively a practise of institutionalized enslavement during World War II in the extensive network of military brothels established throughout the Asian theatre of war for the use of soldiers of the Imperial Army. The estimated 200,000 ‘comfort women’, as they were known, included Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian and Dutch women.
In Bosnia, Kosova and Albania there has been a huge increase of women being trafficked internally and externally. The international male community based in these countries as KFOR-soldiers, administration staff (like UNMIK in Kosova) and humanitarian aid workers are part of the exploitation of these women.
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Last update : 26-09-2007 16:15