Is sexual violence during war a gender or security issue? Deepthi Suresh investigates. 

Feminist scholarship on sexual violence during peacetime changed the way we talk about rape, making it a matter of public concern. Instead of a side effect or armed conflict, rape was seen as an integral part of the war time power struggle. This had important implications to the way we discuss rape that occurs outside armed conflict. Sexual violence is a form of social power, characterized by the gender power relations. Under feminist scholarship, rape became a politically charged discussion.

Then how do we assess wartime sexual violence?
Sara Meger has put forward the idea that, “Security approach to sexual violence unintentionally produces its fetishisation and that this process undermines efforts to address sexual violence”.

This fetishisation has directed policy towards security and protection, rather than addressing underlying attitudes.

The securitisation of sexual violence, therefore, has placed gender-based violence within the “high politics” of international security according to Sara Meger. By accepting that  gender-based violence committed in armed conflict is an inevitable consequence, it fits into traditional security paradigms. This understanding of gender-based violence somehow has lured policy makers into a fantasy of gender equity but in reality, only obscures the structures that may be the root causes of wartime sexual violence. By focusing instead on increasing security, we ignore the power structures that are vital to understanding rape

Why is feminist inquiry into sexual violence important?
Feminist inquiry certainly brought in a new mode of critical explanation that addressed issues of domestic violence and sexual violence both during wartime and peacetime. This non-conventional explanation recognised it as a political phenomenon. It also laid emphasis on gendered tropes and justifications that exist around why rapes exist.

Feminist researchers brought into the limelight evidence of brutal acts of sexual violence and strategic choices made by the perpetrators such as rape camps, genital mutilations, sexual torture, brutal accounts of soldiers who have perpetrators themselves, perpetrators who have been authority figures such as police officers and UN peacekeepers etc.

They also brought in enough empirical evidence on lack of intervention by agencies, the depiction of rape in popular media and by news agencies, the falsification of actual cases of rape in a particular place by international agencies or Non-governmental organisations etc. as well as the demand for an international collaboration to end rape.


Photo via Flickr.

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