GENDER: Sexual violence used to "break the will" of civilians


Modern war is often not about soldier against soldier, but a struggle to "break the will of civilians - women, girls, men and boys" by whatever means possible - including rape - the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) State of the World Population 2010 report published on 20 October states.

The term gender-based violence is often used to refer to violence against women, but, as the UN Guidelines for Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings state, "it is important to note... men and boys may also be victims of gender-based violence, especially sexual violence".

More than a third of Liberian men were thought to have been abused during the civil war between 1999 and 2003 and the report cites an interaction between a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) refugee and a Uganda-based aid worker as an illustration of how gender-based violence manifested itself among men.

Source:IRIN News
"He [the refugee] could no longer bear to watch helplessly as others around him were brutally abused. He had learned how powerless men could be in the face of utter lawlessness and unchecked violence. He [the refugee] had also suffered sexual abuse, unable to save even himself from gender-based violence. 'We are cowards; we feel bad,' [the refugee] said, 'That's why we all left.'"

In another example, the report quoted research by Uganda's Makerere University Refugee Law Project, which documented abuse suffered by people from the Great Lakes region, particularly the DRC, and recounted an ordeal by a male refugee being sexually abused by numerous soldiers.

"We were worth nothing. They were putting us in the place of women. [They said:] 'We are going to show you that you are all women. You are not men like us,' the refugee said."

Apart from sexual abuse, the report said, men were often forced to witness or participate in violence against women, such as "a wife and mother being raped by armed assailants", or, as one woman quoted in the report said, "how her brother was killed because he refused at gunpoint to rape her".

Her brother was killed because he refused at gunpoint to rape her
There were concerns among "many women and... women's advocacy organizations... that long, hard battles for recognition, justice and compensation for women must not be allowed to wane as more attention turns to men", the UNFPA report stated.

The report notes, however, that "many, if not most, actors in the global battle against gender-based violence, women as well as men, welcome a greater focus on men and boys as an important development because men are seen as part of a lasting solution, even when male behaviour is considered the problem."

Hurt by humiliation

"The hurt borne by men is not always directly physical. There is also, often hidden, psychological trauma inflicted, often for the purposes of intimidation and humiliation," Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project, said in the UNFPA report.

"Humiliation is a key issue. How do you humiliate? ... How do you establish your supremacy, your right to control? A lot of that seems to be achieved through particular forms of violence," Dolan said.

The report, From Conflict and Crisis to Renewal: Generations of Change, marks the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (30 October 2000) that called on parties engaged in conflicts to protect women and girls from violence and engage them in peace-building efforts.

The conflicts of the 1990s became the genesis for Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which addresses the equal participation of women in all peace and security issues within conflict and post-conflict states. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s was one of the catalysts for the resolution, where "the use of rape in war... led to the inclusion of sexual abuses of all kinds as internationally recognized war crimes".

In Resolution 1820, adopted on 19 June 2008, the Security Council demanded "the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect", and called for sex crimes to be exempt from any amnesty provisions within peace agreements.

Five-point agenda

Margot Wallström, since early 2010 the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, has set down a five-point agenda to reduce or eradicate gender-based violence.

It calls for an end to impunity for sexual crimes; the protection and empowerment of women and girls to enable them to contribute to peace initiatives; the strengthening of political commitments to ensure violence against women was "not pigeon-holed as 'just a women's issue'"; and the realization that "rape is the frontline ... Peace negotiations must address sexual violence early and fully to prevent war-time rape from becoming peacetime reality."

Finally, among Wallström's agenda was that women would not enjoy peace if rape persisted. The "law will not deliver justice for women if no reparations are made ... Change must ultimately be felt in the lives of women walking to market in Eastern Congo, collecting firewood outside a camp in Darfur, or lining up to vote in a village of Afghanistan. Their security is the true measure of success."