After reading the article and the comments, I decided to contribute with a little beam of light from my own experience (I have been involved in UN peacekeeping education for the last 10 years, and represented my country -Argentina- in UN-DPKO and UN-OHCHR projects.
In her article, Elizabeth portrays a cruel reality that is even worse than what sheer words can transmit. But I feel that somehow the big issue is not grasped. Most conflicts occur in tribal societies, where women are allotted a certain gender role. With the men going to war they have to take upon themselves other roles because they are left by themselves. We used to say that women were part of the vulnerable groups, the term was changed by "groups at risk", because it doesn't connote weakness from the part of corageous women. Some other time I can expand on this.
But I wanted to make a point of something else. As the comments put it, it seems that "women have to pay the price [of war]" or that they are at "greater risk of HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnacies...". Then I read that "men...think they can do as they please...". I disagree with this views.
We have to bear in mind that gender violence is an integral part of military tactics or strategies(call it whatever)mainly of irregular armed factions (not common among regular armies)in all conflicts, mainly when they are rooted in ethnicity. In supposedly "civilized" societies, women are brutalized by individual men. But in conflict areas, violence against women is systematized, because they are instrumental against the opposite faction. Killing has no consequences. Death is a blessing, you don't have to take care of dead women or children. Armed irregular forces have put into pracice crueler ways of infringing damage to the enemy, ways which surpass the imaginable.
Examples? In Rwanda it was not just that women were being raped, no...death squads (men suffering HIV/AIDS) were sent in order to infect female victims of rape, so as to create a greater problem to the enemy. As when in Sierra Leone whole villages were maimed at knee and elbow level, knowing that somebody was left out of combat in order to take care of the crippled who had no hands to use, or legs to move! Barbaric? It's the same principle the civilized world uses when planting land mines...it injures the soldier, but rarely kills him, and at least 2 other soldiers have to take care of the casualty! MACABRE, ISN'T IT?
Unwanted prengancies, if you see it from our perspective! And one thing we are good at is at looking at things from different perspectives! Those pregancies are "WANTED" by the perpetrators of rape. It is a way of dirtying the ethnicity of a certain group. A "subtle" way of ethnic cleansing (terrible euphemism). The woman and her baby are rejected by their social environment.
What is worse, when a peace agreement is in place and the DDR process starts, women are victimized by their own male relatives, who arrive home after going through traumatic experiences and pour all their anger on their own women!
Summing up: gender violence is not just a brutalizing act, but a systematic and agreed upon way of using women to impair the capacity of the enemy faction.
Mind you, I am speaking of irregular combatants. As for regular armies, first of all "US Peacekeeping Units" is almost an oximoron! And as for UN Peacekeeping Forces, there have been numerous cases of Sexual Abuse and Explotation (SEA) which have led UN to a blunt "Tolerance Zero" among troops. But, but...the curious thing is that the worst cases were carried out by civilian personnel, not by the military. The problem is that the military (as they are uniformed) are more "visible", so to speak. The worst case happened in MONUC, if I'm not wrong, where a UN civilian had bulks of photos and films practicing pedophilia. So, again, summing up: let's try to avoid prejudices against the military in PK, and let's create awareness that any man - UN, NGO's, yo name it- whether uniformed or not can take advantage of the power they can exercise over the local population.
Moreover, people that are supposed to help or bring a solution in an apparently post conflict area, many times make things worse out of ignorance of cultural norms of the people they want to help. Example? With the war in Afghanistan, the locals crossed the border and were located in refugee camps. There were so many widows of war that the decision was taken to separate them from families that had a male head. The rumour was spread that in the "Women's Camp" prostitution was praciced, until the inhabitants of the other camp had the proof that it was true and burnt down the WC. Which was "the proof"? Humanitarian agencies had includen soap in the weekly boxes, without taking into account that muslim women only wash with soap after having sexual intercourse! So cultural awareness is a must!
Thanks for your patience if you got to this point in your reading!
July 24, 2009 3:29 PM