Tag: CRSV

All These Resolutions and the Bodies Keep Piling Up

Scenes from the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

It was the resolution that nearly wasn’t. Earlier this week, the UN Security Council very narrowly passed Security Council Resolution 2467, the latest in a string of resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, after the US threatened to exercise its veto power to prevent the Resolution from getting off the ground.

Sponsored by Germany, Resolution 2467 sought to develop a suite of measures to address sexual violence in war and strengthen prevention efforts. It would encourage commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions set up by the United Nations to address rape and other sexual crimes in their investigations of human rights violations in war zones and urge UN sanctions committees to apply sanctions against perpetrators of this violence.

The biggest source of tension came from a phrase promising “timely” sexual and reproductive health assistance to survivors of sexual violence, which the US declined to support, threatening to veto the Resolution should the phrase remain. The final resolution has removed all reference to “sexual health and reproductive rights,” an area that has become so politicized as to be a roadblock for many of the UN’s initiatives on addressing women’s rights and security.

But as Fionnula Ni Aolain notes:

[R]eproductive health is much more than abortion. It includes the right to fistula operations, the right to ongoing monitoring and choice in reproductive regulation (i.e. whether to have access to contraception in the aftermath of rape to prevent pregnancy), the right to health services that take account of reproductive and sexual health in the aftermath of sexual violence. All these essential health entitlements are at risk when reproductive health needs are not recognized for sexual violence survivors.

https://www.justsecurity.org/63750/gutting-the-substance-of-a-security-council-resolution-on-sexual-violence/

While many are criticizing the acquiescence shown by the Security Council in watering down the language of the Resolution, I question what need there is in the first place for this latest in a string of resolutions at this level aimed at addressing conflict-related sexual violence. This latest brings the total of UN Resolutions explicitly focused on sexual violence in war to six, and reaffirms the place of “conflict-related sexual violence” at the pinnacle of the UN’s Women, Peace, and Security agenda.

In a 2016 article, I wrote that the securitization of gendered violence, particularly conflict-related sexual violence – has given this form of gender-based violence more value than other forms, which has had some unintended deleterious effects. Not only has it resulted in the excising of conflict-related sexual violence from what feminists have long called the ‘continuum of violence’ experienced by women under patriarchy, but it has also imbued CRSV with exchange value such that it bears rewards for those willing to exploit its symbolic and material capital.

In fact, it is this very symbolic capital that led to Germany’s commitment to introduce yet another resolution on CRSV in the first place. Long before the resolution’s drafting, Germany promised to make “women, peace, and security” a priority of its presidency in the Security Council. This commitment led a number of international NGOs and civil society organizations, including CARE International and UN Women, to issue a joint statement pleading with Germany not to introduce yet another resolution on CRSV.

Perhaps ever the cynic, I cannot help but be skeptical of all of these wonderful sounding commitments made by powerful Western countries who espouse rhetoric about the need to end this ‘scourge of war.’ For we have zero evidence that the heightened and sustained attention that CRSV has received since Resolution 1820 first recognized sexual violence as a weapon of war and a threat to international peace and security that these measures have had any effect on reducing this form of violence or any others faced by women in times of war.

Rather, it seems to have had the opposite effect of producing the idea that warfare could be a ‘safe place for women.’ Armed conflict is no longer considered a form of gendered violence, existing on the continuum of gendered violence, produced through gendered symbolisms and enforcing a stratified gender structure. By excising specifically sexual forms of violence enacted in war from other forms of war-related violence (not to mention excising it from ‘banal’ and ‘everyday’ forms of gendered violence), this framework does not allow us to see the intimate connections between masculinity, armed conflict, generalized and gender-based violence. It does not allow us to address those forms of harm perpetrated against women as a result of conflict that cannot be clearly tied to the strategic objectives of armed groups. It cannot and does not account for how, for example, increased circulation of small arms and light weapons in a society correlates to higher rates of domestic violence and intimate partner violence in so-called ‘peace’ contexts.

So… do we really need another resolution on CRSV, regardless of whether or not the language of sexual and reproductive rights gets watered down? I don’t think so.

Why Feminism is Integral to Understanding ‘Conflict Related Sexual Violence’

Last year, I was invited to participate in a couple of workshops on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). One was academic, with a specific focus on how we can know something about sexual violence in war and the methods used by researchers to come to know this violence. The other was more practitioner-oriented, and was attended by some of the key players of international policy-making on CRSV. While both were invigorating and inspiring events, what struck me from discussions in both is how far removed the study of wartime sexual violence has come from its feminist roots.

In recent decades, academic and policy interest on sexual violence in war has grown exponentially. Far from its origins on the margins of studies of war, sexual violence is now a central topic and efforts to understand its causes and consequences span the disciplines interested in armed conflict, political violence, international security, and humanitarian crises. However, as the issue has become mainstream, much of its early feminist-informed analyses have been lost to increasingly positivist socio-political and scientific approaches to understand this violence.

But much is lost in this maneuver. As I’ve written about elsewhere, the harmonized ‘rape as a weapon of war’ narrative that has been produced through the elevation of sexual violence to the international security agenda “has produced an unsustainable and ineffectual paradigm that is based ultimately on the fetishization of this violence.”

While early feminist analyses of rape in war contributed to this amalgamation of all forms of CRSV as a single, coherent phenomenon, recent corrective efforts by critical scholars to disaggregate and contextualize CRSV has resulted in a near abandonment of feminist frames for understanding this violence. While feminists have pointed out that rape in war, like rape in so-called times of ‘peace’, cannot be understood except through an analysis of patriarchal power disparities between the sexes, some have argued that because patriarchy is a constant structural feature of societies, it cannot be causal or independently explanatory for sexual violence.

But if we throw the baby out with the bathwater, as we have seen done in not only scholarship, but also policy and advocacy on sexual violence in armed conflict, we end up with the explanation that either men are animals who can’t control their insatiable sexual urges, for which war provides the convenient breakdown of social barriers to their animal impulses; or, that rape and sexual violence is genderless, equivalently perpetrated and experienced by members of both sexes, and thus understandable only as either an innate human quality or the result of a few ‘bad apples.’

The value of sexual violence must be seen through the lens of sexual politics. That is, the recognition that (the physical act of) sex and sexuality are deeply set within human social relations and comprehensible only in relation to “the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes” (Millet 1970, 23). Such a perspective invites us to critically interrogate the ways in which sexual violence is enacted within a system of sexual domination, which simultaneously inscribes meaning and power to violated/violating bodies and to the act itself. This meaning and power is not isolated to CRSV, but visible also in the typical link between cruelty and sexuality in our everyday ‘peacetime’ societies, as well.

That is because sexuality is a social construct borne out of patriarchal relations. As such, sexuality is made meaningful as a relation of dominance and submission, gendered through dichotomous symbolisms that associate dominance with the masculine and submission with the feminine. In this way, the gendered nature of sexual violence comes from its construction within a system of patriarchy, while the gendered effects are not limited to the biological sex of either the victim or perpetrator.

Ultimately, the study of sexual violence in armed conflict requires feminism in order to understand how power and sexuality are mutually constituted in ways that make sexual forms of violence particularly egregious and humiliating, reaping for the perpetrator personal, social, political, and/or economic dividends.