Violence against women has long been an expected consequence of war – how many times have the terms “raped and pillaged” accompanied tales of historical battles and sieges? Women and children have long been considered those who should be immune from the brutality of war, yet their victimization has been used as a systematic weapon.
Things have changed throughout the thousands of years that humans have been battling one another. When sieges gave way to gunpowder weaponry, war moved into open fields and required man-to-man combat. With the introduction of automatic weapons, bombs, chemicals, machines, and planes, war was able to directly attack whole cities and entire demographics. We have allowed warfare to become more direct and crueler, minimizing our personal risks while multiplying the damage inflicted upon our opponents.
Death, in many ways, has become more systematic and targeted. The same could be said of violence against women during periods of turmoil. Guns are used as a means of forcing and even performing rapes, sterilizations and abortions are mandated without the woman’s permission, and sex trafficking in the world of technology has reached new heights. Men are killed in greater numbers, while women bear the deeper scars of war.
When sexual violence is discussed, it often centers on the rape of women. While men and boys are also violated during conflict, women and girls are considered territory to be conquered. If a group can “conquer” their enemies’ women, they have increased their position of power. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is perhaps the worst ongoing conflict where systematic rape is used. Women are raped and beaten for a number of reasons: to subjugate, to gain better control of resources, to facilitate miscarriages, for cultural beliefs, and to increase local fear and insecurity. Four women are raped every five minutes in the DRC, a mineral-rich country with deep ethnic tensions and a history of colonial control.
It is a grave mistake to assume that violence against women only occurs in certain areas or only during ethnic conflicts. Mexico is a stark example of this, even though it is not in an open state of civil conflict. Drug cartels drive bloodshed throughout Mexico, and their presence and aggressiveness severely affect women: in fact, a woman in Mexico is raped every four minutes. Beyond that, though, drug cartels are actively involved in human trafficking and forced prostitution. Much violence occurs to women in these subjugated positions, and their rights are completely stripped from them. These women are degraded, drugged, violated, and sold throughout Mexico and to various countries, including the United States.
Women all over the globe experience an alarming rate of domestic and external violence, no matter the country’s demographics, socioeconomic status, or legal system. When areas are involved in any sort of conflict, women’s rights and autonomy are further eroded. However, with greater visibility, technology, and reporting, these egregious acts against girls and women are coming to light. 2013 has seen greater discussion about violence against women, specifically in areas of turmoil. We’ve begun to analyze why this occurs, in all its various forms, and how to discuss these issues with sensitivity towards privilege, ethnicity, and religion. In many ways, 2013 has been the Year of the Woman, and let’s have hope that these realizations, conversations, and questions will one day lead to a world where war and rape don’t go hand-in-hand.
For further reading on women during the conflict in DRC, check out the United States Institute of Peace’s article Rape in War: Motives of Militia in DRC.
This post was originally published on 12/08/13 on our original blogsite Homegrown & Global