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Violence against Women is Integral to War and Armed Conflict: The Urgent Necessity of the Universal Implementation of UNSCR 1325

Violence against women (VAW) under the present system of militarized state security is not an aberration that can be stemmed by specific denunciations and prohibitions. VAW is and always has been integral to war and all armed conflict. It pervades all forms of militarism. It is likely to endure so long as the institution of war is a legally sanctioned instrument of state, so long as arms are the means to political, economic or ideological ends. To reduce VAW; to eliminate its acceptance as a “regrettable consequence” of armed conflict; to exorcize it as a constant of the “real world” requires the abolition of war, the renunciation of armed conflict and the full and equal political empowerment of women as called for by the UN Charter.

A Statement on Military Violence against Women addressed to the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, March 4-15, 2013

(This statement is an abstract for a longer paper being prepared for publication by Betty Reardon. The assertions that comprise the arguments of this statement derive from literature on gender and peace.)

Violence against women (VAW) under the present system of militarized state security is not an aberration that can be stemmed by specific denunciations and prohibitions. VAW is and always has been integral to war and all armed conflict. It pervades all forms of militarism. It is likely to endure so long as the institution of war is a legally sanctioned instrument of state, so long as arms are the means to political, economic or ideological ends. To reduce VAW; to eliminate its acceptance as a “regrettable consequence” of armed conflict; to exorcize it as a constant of the “real world” requires the abolition of war, the renunciation of armed conflict and the full and equal political empowerment of women as called for by the UN Charter.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was conceived as a response to the exclusion of women from security policy making, in the belief that that exclusion is a significant factor in the perpetuation of VAW. The originators assumed that VAW in all its multiple forms, in ordinary daily life as well as in times of crisis and conflict remains a constant because of women’s limited political power. Constant, quotidian VAW is unlikely to be significantly reduced until women are fully equal in all public policy making, including and especially peace and security policy. The universal implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is the most essential means to reduce and eliminate the VAW that occurs in armed conflict, in preparation for combat and its aftermath. Stable peace requires gender equality. Fully functioning gender equality requires the dissolution of the present system of militarized state security. The two goals are inextricably linked one to the other.

To understand the integral relationship between war and VAW, we need to understand some of the functions that various forms of military violence against women serve in the conduct of war. Focusing on that relationship reveals that the objectification of women, denial of their humanity and fundamental personhood encourages VAW in armed conflict, just as dehumanization of the enemy persuades armed forces to kill and wound enemy combatants. It also reveals that the outlawing of all weapons of mass destruction, ending the arms trade, the reduction of weaponry, an end to the arms trade and other systematic steps toward General and Complete Disarmament (GCD) are essential to the elimination of military VAW. This statement seeks to encourage support for disarmament, international law and the universal implementation of UNSCR 1325 as instruments for the elimination of MVAW.

War is a legally sanctioned tool of state. The UN Charter calls upon members to refrain from the threat and use of force (Art.2.4), but also recognizes the right of defense (Art.51) None-the-less most instances of VAW are war crimes. The Rome Statute of the ICC includes rape as war crime. However, the fundamental patriarchalism of the international state system perpetuates impunity for most perpetrators. So the full extent of the crimes, their relationship to the actual waging of war and the possibilities for the enforcement of the criminal accountability of those who have committed them need to be brought into the discussions on the prevention and elimination of VAW. A greater understanding of particular manifestations of these crimes may lead to some fundamental changes in the international security system conducive to ending war itself. To promote such understanding here are listed some forms and functions of military VAW.

Identifying Forms of Military Violence and their Functions in Warfare

Listed below are several forms of military violence against women (MVAW) committed by military personnel, rebels or insurgents, peace keepers and military contractors, suggesting the function each serves to carry out the purposes of the war. The core concept of violence from which these types and functions of military violence are derived is the assertion that violence is intentional harm, committed to achieve some purpose of the perpetrator. Military violence comprises those harms committed by military personnel that are not a necessity of combat, but none-the-less an integral part of it. All sexual and gender based violence is outside actual military necessity. It is this reality that is recognized in the Beijing Platform for Action and the Security Council resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889 that seek to curb MVAW.

Included among the types of MVAW identified below are: military prostitution, trafficking and sexual slavery; random rape in armed conflict and in and around military bases; strategic rape; the use of military arms to inflict violence against women in post-conflict as well as conflict situations; impregnation as ethnic cleansing; sexual torture; sexual violence within the organized military and domestic violence in military families; domestic violence and spouse murders by combat veterans. No doubt there are forms of MVAW not taken into account here.

Military prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women have been features of warfare throughout history. At present brothels can be found around military bases and at the sites of peace-keeping operations. Prostitution – usually work of desperation for women – is openly tolerated, even organized by the military, as essential to the “morale” of the armed forces. Sexual services are deemed essential provisions for waging war to strengthen the “fighting will” of the troops. Military sex workers are frequently victims of rape, various forms of physical abuse and murder.

Trafficking and sexual slavery is a form of VAW that stems from the idea that sexual services are necessary to fighting troops. The case of the “comfort women,” enslaved by the Japanese military during WWII is the best known, perhaps the most egregious instance of this type of military VAW. More recently, trafficked women have been literally enslaved in conflict and post-conflict peace-keeping operations.Women’s bodies are used as military supplies. Viewing and treating women as commodities is absolute objectification. Objectification of other human beings is standard practice in making war acceptable to combatants and civil populations of nations at war.

Random rape in armed conflict and around military bases, an expected and accepted consequence of armed conflict, illustrates that militarism in any form increases the possibilities of sexual violence against women in militarized areas in “peace time” as well as war time. This form of military VAW has been well documented by Okinawa Women Act against Military Violence. OWAAMV has recorded the reported rapes of local women by American military personnel from the invasion in 1945 to the present. The consequence of the misogyny that infects military training, when it occurs in war it functions as an act of intimidation and humiliation of the enemy.

Strategic and mass rapes – like all sexual assaults – intends to inflict violence as a mean of humiliating, not only the actual victims, but, most especially their societies, ethnic groups, and/or nations. It is also intended to lessen the adversary’s will to fight. As a planned assault on the enemy, large scale rape is a form of military violence against women, usually inflicted en masse in attacks that demonstrate the objectification of women as property of the enemy, military targets rather than human beings. It serves to shatter the social cohesion of the adversary in that women are the base of societal relationships and domestic order.

Military arms as instruments of VAW are used in the rape, mutilation, and murder of non-combatant women. Weapons are often the emblems of manhood, conceived within patriarchy, as tools for enforcing male power and dominance. The numbers and destructive power of weapons are a source of national pride in the militarized state security system, argued to provide defensive deterrence. The militarized masculinity of patriarchal cultures makes access to weapons an enticement to many young men to enlist in the military.

Impregnation as ethnic cleansing has been designated by some human rights advocates as a form of genocide. Significant instances of this type of MVAW have occurred before the eyes of the world. The military objective of these rapes is to undermine the adversary in several ways, the main one being byreducing the future numbers of their people and replacing them with the offspring of the perpetrators,robbing them of a future and a reason to continue to resist.

Sexual torture, psychological as well as physical, is meant to terrorize the civilian population of an enemy nation, ethnic group or an opposing political group, intimidating them so as to gain compliance to occupation or to discourage civilian support of the military and strategic actions of the opposing group. It is often inflicted on the wives and female family members of opposing political forces, as has happened in military dictatorships. It manifests the general misogyny of patriarchy intensified during war so as to reinforce objectification of women and “otherness” of the enemy.

Sexual violence in military ranks and domestic violence in military families has recently become more widely publicized through the courage of victims, women who have risked their military careers and further harassment by speaking out. Nothing makes more obvious the integral relationship of VAW to war, preparation for it and post conflict than its prevalence within the ranks of the military. While not officially condoned or encouraged, it has been allowed to continue, serving to maintain the secondary and subservient position of women, and the intensification of aggressive masculinity, idealized as military virtue.

Domestic violence and spouse murder by combat veterans occurs on the return of veterans of combat. This form of MVAW is especially dangerous because of the presence of weapons in the home. Believed to be a consequence of both combat training and PTSD, DV and spouse abuse in military families derives from the systemic and integral role of VAW in the psychology of some warriors and symbolizes extreme and aggressive masculinity.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The present system of militarized state security is an ever present threat to the human security of women. It will continue so long as states claim the right to engage in armed conflict as a means to the ends of the state, and so long as women are without adequate political power to assure their human rights, including their rights to security. The ultimate means to overcome that threat is the abolition of war and the establishment of gender equality. Some of the tasks we now may undertake toward this end are: the implementation of the Security Council resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889 intended to reduce and mitigate MVAW; actualizing all of the possibilities of UNSCR 1325 with emphasis on the political participation of women in all matters of peace and security; pursuing measures that hold promise of achieving and end to war itself, such as the following recommendation for the outcome document of CSW 57.

Among these tasks recommended are measures to end violence against women and measures that are steps toward the end of war.

  • 1. Immediate compliance by all member states with the provisions of UNSCR 1325 requiring women’s political participation in the prevention of armed conflict.

  • 2. Development and implementation of National Action Plans to actualize the provisions and purposes of UNSCR 1325 in all relevant circumstances and at all levels of governance – local through global.

  • 3. Special emphasis should be placed on immediate implementation of the anti VAW provisions of UNSCR resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889.

  • 4. End impunity for war crimes against women by bringing to justice all perpetrators of MVAW, be they national forces, insurgents, peacekeepers or military contractors.

  • 4. Conclude and implement an arms trade treaty to end the flow of weapons, many of which are used as instruments of MVAW.

  • 5. GCD should be declared the primary goal of all arms treaties and agreements that should be formulated with a view toward reduction of MVAW, the universal renunciation of armed force, and with the full participation of women as called for by UNSCR1325.

  • 6. Inaugurate a global campaign to educate about VAW, including special focus on MVAW, assuring that all members of all military, peacekeeping forces and military contractors are educated about MVAW and the legal consequences risked by perpetrators.

Drafted by Betty Reardon with endorsement from:

  • International Institute on Peace Education,
  • World Council for Curriculum and Instruction,
  • People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning
  • Feminist Scholar/Activist Network on Demilitarization
  • Global Network of Women Peacebuilders
  • Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
  • International Peace Bureau
  • Global Kids (USA)
  • Peace Action (USA)
  • Permanent Peace Movement (Lebanon)
  • Middle East and North Africa Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict
  • Women Engaged in Action on 1325
  • Engender (South Africa)
  • Liga de Mujeres Desplazados (by Patricia Guerro, Colombia)
  • Women in Black Belgrade
  • Peace Education Center, Miriam College, Manila
  • Ashta no Kai (India/Japan)
  • Asian Circle 1325
  • Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence (Japan)
  • Latin American & Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Human rights of Women
  • Femlinkpacific
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  • Sansristi (India)
  • Nepal International Consumers Union
  • Pacific Network for Peace and Disarmament
  • Global Fund for Women
  • Sonke Gender Justice Network (by Bafana Khumalo)
  • Women’s UN Report Network
  • South Asian Forum for Human Rights
  • The Prajna Trust, Chenai (by Rita Manchanda, India)
  • JASS (Just Associates)
  • Manipur Women Gun Survivors
  • Pax Christi International
  • Red de Educacion Popular Entre Mujeres de Latinoamerica y Caribe (REPEM LAC)
  • Interfaith Council of New York (USA)
  • UNESCO Chair for Peace – University of Puerto Rico
  • Peace Geeks (Canada)
  • Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses (Puerto Rico)
  • Colectivo lle` (an anti-racist women’s collective in Puerto Rico)
  • Ma’a Fafine mo e Famili, Inc /femlinkTonga
  • Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM, Japan)
  • Women Making Peace (South Korea)
  • Women Peacemakers Program (The Hague)
  • CONNECT (domestic violence agency, USA)
  • Operation 1325 (Sweden)
  • Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute
  • Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • US Peace Council
  • Basel Peace Office
  • Peace Boat (Japan)

Individual Endorsements – (Institutions for identification only)

  • Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate; Chair, Nobel Women’s Initiative
  • Mairead Corrigan-McGuire, Nobel Peace Laureate; Nobel Women’s Initiative
  • Vandana Shiva, Navdanya Research Foundation for Science and Technology
  • Alyn Ware, 2009 Right Livelihood Award Laureate
  • Anwar Fazal, Right Livelihood Award Laureate
  • Andras Bro, Right Livelihood Award Laureate
  • Shrikrishna Upadhaya, 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate
  • MinouTavarez Mirabel, MP, Dominican Republic; Chair, International Council, Parliamentarians for Global Action
  • Prof. Ritu Dewan, Mumbai University
  • Prof. Anita Yudkin, University of Puerto Rico
  • Peter Weiss, Vice President, Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Shazia Rafia, Secretary General, Parliamentarians for Global Action
  • Alfred L. Marder, President International Association of Peace Messenger Cities
  • Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

This a partial list of endorsements recorded as of March 11, 2013. Other endorsements are being gathered by the Global Network of Women Peace Builders.

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