Beyond 1325: Understanding Gendered Experiences of War

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
UN Photo Martine Perret

This guest blog comes to us from Roxanne Krystalli and Brittany Card. Roxanne is the Humanitarian Evidence Program Manager at Feinstein International Center at The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She is also a PhD Candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where her research focuses on gender, violence, and transitional justice. Brittany is a Candidate for the MA in Law and Diplomacy at The Fletcher School. Previously, she was the Program Coordinator for the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted UNSC Resolution 1325, acknowledging the immense impact of conflict on women and girls and promoting the active participation of women in conflict management and peacebuilding. While primarily aimed at the inclusion of women and girls, the resolution further called for the incorporation of a gender perspective, one that recognizes the diverse experiences of men and women, into all cycles of programs related to peace and security, from violence prevention to peacekeeping, reintegration, and reconstruction. The adoption of the resolution has facilitated a robust conversation on how to meaningfully incorporate gender analytical perspectives in humanitarian processes that range from budgeting to program implementation and evaluation. In October 2015, the United Nations published a study assessing global progress towards the goals articulated in UNSC Res. 1325. The study reviews examples of successful implementation of the resolution and provides recommendations for future improvements. In this post, we reflect on how humanitarian actors and researchers alike can build on the foundation of Res. 1325, and the lessons from its implementation, in order to continue shedding light on gendered experiences of armed conflict and transitional justice.

Gendered violations beyond sexual violence

Sexual violence in armed conflict has received renewed attention in recent years. Specifically, researchers have asked questions on its prevalence and use as a weapon or strategy of war, as well as the differences between sexual violence perpetrated by state militaries versus non-state armed groups and how it is experienced by men and women. Case studies on sexual violence in conflict have ranged from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Syria and beyond. There is also an increasing focus on collecting, documenting, and centralizing data on sexual violence in armed conflict.

At the same time, sexual violence is not the only form of gendered violence that populations experience in conflict. We must, therefore, also pay attention to the gendered dimensions of other physical and non-physical forms of violence beyond rape in war. For example, land loss, livelihood transformations during armed conflict and in the aftermath of violence, and displacement all have significant individual and generational gendered implications worthy of closer examination.

Relatedly, we need to consider gender dynamics not only in terms of the identities of those targeted, but also as multipliers of violence. This is especially the case in situations in which women may not be the direct victims of physical violence, but remain affected by it in gendered ways. For example, as research in Nepal, Kashmir, and elsewhere has shown, when men are the primary targets of enforced disappearance in conflict, the effects of a missing father, husband, or son reverberate through the household. These effects are critical in cases when female family members do not legally have the right to inherit land, access bank accounts, or perform other functions that are typically associated with men in some communities.

From victimhood to agency: a spectrum of gendered experiences

One of the significant impacts of UNSC Res. 1325 has been the attention it has drawn to women and girls as both victims of violence and agents of change in peace-making. Though it does not address the agency of women in conflict (e.g. as combatants), the resolution transcends the narrow view that women and girls are either victims or active peace-makers by recognizing the diversity of roles and experiences that people embody during armed conflict and in its aftermath.

At the same time, as humanitarian practitioners and researchers continue to work towards the implementation of UNSC Res. 1325, we must be curious about gendered experiences of war that are not explicitly or extensively addressed in the resolution: How can we unpack and respond to the paradigms of masculinity that lead to the recruitment of particular men and boys into violence? How can we draw attention to the types of harm men and boys experience in conflict, both as civilians and members of armed groups? How can laws and programs address the ways in which women and girls in armed groups may simultaneously wield and experience violence in ways that blur the traditional divisions between victims and perpetrators? By addressing these types of questions, legal, programmatic, and policy responses can better achieve a more holistic understanding of conflict-related roles and experiences. For humanitarian practitioners, exploring these questions can highlight the need to broaden our imagination of who suffers which types of harm and, therefore, needs assistance in conflict and its aftermath. They also necessitate ensuring that response mechanisms, from protection of civilians  to disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants, transcend the often narrow categories of “victim” and “perpetrator” to encompass the diversity of conflict-related experiences. As a result, UNSC Res. 1325 will continue to be realized through the direct engagement and inclusion of those who are directly impacted by violence and armed conflict.

For more discussion of gender perspectives on international humanitarian law (IHL) and protection in practice, tune in to this month’s ATHA Podcast.


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