Military and Gender in Conflict Management

Military and Gender in Conflict Management

With the end of the Cold War, military organizations such as NATO and the Bundeswehr have changed their roles. Although their importance has declined, a new range of duties has developed to legitimize their existence, and thus, they have been able to regain some of their hegemony.

Their duties today range from military intervention, mediation of conflicts, monitoring of human rights, and supply of humanitarian aid, to rebuilding societies in post-conflict countries. Military forces often also perform police and civil duties in their areas of deployment. They thus affect economic and political life as well as gender relations in conflict regions. Meanwhile, the states sending troops and the UN often task military forces with the settlement and reconciliation of formerly hostile groups.

This gives the military highly symbolic significance in deployment areas and enormous political influence in shaping postwar societies. It requires skills and expertise in areas military personnel have hitherto received little training for. In crisis regions, the question of the role of women in society is quite often disputed among political, ethnic, religious, and cultural communities, and is thus part of the conflict. To reduce conflict and establish structures capable of maintaining peace, knowledge of local social, political and cultural relations is essential, as is a knowledge of the causes, history, and trajectory of the conflict, and of the dynamic of gender relations. Male and female soldiers must be trained in gender awareness if they are to be able to support local women in gaining equal participation in emerging democratic structures. In societies in conflict, soldiers must promote processes of deliberation on gender relations and stereotypes; they must bring a gender perspective into peacebuilding.

In addition to the military, many non-governmental players are active in zones of crisis and conflict. Boundaries between these two groups and their work are becoming somewhat blurred. On the one hand, the military assumes civil duties in conflict and crisis regions; on the other, it works increasingly alongside civilian organizations. Countries such as Germany frequently support various groups and transfer to them what used to be the task of the state. The problem is that the local people can barely distinguish between those providing civil assistance and military interventionists.

» Read Civil Military Cooperation

The expansion of the military’s fields of action is creating a new set-up. Many civilian actors, both male and female, because of their own histories as conscientious objectors, feminists, or pacifists, keep the military at arm’s length. Yet mutual acceptance is a precondition for constructive cooperation and joint civil conflict management. Eliminating reservations about the other side is thus often the first priority.

Studies about the effects peacekeeping forces have on civil societies have produced ambivalent results. On the one hand, women’s NGOs and segments of the civilian population often highly appreciate their presence for stabilizing social life and developing security – for example, in Bosnia. Aid shipments for reconstruction and the normalization of life, which frequently go hand in hand with civil support, are likewise very well received. The stimulus the presence of international troops provides to the local economy is also seen as positive.

At the same time, developments are highly dependent on the gender policy of the respective military, a fact often given little consideration. Women’s organizations, such as in Bosnia or Kosovo, have been highly critical of the fact that they are excluded from democratization and reconstruction processes, and receive only limited access to educational programs. Instead, they are relegated to “women’s activities” such as hairdressing, knitting, and sewing. Here reform is urgently needed.

» Read Gender Mainstreaming in Bosnia

A military presence has very negative side effects: Prostitution, sexual violence, trafficking in women, and the incidence of HIV rise dramatically and impede the construction of a gender-democratic society.

The lack of gender expertise in the military is also responsible for many other abuses. Women and their needs are insufficiently addressed in the planning and construction of refugee camps. Women and girls, who in many cases make up 70-80 % of refugees, often lack safe access to food, water, and toilet facilities. Not infrequently they are molested and even raped by men in unsecured washrooms and toilet facilities. According to a UN report, violence continues to rise in supposedly safe camps, where an average of 80 % of women and girls are subjected to sexualized violence. To counter these effects of gender blindness in the military, feminist critics call for gender-sensitive conflict management.

A solution could be to put together in a UN force of mixed-gender police and military units. It would intervene on the basis of gender-sensitive conflict analyses and would have the necessary training, since within the military’s logic of violence, female as well as male soldiers can become perpetrators, if they are not adequately trained and educated in gender sensitivity. Its deployment would also have to be subject to clearly defined criteria and a resolution by the UN Security Council, which could only order such an intervention on condition that all other political means, diplomacy, and civil conflict prevention, have been exhausted. This, of course, will not resolve the basic dilemma faced by pacifist feminists, yet it could guide them in a pragmatic direction.

» Read Female Soldiers as Perpetrators