Impact of militarised masculinity on post-war societies carried forward to the next generation, with a focus on sexualised violence

Impact of militarised masculinity on post-war societies carried forward to the next generation, with a focus on sexualised violence

Continuum of masculinity

    Impact and consequences



    Continuum of masculinity 
    Allow me to start with some comments on the continuum of masculinity.

    There is a continuum between “masculinity before, during and after conflict” which is difficult to differentiate from “post-war masculinisation”.

    In times of war, patriarchal images and constructions of masculinity are reinforced; their post-war continuation results in the perpetuation of a society’s traumatisation. If we better understand where “traditional” masculinity differs from its “militarised” form and if we know and comprehend the root causes of perpetuation and perverseness we might be able to develop clearer counter-strategies.

    Images of masculinity in conjunction with a propensity to violence, power and control are not really anything new, not even before a war breaks out. But they are "perverted" during and after the war. Men’s identities change through their experiences of war, violence and absolute power. But these changes are not a “conscious identity concept”; quite the contrary, and what's more: there are very few instances where men have the possibility to process their trauma.

    They experience an unprecedented growth in power in wartime and then fall into a post-war “power hole”. But within their own four walls, they can still exercise power when “all else is lost”.

    Of great significance is the generational shift which occurs in wartime: as family bonds are broken and the older members of the family lose their influence, traditions are turned on their head and a shift in power takes place from old to young: young men going to war feel strong and can thus “cast off their fathers' shackles of power”. Violence and control build in them an unprecedented sense of power, which naturally also implies having money and women at their disposal. This pattern is continued on their return.


    It goes without saying that women also play a part in the construction of masculinity images in the way they bring up their children (with renewed reproduction of gender stereotypes) and encourage their men to go to war. Women undoubtedly benefit from the growth in power experienced by their husbands. Not to assimilate would equate to standing outside the patriarchal system. To do so requires women not only to recognise this but also courage and role models.

    In post-war times, we therefore see a reproduction and over-elevation of gender-stereotypical reactions on the part of men with an increase in violent behaviour inwardly and outwardly.

    Regrettably, we repeatedly witness a high degree of ignorance among international, and also German, actors in politics and as donors, which bolster this perpetuation and exacerbation through their military and civil interventions as they themselves lack awareness of these gender-based correlations. Fortunately, there have since been exceptions to this rule – which I, in particular, see in the cooperation with the zivik funding programme. Or even with the Gender Department of the GiZ – it would be desirable to see the insights gained there transported to all levels as cross-cutting issues and quality standards.

    Impact and consequences 

    In order to comprehend the impact on post-war societies, it is vital to understand the complex forms of traumatisation which materialise through acts of violence exercised on individuals and society.

    Traumatic events are characterised by fear for one's own life or one's own physical integrity, or even a fear of witnessing the death or serious injury of others, coupled with extreme helplessness and powerlessness. It is neither possible to fight or flee; it is a hopeless situation.

    Through the extreme stress which poses a threat to people’s lives and identity, a trauma shatters the normal processes of how experiences can be processed. The consequence is physical and mental disorder, panic attacks, depression, chronic pain or a post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which can immensely impact the life of the people concerned for years to come. Violent experiences destroy all trust in social relationships; distrust and isolation are the consequences; the sense of belonging is lost, as is all trust in value systems and justice.

    Those having to live with such feelings are frequently barely able to work, or they live in immense poverty. These multifarious problems, combined with continued instability in post-war and conflict regions, are additional sources of stress and hamper mental recovery and the overcoming of traumatic stress as well as the consequences of violence.

    In the context of wars, social networks are themselves often affected or destroyed; cultural coping strategies are invalidated; traditional forms of psycho-social support and healing are seriously compromised or must first be established and integrated.

    The way society deals with violence, crime and human rights violations has a decisive impact on mental healing. Especially when violence is committed against women, the women themselves are very often given partial blame. This frequently leads to stigmatisation, even going so far as social exclusion; many are disowned by their very own families.
    Wartime rape has since become recognised as a serious human rights violation. Yet, despite their alarming magnitude, crimes committed against women are repeatedly treated as circumstantial or even flatly denied in certain cases and the perpetrators are largely allowed to go unpunished. Until crimes committed against women are officially recognised and punished, there can be no redress or compensation for women – let alone justice. Yet, in the few trials of sexualised wartime violence that have taken place at international war crimes tribunals, the legal staff have shown a great lack of sensitivity for the victim/witness, which repeatedly results in miscarriages of justice or too many acquittals. A trauma-sensitive handling of female victim/witnesses is vital, however, if those committing war crimes are to be made truly answerable and prosecuted. Sexualised wartime violence must, once and for all, also be systematically recorded, identified and punished in court. Despite clear evidence of mass rape, there have been repeated scandalous examples where a decision was taken not to prosecute.

    The impact of traumatic experiences often also carry over to the next generations; there is therefore so-called transgenerational traumatisation.

    All this makes it even clearer that a post-war society cannot achieve true stabilisation if the traumas are not addressed. This must go hand in hand with peace-building measures, however – if further-traumatising interventions are then at work, this leads to a constant further weakening and brutalisation of society. It is also plain to see here why the prospects of overcoming conflict more sustainably are greater when instruments of conflict resolution are used rather than military means. These may be unavoidable in certain situations but should never be allowed to have primacy. However, looking back over the last 10 years in Afghanistan, it is abundantly clear that Afghan men have been subjected to further collective humiliation and brutalisation, which, in turn, has massive violent consequences for their wives. In my opinion, the asymmetrical war on terror was nonsensical and a tragic example of how the spiral of violence is endlessly fuelled.

    Looking at the international male military and civil peacekeepers entering the country, we can assume that they have their own patriarchally defined identities. They experience a growth in power simply through their position, with all the implications that come with this, e.g. sexual exploitation! The mere presence of international men exercising their power, which they have by virtue of their position and equipment, also has a negative impact: local men experience a loss in power which very often results in their exercising more violence within their families. The likelihood that, for their part, some of these international men will have made some experience with violence during their lives illustrates that the continuum is even more complex.

    Economic factors 
    The example of Liberia has shown us that extensive labour migration among men had already led to a negative shift in the gender-based division of labour for women long before the war broke out, resulting in women having to shoulder the burden in subsistence farming and for ensuring the survival of their families. On their return, men were even less willing to work in agriculture and opted for other supposedly "easier" options such as withdrawing to cities to join gangs, muggings, working in mines; they are thus once again looking for the "hard-man's world" where the "soft" rules of civil society are despised! Here, women are also particularly at risk once again, however.

    Change of role models and feeling of uncertainty 
    With men absent or taking on new tasks, women are eking out new roles. In Liberia, many women maintain that they are the ones who could change society as they take their responsibilities very seriously and men tend to be far more self-serving and caught up in corruption.

    At the same time, when a war comes to an end, there is typically an urge for society to return to normality, whereby a patriarchal normality is primarily meant, in which women are expected to embody this normality and follow traditional rules; it applies less to men. Given the growing self-confidence of women, this leads directly to social tensions and often ends in new violence against women.

    Further insecurity, above all among men, is also emerging through the introduction of new, modern gender equality laws – here, too, a rise in violence can be determined as a result. This, of course, must not be allowed to have the effect that new laws are correspondingly withdrawn; instead, it illustrates the need for these laws to be closely supported by awareness-raising campaigns.


    Take sexualised violence seriously once and for all 
    As before, one of the most important measures is for the international community to take the combating of sexualised violence seriously once and for all – this is still not even the case among men in industrialised western countries! In the ongoing Strauß-Kahn case, the sensationalism in media coverage and the choice of words is rather an indication that it is still not yet a matter of course that even powerful men cannot simply get away with not being punished. We have plenty of examples from South Africa to Italy!

    If we once and for all had greater awareness of the linkage between violence and constructions of masculinity, even approaches that call masculinity into question could also receive more systematic support from the international community.
    The major organisations carrying out decommissioning, demobilisation and reintegration programmes across the globe have a duty here to integrate reflections on masculinity and trauma work with men into their work once and for all.
    Here, the work of the media in particular is of great importance because, through gender-stereotypical reporting, they ensure the reproduction of stereotype images and thus offer young females and males no alternatives.
    As before, all calls are meaningful that are associated with UN Resolution 1325 and for which we women's organisations have been campaigning for many years, such as increasing the share of women in peace-building missions – at every level – and, at the same time, raising men’s awareness at all levels.
    Community-oriented concepts on the ground are meaningful, such as the one carried out by medica mondiale Liberia which conducts large-scale accompanying awareness building measures of gender-specific traumatisation in schools, the police, hospitals, social security offices and the judiciary.
    It is also interesting to observe the work of the Ministry of Gender and Development in Liberia which, in adopting its approach to respect both genders, is breaking new ground!
    With respect to sexualised violence convictions, Liberia's legal policy is most definitely headed in the right direction – but what use is the best legislation if the men being prosecuted can then quickly buy their way out. Laws must be well-entrenched in people's consciousness before they can also be properly implemented – just hearing about them once is not sufficient!

    What is needed most, however, is both raising awareness and masculinity training 
    Ways must be identified through which men can recognise what benefits they reap if they stop using violence. For they will only support women's interests if they are convinced that there is something in it for them. The question is therefore in what ways other than through violence + control can they experience respect! The slogan must therefore be that only “a weak man finds it necessary to use violence to get what he wants“. I'm certain that we will be hearing more on this very shortly.

    Another aspect important to me is that of building awareness of what it means for children when violence is used within the family, when their mothers and they themselves are beaten. Violence against children is extremely severe in all of the post-war regions in which we work, including in Liberia; children frequently fall victim to rape, on many an occasion they are even infants or babies– in conversations, we witness time and time again that, when this involves their own children, it evokes deep dismay among men.

    In closing, I would like to say quite clearly that, from our point of view, it is meaningful and vital for men to work with men – this is a task that medica mondiale cannot and does not want to take on. This is something we have been calling for many years. We support and are very committed to the concept of this approach – because it will be our only chance for women and men to achieve more equality!

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