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Security Policy Is Gender Blind

In the modern conception of statehood, it is the nation state that can defend itself from attack from outside and that domestically, as the guarantor of security and peace for all its citizens, has a democratically secured monopoly on violence. From a feminist perspective, however, the positive role of the nation state in matters of security is not so straightforward. A look at the so-called private sphere plays a crucial role. It shows that violence against women is a globally persistent problem.

A survey of some 24,000 women in ten countries, published in November 2005 by the UN health organization WHO, found that in some countries one out of two women had experienced domestic violence. The study showed that the lack of equal rights was both the cause and the effect of this violence. Security that for half the population stops at their own door or when they step onto the street is no security at all. Thus, if domestic violence and other forms of sexualized violence are not perceived by governments as an elementary issue of security and democracy, then the magnitude of this privatized violence can lead to strife and insecurity defining the everyday lives of women, even in peacetime. By recognizing women’s rights as human rights, the state has an obligation to protect women from domestic violence.

Sexualized violence against women is, among other things, an expression of women’s lower social status. In times of armed conflicts, such seemingly private forms of violence increase and become a systematic component of warfare. Women are seen as a symbol of the “nation’s body”; they are raped, impregnated, and sexually mutilated as “war trophies.” Such acts of sexualized violence are used to humiliate and demoralize the “enemy.” Mass rape is used in many conflicts as a highly effective weapon of war. Men are also victims of this sexualized violence, but they say even less about it than women; the rape of men by men is considered “a taboo within a taboo.”

» Read Sexualized Violence in Eastern Congo

Sexualized violence is not limited to the warring parties. Often foreign troops deployed in UN peacekeeping missions aggravate the problem of sexual exploitation – despite an official policy of “zero tolerance” toward sexualized violence as established under UN Resolution 1820 and elsewhere. In Cambodia, after the deployment of UN blue helmets, the HIV rate increased massively; in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia, (forced) prostitution and trafficking in women increased greatly; in Liberia and other West African states, UN soldiers blackmailed under-age girls with food and soap in exchange for sex; a red-light district has been created in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

» Read UN Resolution 1820

For many women the violence does not end after the war. With the return of demobilized soldiers, domestic violence rises sharply in many post-conflict regions; traumatized and brutalized soldiers bring their experience of violence back home. Many ex-soldiers, who witnessed atrocities or even committed them, lose their moral mooring. In 2004, for example, after their return from Afghanistan, four fighters from a US Special Forces unit killed their wives. “You have to understand,” said a Macedonian man to the authors of the study Women, War and Peace, “I’m so stressed by the war. I can’t help beating my wife.” Therefore, it is not sufficient to demobilize ex-soldiers; they also have to be integrated socially; they must be offered treatment for trauma; they must be encouraged to find new civilian roles as men.