Volume XXI

Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Patriarchy's Bugle Call

by Danushka S. Medawatte

Sex is a weapon. Wars are gendered. Wars are gendered in that interests of men always undergird regulation of war—and against such backdrops, gender parity is more an ideal than a reality. Protection of women, when finally introduced through law, emphasizes the “vulnerability” of women, thereby affecting the mindset with which one approaches the crimes men commit against women. In legal classifications, women are often placed with vulnerable communities and the marginalized. The narrative automatically transforms to one of weakness against strength. It establishes power dynamics.

This piece argues that within this “man”-made societal structure predicated upon sexual prowess, men able to suppress their lustful feelings are perceived as the protectors of women. the explained dynamic is premised on patriarchy and categorize patriarchy that contributes to conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) under two levels. The primary level is where men attempt to establish control over the enemy by “conquering” the bodies of enemy women. This “us versus them” dynamic leads to the secondary level of patriarchy. At this level, CRSV is upsetting for most not due to it being a violent crime against humanity but due to the perceived shame it brings upon nations or communities of which women are victims of CRSV. These women are rendered unchaste; they have produced “nonnationals” or are incapable of reproduction, and they are therefore unsuitable to be given in marriage to their men. The stigma to which the victim-survivors are subsequently subjected arises through this secondary level of patriarchy.

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