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Violence against Women is Integral to War and Armed Conflict – The Urgent Necessity of the Universal Implementation of UNSCR 1325
A Statement on Military Violence against Women addressed to the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, March 4-15, 2013
(This is an abstract for a longer paper being prepared for publication by Betty Reardon. The assertions that comprise the arguments of this statement derive from literature on gender and peace.)
On the final day of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women there was relief among peace activists that the Agreed Conclusions included support for the Arms Trade Treaty and made reference to UNSCRs 1325 and 1820. However, it reflected far from adequate attention to issues of women’s right to participate in security policy making and the necessity to move forward on the full implementation of 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The statement below is still as urgent as it was when circulated in the first days of CSW. We will continue to circulate the Statement for future presentation to UN Women, and consideration by those working toward the implementation of 1325.
Since the first version was circulated we have added a recommendation on the abolition of nuclear weapons as requested by some endorsers. While these genocidal weapons are a threat to all living things, the particular effects of radioactive fallout on women will be included in the full discussion of multiple forms of military violence against women in a more detailed future article. More recently two forms of MVAW were also added, humiliation, upon learning of incidents in the DRC, and harm to health and wellbeing, acknowledging consequences of long-term weapons testing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. We will continue to add more forms of MVAW as we become aware of them.
We invite more endorsements to augment the over 100 organizations and 148 individuals world-wide who had endorsed the Statement as of this date.
Violence against women (VAW) under the present system of militarized state security is not an aberration that can be stemmed by specific denunciations and prohibitions. VAW is and always has been integral to war and all armed conflict. It pervades all forms of militarism. It is likely to endure so long as the institution of war is a legally sanctioned instrument of state; so long as arms are the means to political, economic or ideological ends. To reduce VAW; to eliminate its acceptance as a “regrettable consequence” of armed conflict; to exorcize it as a constant of the “real world” requires the abolition of war, the renunciation of armed conflict and the full and equal political empowerment of women as called for by the UN Charter.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was conceived as a response to the exclusion of women from security policy making, in the belief that such gender exclusion is a significant factor in the perpetuation of war and VAW. The originators assumed that VAW in all its multiple forms, in ordinary daily life as well as in times of crisis and conflict remains a constant because of women’s limited political power. Constant, quotidian VAW is unlikely to be significantly reduced until women are fully equal in all public policy making, including and especially peace and security policy. The universal implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is the most essential means to reduce and eliminate the VAW that occurs in armed conflict, in preparation for combat and in its aftermath. Stable peace requires gender equality. Fully functioning gender equality requires the dissolution of the present system of militarized state security. The two goals are inextricably linked one to the other.
To understand the integral relationship between war and VAW, we need to understand some of the functions that various forms of military violence against women serve in the conduct of war. Focusing on that relationship reveals that the objectification of women, denial of their humanity and fundamental personhood encourages VAW in armed conflict, just as dehumanization of the enemy persuades armed forces to kill and wound enemy combatants. It also reveals that the outlawing of all weapons of mass destruction, reducing the stocks and destructive power of all weaponry, ending the arms trade and other systematic steps toward General and Complete Disarmament (GCD) are essential to the elimination of military violence against women (MVAW.) This statement seeks to encourage support for disarmament, the strengthening and enforcement of international law and the universal implementation of UNSCR 1325 as instruments for the elimination of MVAW.
War is a legally sanctioned tool of state. The UN Charter calls upon members to refrain from the threat and use of force (Art.2.4), but also recognizes the right of defense (Art. 51) None-the-less most instances of VAW are war crimes. The Rome Statute of the ICC substantiates rape as a war crime. However, the fundamental patriarchalism of the international state system perpetuates impunity for most perpetrators, a fact finally recognized by the UN in the adoption of UNSCR 2106. So the full extent of the crimes, their relationship to the actual waging of war and the possibilities for the enforcement of the criminal accountability of those who have committed them need to be brought into all discussions on the prevention and elimination of MVAW. A greater understanding of particular manifestations of these crimes and the integral role they play in warfare may lead to some fundamental changes in the international security system, changes conducive to ending war itself. To promote such understanding, listed below are some forms and functions of MVAW.
Identifying Forms of Military Violence and their Functions in Warfare
Listed below are several forms of military violence against women (MVAW) committed by military personnel, rebels or insurgents, peace keepers and military contractors, suggesting the function each serves in waging war. The core concept of violence from which these types and functions of military violence are derived is the assertion that violence is intentional harm, committed to achieve some purpose of the perpetrator. Military violence comprises those harms committed by military personnel that are not a necessity of combat, but none-the-less an integral part of it. All sexual and gender based violence is outside actual military necessity. It is this reality that is recognized in the Beijing Platform for Action’s addressing of armed conflict and the Security Council resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889 and 2106 that seek to curb MVAW.
Included among the types of MVAW identified below are: military prostitution, trafficking and sexual slavery; random rape in armed conflict and in and around military bases; strategic rape; the use of military arms to inflict violence against women in post-conflict as well as conflict situations; impregnation as ethnic cleansing; sexual torture; sexual violence within the organized military and domestic violence in military families; domestic violence and spouse murders by combat veterans; public humiliation and damage to health. No doubt there are forms of MVAW not taken into account here.
Military prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women have been features of warfare throughout history. At present brothels can be found around military bases and at the sites of peace-keeping operations. Prostitution – usually work of desperation for women – is openly tolerated, even organized by the military, as essential to the “morale” of the armed forces. Sexual services are deemed essential provisions for waging war – to strengthen the “fighting will” of the troops. Military sex workers are frequently victims of rape, various forms of physical abuse and murder.
Trafficking and sexual slavery is a form of VAW that stems from the idea that sexual services are necessary to fighting troops. The case of the “comfort women,” enslaved by the Japanese military during WWII is the best known, perhaps the most egregious instance of this type of military VAW. Trafficking to military bases continues to this day abetted by the impunity enjoyed by the traffickers and their military facilitators. More recently, trafficked women have been literally enslaved in conflict and post-conflict peacekeeping operations. Women’s bodies are used as military supplies.Viewing and treating women as commodities is absolute objectification. Objectification of other human beings is standard practice in making war acceptable to combatants and civil populations of nations at war.
Random rape in armed conflict and around military bases is an expected and accepted consequence of the militarized security system. It illustrates that militarism in any form increases the possibilities of sexual violence against women in militarized areas in “peace time” as well as war time. This form of MVAW has been well documented by Okinawa Women Act against Military Violence. OWAAMV has recorded the reported rapes of local women by American military personnel from the invasion in 1945 to the present. The consequence of the misogyny that infects military training, when it occurs in war rape functions as an act of intimidation and humiliation of the enemy.
Strategic and mass rapes – like all sexual assaults – this deliberately planned and undertaken form of MVAW intends to inflict sexual violence as a mean of humiliating, not only the actual victims, but, most especially their societies, ethnic groups, and/or nations. It is also intended to lessen the adversary’s will to fight. As a planned assault on the enemy, large scale rape is a special egregious form of military violence against women, usually inflicted en masse in attacks that demonstrate the objectification of women as property of the enemy, military targets rather than human beings. It serves to shatter the social and familial cohesion of the adversary in that women are the base of societal relationships and domestic order.
Military arms as instruments of VAW are used in the rape, mutilation, and murder of non-combatant women. Weapons are often the emblems of manhood, conceived within patriarchy, as tools for enforcing male power and dominance. The numbers and destructive power of weapons are a source of national pride in the militarized state security system, argued to provide defensive deterrence. The militarized masculinity of patriarchal cultures makes aggressive masculinity and access to weapons enticements to many young men to enlist in the military.
Impregnation as ethnic cleansing has been designated by some human rights advocates as a form of genocide. Significant instances of this type of MVAW have occurred before the eyes of the world. The military objective of these purposeful rapes is to undermine the adversary in several ways, the main one being by reducing the future numbers of their people and replacing them with the offspring of the perpetrators, robbing them of a future and a reason to continue to resist.
Sexual torture, psychological as well as physical, is meant to terrorize the civilian population of an enemy nation, ethnic group or an opposing political group, intimidating them so as to gain compliance to occupation or to discourage civilian support of the military and strategic actions of the opposing group. It is often inflicted on the wives and female family members of opposing political forces, as has happened in military dictatorships. It manifests the general misogyny of patriarchy intensified during war so as to reinforce objectification of women and “otherness” of the enemy.
Sexual violence in military ranks and domestic violence in military families has recently become more widely publicized through the courage of victims, women who have risked their military careers and further harassment by speaking out. Nothing makes more obvious the integral relationship of MVAW to war, to preparation for it and to post conflict than its prevalence within the ranks of the military. While not officially condoned or encouraged (It recently came under congressional investigation and review by the US Department of Defense) it still continues where there are women in armed forces, serving to maintain the secondary and subservient position of women, and the intensification of aggressive masculinity, idealized as military virtue.
Domestic violence (DV) and spouse murder by combat veterans occurs on the home return of veterans of combat. This form of MVAW is especially dangerous because of the presence of weapons in the home. Believed to be a consequence of both combat training and PTSD, DV and spouse abuse in military families it derives in part from the systemic and integral role of VAW in the psychology of some warriors and symbolizes extreme and aggressive masculinity.
Public humiliation has been used to intimidate women and cast shame on their societies, a means of denying human dignity and self worth. It is an assertion of coercive power intended to establish the superiority and control of those inflicting it, often the victor in a conflict on women of the vanquished or the resistant. Strip searching andenforced nudity demonstrating the vulnerability of the victims have been used for this purpose recently in African conflicts.
Harm to health, physical and psychological well-being is suffered by women not only conflict areas, but also in post conflict areas where sustenance and services do not assure fundamental human needs. It also occurs in areas of military training and weapons testing. In such areas the environment tends to become toxic, harming the general health of the local population, it is especially harmful to women’s reproductive health, producing sterility, miscarriages and birth defects. Beyond the physical harm, being in the area of constant military activity – even if only training and testing – with a high noise level and the daily fear of accidents take a high toll on psychological health. These are among the uncounted costs of the militarized security system that women pay in the name of a “necessity of national security,” constant preparation and readiness for armed conflict.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The present system of militarized state security is an ever-present threat to the human security of women. This very real security threat will continue so long as states claim the right to engage in armed conflict as a means to the ends of the state; and so long as women are without adequate political power to assure their human rights, including their rights to human security sacrificed to the security of the state. The ultimate means to overcome this ongoing and pervasive security threat is the abolition of war and the achievement of gender equality. Some of the tasks to be undertaken toward this end are: the implementation of the Security Council resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889 intended to reduce and mitigate MVAW; actualizing all of the possibilities of UNSCR 1325 withemphasis on the political participation of women in all matters of peace and security, reiterated in UNSCR 2106; pursuing measures that hold promise of achieving and end to war itself, such as the following recommendations. Originally put forth for the outcome document of CSW 57, peace activists and educators are urged to continue pursuing them.
Some specific recommended tasks include measures to end violence against women and measures that are steps toward the ending of war as an instrument of state:
1. Immediate compliance by all member states with the provisions of UNSCR 1325 and 2106 calling for women’s political participation in the prevention of armed conflict.
2. Development and implementation of National Action Plans to actualize the provisions and purposes of UNSCR 1325 in all relevant circumstances and at all levels of governance – local through global.
3. Special emphasis should be placed on immediate implementation of the anti VAW provisions of UNSCR resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1889.
4. End impunity for war crimes against women by bringing to justice all perpetrators of MVAW, including national armed forces, insurgents, peacekeepers or military contractors. Citizens should take action to assure that their governments comply with the anti-impunity provisions of UNSCR 2106. If needed to do so member states should enact and implement legislation to criminalize and prosecute all forms of MVAW.
5. Take immediate steps to sign, ratify, implement and enforce the Arms Trade Treaty (opened for signature on June 3, 2013) to end the flow of weapons that increase the frequency and destructiveness of violent conflict, and are used as instruments of MVAW.
6. GCD (General and Complete Disarmament under international controls) should be declared the primary goal of all arms treaties and agreements that should be formulated with a view toward: reduction and elimination of MVAW, the universal renunciation of nuclear weapons and repudiation of armed force as a means to conduct conflict. Negotiation of all such agreements should involve the full participation of women as called for by UNSCRs 1325 and 2106. GCD and gender equality are the essential and fundamental means of assurance of a just and viable world peace.
7. Conduct a global campaign to educate about all forms of MVAW and the possibilities that the Security Council Resolutions offer for overcoming them . This campaign is to be directed toward the general public, schools, all public institutions and civil society organizations. Special efforts should be made to assure that all members of all police, military, peacekeeping forces and military contractors are educated about both MVAW and the legal consequences risked by perpetrators.
Educators and activists undertaking to advance such a campaign are requested to inform the International Institute on Peace Education (IIPE) of their efforts so as to share them with other educators.
Drafted by Betty Reardon March 2013, revised March 2014, continuing to gather endorsement in addition to those below.
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(This present list comprises endorsements recorded as of October, 2018.)
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