What is the first thing we think about when we hear something about war? Most likely, thoughts about weapons, soldiers, explosions, blood, and death pop into our heads. War is a ‘traditionally’ male occupation. Men defend their own lands or attack others. They protect their families, mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. They might fight for honor and dignity, or just follow orders, sometimes even criminals. Given all this, women and their suffering obviously take a back seat. But it is extremely important not to forget about them.
The biggest risk women and girls face during the war is gender-based violence. Women and girls are exposed to unprecedented rates of sexual violence, abuse, and torture in war conditions. Conflict enforces the objectification of women and girls, as they are often seen as weapons of war, being used by perpetrators of violence to assert control.
Violence against a woman becomes a kind of indicator of strength for the enemy, which shows the power and the ability to do whatever he wants with a woman. The actions of the rapist can also be driven by a thirst for revenge, a thirst for ‘victory’ over her and the state that was attacking or was defending.
Rape and sexual violence
Referring to the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court operates, ‘rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity’ refers to both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Forced pregnancy may seem like a clear example of women in a situation of war being ‘a tool for showing strength’.
Forced pregnancy means ‘the unlawful confinement of a woman forcibly made pregnant, with the intent of affecting the ethnic composition of any population or carrying out other grave violations of international law’.
That is, rape and associated with it things during the war go much further than rape as the fact of violating a woman’s physical and psychological integrity. She becomes another participant in the ‘battlefield’ in which she is used as a weapon. If she gives birth to the child after raped by a soldier of enemy forces, she may be stigmatized, discriminated against, and censured by society for having given birth to an enemy. This is not to mention the physical and psychological suffering she will experience.
Another striking example of horrendous crimes against women during wartime is comfort women. Comfort women or comfort girls were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied countries and territories before and during World War II. Originally, the brothels were established to provide soldiers with voluntary prostitutes in order to reduce the incidence of wartime rape, a cause of rising anti-Japanese sentiment across occupied territories. Many women were coerced into working in the brothels. According to testimonies, some young women were abducted from their homes in countries under Imperial Japanese rule. A significant percentage of comfort women were minors.
This is another story about how vulnerable women are in times of war. It feels like they are being used as meat rather than as human beings with dignity, rights, and desires. They become a mere tools to comfort the sexual needs of the soldiers, and their own identity is simply erased.
According to the article ‘10 Reasons Why Militarism is Bad for Women’, women suffer higher rates of domestic violence from military husbands and partners. According to the Miles Foundation, military men are two to five times as violent towards their wives as are other men.
There is something akin to ‘dehumanization’ going on. It is foolish to assume that if a man is raped and killed during the war when he returns from the war he will be a different man, a gentle and affectionate husband who is reverent towards his wife and the other women. War is a straightforward move to increase violence in society. Here also women will suffer more than men. The wives of military men will go on to get into bed with them and no one will know how this can turn out for them.
Refugee and war migration
Refugee and war migration is also an important issue here. The needs of refugee women are often overlooked, as it is more often men who make decisions and allocate resources. For example, only recently have sanitary pads been added to the list of basic necessities. Fleeing combat zones, women are at increased risk of abuse and violence. They may be forced to have sex in exchange for safe passage, food, shelter, or documents by members of armed groups and male refugees, as well as by immigration officials and border guards. Women and girls face discrimination in refugee camps when distributing goods and food, and are at risk of sexualized exploitation by peacekeepers and aid workers who control access to food and supplies.
Thus, it is always worth looking at war not only about men killing each other. But also the fact that behind this is the suffering of women who are also dying, who are raped, and who are afraid to be in an even worse situation. War is a horror and fear that must be eradicated in the 21st century when we have a lot of options to solve everything peacefully. It is absurd that we send people to the moon, but on Earth, we continue to fight.
Also read: Gendered Impacts of Climate Displacement