Violence Against Women in Post-Conflict

December 9, 2011

Today we conclude our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence blog series. Over the campaign, we’ve explored militarism and gender violence as related to such issues as small arms proliferation; women’s human rights defenders; and the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. It is fitting that we close the campaign with a look at some of the enduring elements of gender violence that continue after peace is officially declared, as we look toward a new year that will hopefully bring peace, equality and justice for all to a world rocked by revolution and social change.

We have explored the brutal effects of war when it comes to violence against women in countries in active conflict such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan and Iraq.  War brings with it a culture of violence that now claims more civilian victims than combatants, the majority of those women and children. Yet to assume that with the declaration of peace comes an immediate cessation of violence would be incorrect; for women, the militarization of gender relations that accompanies war often results in higher incidence of violence after conflict.

We must remember this as we work to bring peace to today’s conflicts, from countries like DRC, where rape continues to be used as a strategic tool of war, to Egypt, where so-called “virginity tests” and other physical violence has been used to intimidate female protesters.

Take the example of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where during the 1992-­1995 war thousands of women and girls were raped. The testimonies women gave just after the war resulted in widespread media attention, public outrage and changes in international law. However, very little has actually been done for the survivors.

Today in the DRC some rape investigations have been called off because of reprisal attacks on those seeking justice, presenting a cruel example of the failure of a justice system to adequately anticipate and respond to–and ultimately deliver for–women who have suffered violence in war.

Similarly, Japan’s famous “comfort women” still await justice, reparations and even the mere acknowledgement by the Japanese Government that the army systematically trafficked, imprisoned and tortured the women as sex slaves throughout WWII. In addition to the miscarriage of justice this represents for survivors, the “comfort women” suffer the indignity of living in a society where not even the national textbooks reflect the historical fact that this grave abuse existed.

CotedIvoire is today a prime example of militarism’s enduring footprint of violence against women even after peace is officially declared and a new regime has taken the reigns. Since the beginning of the conflict in September 2002, hundred, possibly thousands of women and girls have been victims of human rights violations including widespread and at times systematic rape  committed by combatant forces or by civilians with close ties  to these forces. Women have again been targeted after the resumption of the post electoral violence in December 2010 where both parties loyal to the outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo and the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara attacked women and girls, raping and beating them.

Women have been similarly targeted for violence across this year’s uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Women on the front lines of peace and democracy movements often are politically sidelined once the dust settles. In Nepal’s conflict women played a key role in building peace and advocating for justice and democracy following that country’s civil war, yet today continue to be marginalized from national debates, and have been attacked in peace protests. Protesting outside their governments is the closest many women get to the political process after war and revolution.

We must be as explicit in our demands for the protection of women’s voices as we are for the protection of their bodies, during and beyond the time of war and revolution. As activists, policy makers or concerned global citizens, it is our duty to advocate for women’s rights and interests as much as we demand their rights to live free of violence. That is what the concept of Women, Peace and Security is all about — that women must be protected from violence in war, and their contributions to peace and democracy must be supported in the formal machinations of peace and justice.

Later this month, the U.S. Government is expected to launch the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, a new policy that will guide various U.S. defense, development and diplomatic activities to encourage the protection of women in conflict and the promotion of their access to opportunities to build peace and contribute to the emerging political, economic and social orders following war.

Along with a number of women’s and peace groups conducting advocacy on this issue, Amnesty International USA has drafted an expert statement calling on the U.S. to ensure that this policy has the resources and political buy-in necessary to ensure that it is as robust as possible and its implementation is ensured across the whole of the United States’ considerable foreign policy framework. We eagerly anticipate the launch of this policy on December 15th, and will continue to be deeply committed to ensuring its full implementation in the months and years ahead.

Like what you’ve learned in this series? Let us know! Email us at [email protected] and let us know what actions you’ve taken in the course of our 16 Days campaign. You can continue the conversation by following our Women’s Rights Network on Twitter @AmnestyWomenRts and facebook.