The pervasive issue of Gender-based violence (GBV) has garnered significant global attention in recent decades.
Far beyond being a matter of gender inequality and violence, this problem strikes at the core of security, politics, and fundamental human rights within nations and across international borders.
As a result, addressing GBV has become a critical concern that requires immediate attention and action from policymakers, social advocates, and individuals alike.
According to a survey by the World Bank, gender-based violence and violence against women affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime, which makes it a global pandemic.
Gender-Based Violence in different war-torn regions
According to different United Nations (UN) Agencies reports, 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda in the 1994 genocide, and 60,000 women and girls were raped in Sierra Leone’s civil war between 1992-2002.
Similarly, more than 40,000 women were raped in Liberia between 1989-2003, and more than 200,000 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are estimated to have been raped since 1998.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has reported an increase in GBV incidents in Yemen by 50% in the case of physical assault, 35% in sexual abuse, 25% in psychological abuse, 17% in denial of resources, and 11% in child marriage.
Women and girls do not report violence due to the fear of being killed, detained, or exposed to further violence.
In 2020, interviews were conducted for a Naseej baseline study; the report claims that many forms of violence prevail in Yemen:
“Beating, cursing, shouting, mockery, verbal abuse, handcuffing girls, depriving girls of education, restricting the movement of girls” are some types of violence experienced by GBV survivors.
Causes of GBV in Conflict and Post-Conflict Zones
“War is an inherently patriarchal activity, and rape is one of the most extreme expressions of the patriarchal drive toward masculine domination over women.
This patriarchal ideology is further enforced by the aggressive character of the war itself that is to dominate and control another nation or people.” says Dai Lourdes Sajor.
It is usually used against one’s enemy for one very precise aim “to break the enemy’s morale”. Women are usually seen as the bearers of the nation’s pride and representing the nation.
Consequently, the rape of enemy women symbolized the rape of the whole community. Also, the rape of women during any conflict is not seen as an individual attack on an individual woman but an attack upon the whole nation.
GBV in a conflict raises the question of perpetrators. Being a woman during a war or conflict is far more dangerous than being a man. The reason behind this is ‘culturally gendered roles’, which are highly imbricated in everyday lives.
Women are represented as calm and peaceful on the other hand; men are portrayed as aggressive and active. Thus, fetishization is also a rising issue.
Ban well, a lecturer at the University of Greenwich in London defines fetishization as “selective and sensationalist accounts of rape and sexual violence –, particularly against women & girls – at the expense of other types of conflict violence.”
Its generally believed that GBV during conflicts results from the bottled-up sexual energy of the soldiers, and these acts are just random incidents of their frustration. Still, the latest insights explain the high prevalence of GBV during armed conflict.
Some believe it is used to humiliate, degrade, further destabilize, and generate fear among a population.
This view refers to GBV as a “campaign of terror.” Hence GBV during a conflict is not a random act but is the demonstration of power by perpetrators.
Also, to gather information on adversaries, Gender-Based Violence is often used by the military against women to exploit them, further, destabilizing physically and psychologically and traumatizing the population.
Moreover, it is a common practice among the military after winning a village or territory to use women’s bodies as ‘spoils of war’.
Militarization, destruction of the family and societal structures, and availability of small arms increase gender-based violence in conflict areas.
Demobilized and aggressive soldiers with the availability of small arms attack weak and vulnerable members of society, especially women and girls.
Numerous reports show that internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees fleeing a conflict area, especially women & children, are more vulnerable to violence, both by members of the armed forces & by the civilian population, increasing the incidents of GBV.
Post-conflict, women and girls can face problems such as health care, including sexual and reproductive health services disruption.
Women and girls face greater risks of unplanned pregnancy, maternal mortality, severe sexual and reproductive injuries, and contracting sexually transmitted infections due to conflict-related sexual violence.
Implications of GBV in the Conflict & Post-Conflict Zones
Gender-based violence confounds in post-conflict societies due to the complete rundown of the rule of law, the collapse of social and family structures, the accessibility of arms, and the ‘normalization’ of gender-based violence, in addition to the previously existing discrimination.
In such areas, trafficking is also worsened during and post-conflict due to the collapse of the economic, political, and social orders, elevated levels of violence, and enhanced militarism.
Lack of delivery of basic services
The lack of delivery of basic services to the population that has suffered instability and strife during the conflict can also lead to an inconsistent impact on special groups within a population, especially women and girls, which often leads to rebuilding the pre-existing scenarios of discrimination.
Additional impediments to accessing education
In the post-conflict zones, the girls also experience additional impediments in accessing education. These hindrances are due to the deeply enrooted fears of targeted killings and threats in their minds and due to extra caregiving and the household responsibilities that girls are obliged to assume.
In such societies, women are also forced to search for alternative sources of livelihood, as family survival becomes heavily dependent upon them.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
A lasting consequence of GBV and a major health concern for women in conflict areas is Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
Though this disease is a consequence of gender-based violence, it is important to note that the transmission of the disease may also be used as an intentionally perpetrated form of violence.
Men who are carriers of disease, especially HIV/AIDS, are often invigorated to rape local women in such areas that are suspected to be in support of their opposition to exterminating the local population.
Gender-based violence also has serious consequences which impact both women and their communities. Physical harms such as injury to reproductive organs, traumatic fistulas, and infertility often accompany brutal or repeated rapes.
Efforts for abortion after an unwanted pregnancy from rape may also cause critical medical complications, and women who are pregnant at the time of the attack often experience miscarriages.
Disruption in access to basic health facilities
Access to basic health facilities such as health care, involving sexual and reproductive health services are also disrupted in the conflict and the post-conflict situations.
This exposes the women and girls to the higher risks of unplanned pregnancy, severe sexual and reproductive injuries, maternal motility, morbidity, and contracting sexually transmitted diseases due to conflict-related sexual violence.
Loss of livelihood
In a conflict situation, internally displaced women are also disproportionately affected by the loss of livelihood. Due to the loss of land, livestock, property titles, and housing women are unable to practice their livelihood which impacts women unduly.
Moreover, other major human rights concerns are inequitable access to education, training, and assistance.
Internally displaced women also often have no access to adequate health care services and responses. They can also face sexual and labor exploitation, violence and abuse, trafficking, forced recruitment, and abduction. They are also largely excluded from the decision-making processes.
Moreover, in conflict settings, sexual and other forms of gender-based violence are the known risk factors for mental health and psychosocial well-being.
The armed conflicts badly affect the mental and psychological well-being of women and girls.
In addition to the physical effects, gender-based violence have serious psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, shock, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction.
Rape trauma syndrome is another important syndrome used to describe emotional responses to sexual assault, including hopelessness, loss of control, anger, guilt, and phobias, and its symptoms often go undiagnosed and untreated.
In recent years, the United Nations (UN) has taken increasing actions to address gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict settings.
But further action needs to be taken to ensure that those responsible for gender–based violence in conflict and post–conflict settings are held accountable and that the scale of gender–based violence is reduced.
This includes strengthening international legal frameworks, such as incorporating criminal accountability for sexual and GBV into universal jurisdiction; ramping up reporting requirements for international organizations and entities to monitor and report on gender–based violence trends; increasing resources for local civil society organizations tackling gender–based violence; and supporting communities affected by violence through psychosocial and legal support services.
*The writer is a Fellow at The Diplomatic Insight, published by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies
*The Diplomatic Insight does not take any position on issues and the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Diplomatic Insight and its staff.