Gender and the Violence(s) of War and Armed Conflict: More Dangerous to Be a Woman?

ISBN: 978-1-78769-116-2, eISBN: 978-1-78769-115-5

Publication date: 16 October 2020


Banwell, S. (2020), "Introduction", Banwell, S. (Ed.) Gender and the Violence(s) of War and Armed Conflict: More Dangerous to Be a Woman? (Emerald Studies in Criminology, Feminism and Social Change), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-17.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020 Stacy Banwell


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The Securitisation of Wartime Rape and Sexual Violence

The question that appears in the title of this book is taken from the following statement: ‘it is perhaps more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict’. It was made by Major General Patrick Cammaert in a video clip on the Stop Rape Now: UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict website (Stop Rape Now, n.d.). He is the former United Nations force commander for the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I will return to this statement shortly, for now let us review the Stop Rape Now website.

The site includes the ‘GET CROSS!’ campaign with the following caption: ‘[t]ake a stand against the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war by adding your crossed arm picture to our global campaign’ (Stop Rape Now, n.d., emphasis added). This global campaign is visualised through an interactive map. This is populated with crosses where individuals have uploaded images of their crossed arms. Other images of individuals (including celebrities) crossing their arms flash across our screens. Celebrities, such as Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman, also feature in the video clips included on the website. They inform us about the use of rape as a weapon of war against women and girls. They also encourage viewers to develop their knowledge further and take action.

Others have also written about the Stop Rape Now website (Grey & Shepherd, 2012; Meger, 2016b). Departing from this work, I draw on Visual Criminology to unpack this campaign. Briefly, and in simple terms (a more detailed review is provided in Chapter 5), Visual Criminology is interested in the visual representations of crime and punishment. It unpacks the visuality of hierarchical classifications such as race, class, gender and sexuality as they relate to these phenomena (Brown, 2014; Brown & Carrabine, 2017; Henne & Shah, 2016). Beyond this, Visual Criminology is interested in human lived experiences and in interrogating the ethical and moral consequences of looking at images (Brown, 2017; Brown & Carrabine, 2017; Gies, 2017). Of relevance for my discussion here is the argument that visuality need not only be visual, it also includes narratives which seek to reify and reproduce State power (Schept, 2016). In my analysis of this campaign, Stop Rape Now, a United Nations international organisation (comprising of 193 member States) is understood as a form of State power. And finally, on the subject of how power is conveyed through images, Hayward (2010, p. 5 as cited in Henne & Shah, 2016, p. 5) argues that images ‘can be used as both a tool of control and resistance’. These ideas are teased out below.

Notwithstanding the literal display of resistance represented by the crossed arms; symbolising condemnation of the use of rape as a weapon of war, global advocacy such as the GET CROSS! campaign – which focuses narrowly on wartime rape against women and girls – reproduces ‘master narratives’ which are then ‘presented as natural, universal, true, and inevitable’ (Bal, 2003, p. 22 as cited by Henne & Shah, 2016, p. 18). I believe as a tool of control, the visuality of this campaign (the images of the crossed arms, the captions and the video clips that accompany them) – that is, the narrative it produces, results in the securitisation and fetishisation of wartime rape and sexual violence.

Securitisation, to paraphrase Hirschauer (2014, pp. 5–6), involves a process of applying a specific existential threat component to a social problem – in this instance, rape and sexual violence. The State, international bodies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media (referred to as securitisation actors) decide which groups are vulnerable to this security threat. Funding agencies, international institutions and donors are then persuaded, through discursive representations (by policymakers, activists and the news media), that exceptional measures are required to maintain peace and security.

Allied to securitisation is the fetishisation of wartime rape and sexual violence. This involves selective and sensationalist accounts of rape and sexual violence – particularly against women and girls – at the expense of other types of conflict violence. Here, rape and sexual violence are identified as the most dangerous forms of conflict violence (Meger, 2016a, 2016b). Not only does this obscure the complexity of wartime rape and sexual violence, and indeed the conflicts within which they occur, it also marginalises other types of violence taking place within and beyond conflict zones (Crawford, Green, & Parkinson, 2014). It also excludes the experiences of men and boys. This impedes wider efforts to address and combat the violence(s) of war and armed conflict (Baaz & Stern, 2013; Meger, 2016a, 2016b; Mertens & Pardy, 2017). Indeed, the statement made by General Patrick Cammaert is a perfect illustration of this gendered securitisation agenda: a policy narrative that prioritises the needs and experiences of women and girls while obscuring those of men and boys, thereby confirming the belief that it is they who are more at risk during war and armed conflict.1

Let us return to the visuality of the Stop Rape Now campaign and its role in reproducing hegemonic (read as western) discourses around violence and victimisation during conflict. Here, I will focus on the two video clips that are included on the website. In the first, we hear the story of a nameless victim who has been raped. We learn through Charlize Theron that the victim is female. She states: ‘she could be your mother, your sister, your daughter’. The second video clip provides information regarding the prevalence and nature of wartime rape committed against women and girls. The brutal details of these acts are shared. While reference is made to the use of rape during the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, all other examples focus narrowly on wartime rape in Africa, omitting numerous other cases where rape has been used as part of warfare. In all of the examples, the victims are female.

I identify three elements within the visuality of this ‘master narrative’. Firstly, this violence happens to ‘other’ women and girls. In order for us to empathise and take action, the victim has to be transformed from a generic marginalised ‘other’ to ‘one of us’. Second, this violence happens elsewhere, specifically Africa, which evokes a colonial imagery ‘…of African backwardness and primitivism’ (Dunn, 2003, p. 5 as cited in Mertens & Pardy, 2017, p. 958). The corollary of this: a powerful western organisation like the UN is needed to mobilise global support in order to ‘rescue’ these female victims and combat this violence. And third, by only referencing female victimisation, this campaign engages in ‘visual essentialism’: visual representations that reproduce essentialist depictions of gender and crime (Bal, 2003, p. 22 as cited in Henne & Shah, 2016, p. 18). This brief discussion of visual representations of the securitisation agenda acts as a preface to a more in-depth analysis provided in Chapter 4. For now, however, I want to unpack, in more detail, the implications of gender essentialism within existing accounts of war and armed conflict.

Gender Essentialism Within ‘Stories’ About War and Armed Conflict

In 2015, I was asked by the reviews editor of the Journal of Gender Studies to review The Underground Girls of Kabul: The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys by Jenny Nordberg. The aim of Nordberg’s book is to examine what it is like to be an Afghan woman after ten years of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: ‘America’s longest war and one of the largest foreign aid efforts of a generation’ (Nordberg, 2014, p. 9 as cited in Banwell, 2015a, p. 587). In contrast to the more visible efforts of the international community to address gender inequality in war-torn Afghanistan, the book reveals that Afghans are using more clandestine measures. In a deeply patriarchal, segregated society, women resort to presenting themselves, and their daughters, as men/boys. As I wrote in my review: these women ‘do this in the context of a nation that has a long history of war, conflict, invasion, nation building and outside attempts to effect gender parity’ (Banwell, 2015a, p. 587). Nordberg’s book follows the lives of five Afghan women or, bacha posh; a colloquial Dari term meaning ‘dressed like a boy’ (Nordberg, 2014, p. 67 as cited in Banwell, 2015a, p. 588).

In Afghanistan, having a son enhances a family’s reputation. A baby boy is regarded as a ‘triumph’, while a baby girl is regarded as a ‘humiliation’ or a ‘failure’ (Banwell, 2015a, pp. 587–888). Indeed, in conflict-affected societies – where security and infrastructure are lacking – sons provide financial and social insurance. Presenting girls as boys offers girls freedom and opportunity. However, this is for a limited period only. Before reaching puberty, the girl must return to being female in order be married off and fulfil her childbearing responsibilities. Nordberg (2014) is convinced that this practice is not based on gender dysphoria, but rather is related to being female in the then war-torn Afghanistan. This then leads her to ask: would these women want to be male in other contexts?

This example can be interpreted in two ways. On a cursory level, it can be read as confirmation of male power, freedom and dominance, as well as the (perceived or otherwise) privilege and protection afforded to males. A more critical reading would argue that it is a reductive and essentialist comment on men and masculinity, specifically hegemonic masculinity. This is an interpretation that ignores the context specific ways in which certain men and certain masculinities are associated with power, freedom and authority. This first reading supports the gendered/essentialist assumption hinted at in the statement by Major General Patrick Cammaert: women are more vulnerable than men, especially during war and armed conflict. To be clear, my intention is not to diminish the oppressions and discrimination Afghan women faced (and indeed face), both at the individual and structural levels. Rather, my goal is to provide a nuanced understanding of women’s victimisation, agency and resistance: one that challenges binary constructions of women as either always and exclusively victims or, as possessing complete agency for their actions. Both positions preclude an appreciation of the complexity and contradictions inherent within women’s life choices and experiences.

The statement made by Major General Patrick Cammaert has been referred to a number of times so far in this Introduction. Below, as part of my review of the disproportionality thesis, I will dissect it in more detail.

Feminist writers within the fields of International Relations and International Security, and War Studies more broadly, have put forward the case that women are disproportionately affected by war and armed conflict (Alsaba & Kapilashrami, 2016; Cohn, 2013; Enloe, 2010; Lee-Koo, 2011; Raven-Roberts, 2013; Sjoberg, 2006a, 2006b; Sjoberg & Peet, 2011). This is also reiterated in numerous UN policy documents, most notably the eight UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) that make up the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda (see the special issue of International Political Science Review 2016 for a detailed examination of the WPS agenda). Furthermore, writers argue that pre-existing gender inequalities are exacerbated within and beyond the conflict zone, thus increasing females’ vulnerability to various types of gender-based violence (GBV) (Baaz & Stern, 2013; Banwell, 2014, 2018; Davies & True, 2015; Henry, 2016; Leatherman, 2011; Manjoo & McRaith, 2011; Meger, 2010; Ohambe, Muhigwa, & Wa Mamba, 2005; Sjoberg, 2011, 2013; Skjelsbæk, 2001). For example, as Cohn (2013) notes in relation to gendered divisions of labour, the domestic labour of rural women, such as fetching water or gathering firewood – activities that involve them travelling to isolated areas alone – increases their risk of attack in conflict-prone regions. Likewise, their role as primary caregivers for ‘children, the sick and the elderly leaves [them] more vulnerable because they are too encumbered to flee quickly’ (Cohn, 2013, p. 29).

Relatedly, this body of work has drawn attention to the ways in which pre-existing types of GBV are reproduced during war and armed conflict. As noted by the Peace and Security (GAPS) network:

[…] sexual violence is only one of many related forms of gender-based violence in conflict situations and should not be addressed in isolation…this violence is linked to gender-based violence against women and girls in peace time and is driven by the same underlying factors – namely women’s unequal status in society. (GAPS UK 2013, 1, emphasis in the original as cited in Kirby, 2015a, p. 509)

In all of this work, women and girls are considered the main victims of GBV prior to, during and in the aftermath of war and armed conflict (United Nations General Assembly, 1993, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], 2003). This leads to the conviction that they are disproportionately affected by the violence(s) of war and armed conflict. However, it is worth pausing to unpack the ‘taken-for-granted’ premise of the disproportionality thesis in more detail.2 If, as it is noted, there is a high prevalence of violence against women and girls in peacetime, what does it mean when we say they are disproportionately affected by war, disproportionate to what? Disproportionate to women’s experiences of GBV during peacetime, which is already asymmetrical? On what basis do we make this claim and with whom, specifically, are we comparing them to/with? Do we make this claim because, making up the majority of civilians during war/armed conflict; compared with the higher numbers of male combatants, their suffering is disproportionate? Is it not logical then, based on their higher participation as fighters, to assume that males will make up the majority of casualties? In fact, ‘…statistics suggest that young men of military age are most likely to be killed in war, whether as combatants or as civilians’ (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013, p. 167 emphasis added). Does our preoccupation with the unequal experiences of women and girls during war and armed conflict diminish our ability to acknowledge the suffering of male civilians and combatants? How do we interpret their victimisation? Finally, is there a difference between increased vulnerability to certain types of GBV (which can happen to both males and females) and being disproportionately affected by war and armed conflict?

Rather than overwhelm readers with these questions, perhaps a more fruitful exercise is to examine the ways in which war and armed conflict are gendered. To rework (and reduce) the questions to the following: how is suffering gendered? how does gender inform experiences of war and armed conflict? rather than ask, who suffers more? As noted by Collins (2017, p. 62 emphasis added): ‘[u]ndeniably, all civilian populations suffer during conflict [,] but war leads to specific gender-related harms making women’s experiences of conflict very different from those of men…’ For me the keyword here is different, not more (see also Cockburn, 2012). In this book, I trace the unique ways in which women and men experience war and armed conflict. Rather than pursue quantifiable, measurable differences, I am interested in unpacking the qualitative differences in how both genders experience war and armed conflict. I am more interested in understanding their material, lived experiences. To this end, where possible, I draw upon survivor testimonies3 and first-hand accounts (details are provided in the individual chapters).

Drawing on examples of women and men as both victims and perpetrators of conflict violence, the aim of this book is to answer these revised questions and provide a thorough analysis of the ways in which women’s experiences of war and armed conflict might be, and are, different to those of men. Before we continue, I want to outline the value of exploring war and armed conflict through a gendered lens; explain why I have chosen the term violence(s) and finally, clarify the difference between war and armed conflict.

Examining War and Armed Conflict Through a Gendered Lens

In this book, various examples of the violence(s) of war and armed conflict will be explored through a gendered lens. What does this mean? A gendered lens means viewing the world through the prism of gender where gender is understood relationally and hierarchically and is mapped onto the normative binary pair relations: male/female, masculine/feminine. The former is traditionally associated with agency and power, while the latter is associated with passivity and weakness (I offer a new way of thinking about gender binaries in the Conclusion). According to Steans (1998, p. 5 as cited in Gentry & Sjoberg, 2015, p.11):

To look at the world through gender lenses is to focus on gender as a particular kind of power relation, or to trace out the ways in which gender is central to understanding international processes. Gender lenses also focus on the everyday experiences of women as women and highlight the consequences of their unequal social position.

Like many other writers, Steans (1998) appears to have conflated the term gender with women. A gendered lens should examine the everyday experiences of both males and females as they relate to the construction of masculinities and femininities in any given context. Applying this to the context of war and armed conflict, and to paraphrase Gentry and Sjoberg (2015, p. 137), a gender lens examines how gender is present, yet invisible in the lives of those who commit conflict violence and in the theories used to explain such violence. Below I offer two examples of the ways in which gender is used to (1) justify war and armed conflict and (2) inform the methods used during war and armed conflict.

Gendered Justificatory Narratives

Discourses that seek to legitimise war and armed conflict rely upon idealised and binary constructions of masculinity and femininity. This gender essentialism is crystalised through the immunity principle which draws upon notions of men as warriors and fighters and women as ‘beautiful souls;’ fragile beings who need protecting (Elshtain, 1982; Lobasz, 2008; Sjoberg, 2007; Sjoberg & Peet, 2011). This gendered interpretation of protection is used to encourage men to fight in ‘just wars’ (Sjoberg, 2011). Such gendered justificatory narratives have been used since the First World War (see Sjoberg, 2006a, 2006b, 2011 for other examples). They were also used during the Bush-administration’s global war on terror4 in Iraq and Afghanistan (Nayak, 2006; Shepherd, 2006; Sjoberg, 2006a; Stabile & Kumar, 2005; Steans, 2008). In both cases, President George W. Bush’s overarching narrative ‘…linked the fight against terrorism to a battle for the rights and dignity of women’ (Steans, 2008, p. 160). More recently, rape and sexual violence against women and girls in Syria has been used to inform such foreign policy agendas.

Gendered War-fighting

In terms of the methods used during war, men are celebrated and rewarded if they live up to the just warrior ideal and fight to protect their ‘beautiful souls’ – that is, their women. In both old and new wars (see below), women come to represent the nation, the centre of gravity (Cohn, 2013; Sjoberg & Peet, 2011). Men fight in wars to protect their nation. If men fail to fulfil this role, they are emasculated and feminised. Unpacking the logic of the woman-as-nation thesis, Sjoberg and Peet (2011, pp. 174–186) argue that wars are won by eliminating women who belong to the enemy group (see also Alison, 2007; Heit, 2009). This expulsion communicates to enemy masculinities that they have been incapable of protecting their women/nation. And while Sjoberg and Peet (2011) are not suggesting that it is only women who are attacked during war and armed conflict, they are suggesting a gendered dynamic to this victimisation. In their words:

Belligerents attack (women) civilians for the same reason they claim protection for their own – because the ‘protection racket’ is an underlying justification for [S]tates, governments, and their wars. Insomuch as women are indicators, signifiers, and reproduces of [S]tate and nation, belligerents attack women to attack the essence of [S]tate and nation. (Sjoberg & Peet, 2011, p. 186 emphasis in the original)

Why Violence(s)?

I use the term violence(s) to acknowledge the multiple, diverse and complex nature of the violence that takes place within and beyond the conflict zone. In this book, through various case studies, structural, institutional (the US military), interpersonal and State violence(s) are explored. I also address genocidal and reproductive violence and structural and interpersonal violence(s) that can be linked to extreme droughts caused by climate change. Examining this range of violence (through a gendered lens) broadens the diagnostic framework. This extends – thereby enriching – our understanding of the nature, causes and consequences of such acts. Details of these violence(s), and how they are addressed in the individual chapters of the book, are outlined below.

Why Use the Terms War and Armed Conflict?

Globally, there have been 252 conflicts since the Second World War (Themnér & Wallensteen, 2013). These are formed of ‘interstate or internationalized intrastate conflicts’ (also referred to as civil wars) (Themnér & Wallensteen, 2013, p. 510). As established, historically male combatants comprise the majority of casualties (Leiby, 2009). However, with the changing nature of wars and armed conflict – where the State often deliberately targets civilians – the majority of casualties are non-combatants, both male and female. Indeed, by the end of the 1990s, approximately 90% of all casualties of war were non-combatants (European Security Strategy, 2003).

New wars – as envisioned by Kaldor (1999, p. 2) – encompass the following:

[…] a blurring of the distinctions between war (usually defined as violence between [S]tates or organized political groups for political motives), organized crime (violence undertaken by privately organized groups for private purposes, usually financial gain) and large-scale violations of human rights (violence undertaken by [S]tates or politically organized groups against individuals).

While there is considerable debate about the concept of new wars – for example see Rigterink (2013) for both a review of this literature and for an empirical test of Kaldor’s (1999, 2013) theory – I find that it is a useful way to categorise the different elements of war and armed conflict discussed in this book. Let us unpack this concept in more detail.

New wars refer to ‘internal or civil wars’, as well as ‘low-intensity conflict’ (Kaldor, 1999, p. 2). The latter relates to guerilla warfare or terrorism and was coined during the Cold War (Kaldor, 1999). Often fought at the local level, new wars involve a complex network of transnational and international actors:

[…] so that the distinction between internal and external, between aggression (attacks from abroad) and repression (attacks from inside the country), or even between local and global, are difficult to sustain. (Kaldor, 1999, p. 2)

New wars are often referred to as proxy wars as in the case of Syria (discussed in Chapter 4). Unlike new wars, where fighters include State and non-State actors, old wars were fought with armed soldiers of national military institutions (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013). According to Chinkin and Kaldor (2013, p. 170), those fighting in new wars include fragments of official armed forces, paramilitary groups, private security companies, warlords and extremist terrorist groups as well as various criminal organisations (see also Kaldor, 2013). New wars are new in terms of their goals, methods and financing (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013; Kaldor, 2013). I will examine each of these in more detail below.


In terms of their goals, distinguishing them from old wars – which were based on ‘geopolitical and ideological goals’ – new wars are fought in the name of ethnic, religious or tribal identities (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013, p. 171; Kaldor, 1999, 2013, p. 2).


In terms of their methods, new wars use ‘guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency’ methods of fighting (Kaldor, 1999, p. 7; see also Turshen, 2016). To paraphrase Kaldor (1999), while conventional war involves battles and the seizing of territory through military means, by contrast, guerrilla warfare avoids engaging in battle, rather, territory is captured through political suppression of the population. Counterinsurgency involves destabilisation and control of the population through expulsion (Kaldor, 1999). Those identified as ‘them’ (as different) are forcibly removed (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013; Kaldor, 1999). This, as Kaldor (1999) points out, is why new wars are characterised by large increases in the number of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Indeed, according to the UNHCR Global Trends report, by the end of 2016, 65.5 million people had been forcibly removed as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and/or human rights violations (UNHCR, 2016).


Whereas old war economies (e.g. the First and Second World Wars) were financed by taxation and were centralised, involving a labour force, ‘[n]ew war economies are decentralised and are open to the global economy’ (Chinkin & Kaldor 2013, p. 175; Turshen, 2016). They do not rely as heavily on taxation; they involve high unemployment (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013) and are funded by violent and criminal activities that include but are not limited to: the extraction, sale and illegal transport of valuable commodities to transnational corporations through regional and international criminal networks (Banwell, 2014); looting, pillaging and kidnapping; the exchange of stolen goods, money laundering and arms sales at cross-border points (Banwell, 2018; see also Richani, 2016). These activities form part of the informal global economy. Indeed, a key characteristic of new wars is the fragmentation and informalisation of the economy (Peterson, 2009; Banwell, 2015b, 2018). In its place, a new type of globalised informal economy emerges (this is discussed in Chapters 2, 3 and 4). Indeed, globalisation and neoliberalism are key facilitators of new (informal) war economies (Banwell, 2015b, 2018; Jacobson, 2013; Turshen, 2016).

In this book, war refers to traditional warfare, referred to in the literature as old wars. Obvious examples are the two World Wars. Armed conflict/conflict will be used when referring to new wars: the DRC, Syria and Darfur. This will include invasion and occupation (as in the case of Iraq). Unless referring to distinct examples of war (old wars) or armed conflict (new wars), I will use the term war/armed conflict to inform readers that the point I am making refers to both types of conflict. Although referred to as The Liberation War of 1971, the armed conflict between East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the then West Pakistan, does not fit the definition of a new war, nor is it an old war. Rather, this case study is understood as a violent uprising that resulted in genocide.

Before we arrive at the style and organisation of the book, two further themes are explored: the relationship between masculinities, femininities and war/armed conflict and GBV during war/armed conflict.

Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies and War

In the statement made by General Cammaert, the gender of the solider is implicit: he is male. If we follow the logic of his assertion, the female is, necessarily, a civilian. If, however, we adopt the more critical reading of the bacha posh (dressed like a boy) outlined earlier, we can see that this approach essentialises men and masculinities (Al-Ali & Pratt, 2009a). With reference to men in the middle-east, Al-Ali and Pratt (2009a) remind us that it is not simply because of their biology or their sexual drives/frustrations that these men commit numerous acts of political, ethnic or domestic violence. Their use of violence is much more complex than this and can be attributed to: ‘…brutal occupations, states of lawlessness, economic crises, unemployment and political corruption’ …which can then be rooted in other factors such as ‘class, nationality, religion, as well as gender’ (Al-Ali & Pratt, 2009a, p. 10).

Another contributing factor is the construction of (heterosexual) militarised masculinity. Within the military institution, gender essentialism and the inherent maleness of war-making and war-fighting are reproduced. Within this institution, differentiated gender-role expectations are upheld. In terms of gendered expectations, militarised masculinity expects men to be tough and aggressive. The military is where male soldiers learn to fight and kill for their women/nation.

Conversely, idealised militarised femininity ‘expects a woman to be as capable as a male soldier, but as vulnerable as a civilian woman’ (Sjoberg & Gentry, 2007, p. 86). To elaborate:

The militarized woman is…tough, but not violent…. She is brave, but not self-sufficient. She is masculine, but not above femininity. She is frail, but not afraid…She is a soldier and a participant, but, at bottom, innocent; a Beautiful Soul. (Sjoberg, 2007, p. 93)

As noted above, traditionally, within discourses of war/armed conflict, women are treated as passive, weak and in need of protection. Men within the military provide such protection (Sjoberg, 2007, p. 84). Recently, we have seen increasing numbers of women join the military. Like men, it would seem, they fight for and protect the nation. And yet, the expectation that women within the military perform idealised militarised femininity underscores that what is required of female soldiers is different from that which is expected of male soldiers. In this book, I examine female soldiers’ use of sexualised violence and torture within the US military (see Chapter 5).

GBV During War/armed Conflict

The final theme I will address is the relationship between GBV and war/armed conflict. The subject of GBV in conflict and post-conflict situations has received increased attention from diverse audiences ranging from academics, NGOs, and policy makers to advocacy groups and the news media (Alsaba & Kapilashrami, 2016; Freedman, 2016; Manjoo & McRaith, 2011; Spencer et al., 2015; Tappis, Freeman, Glass, & Doocy, 2016; Wirtz et al. 2014). GBV is violence directed against an individual based on socially ascribed gender differences. The types of GBV committed in these contexts include: rape and sexualised violence, including sexual slavery and genital mutilation; forced abortion, forced sterilisation, forced nakedness, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced prostitution, forced labour and forced recruitment; sex-selective killing, kidnapping and trafficking. These map onto the structural, institutional, interpersonal, State, reproductive and genocidal violence(s) discussed above. All will be examined in the chapters to come. The impact of such violence, which can be physical, social, psychological, and/or economic, is severe. The consequences of such violence will be addressed in more detail in the individual chapters.

Numerous international bodies (e.g. The International Criminal Court, The United Nations, The International Court of Justice), international laws and instruments (e.g. International Criminal Tribunals, the Rome Statute, the Geneva Conventions; the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women; the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women), as well as UNSCRs (e.g. the eight UNSCRs on WPS: UNSCR 1325, 2000; UNSCR 1820, 2008; UNSCR 1888, 2009a; UNSCR 1889, 2009b; UNSCR 1960, 2010; UNSCR 2106, 2013a; UNSCR 2122, 2013b and UNSCR 2242, 2015) have been put in place to combat the violence(s) of war and armed conflict. These will be addressed in the individual chapters as they relate to the case study under discussion. The remainder of this Introduction will address the style, contribution, analytical framework, case studies and organisation of the book.


This book is eclectic in its approach. While it is largely informed by a feminist analysis, it adopts a multi-disciplinary approach and draws on theoretical and empirical research from a range of disciplines and sub-disciplines. Historically, the discipline of Criminology has inadvertently been western-centric. In order to redress this, in addition to drawing on the sub-disciplines of Critical, Feminist and Visual Criminology, this book engages with International Relations, Security Studies (including Environmental Security), Postcolonial Studies, Gender Studies and Political Geography. Combined, these subjects have enabled a nuanced and intricate exploration of gender and the violence(s) of war/armed conflict.

Contribution of the Book

In terms of war/armed conflict, criminologists have drawn attention to Criminology’s surprising lack of engagement with topics such as genocide, murder, rape, torture, and the displacement and enslavement of war-affected populations (Maier-Katkin, Mears & Bernard, 2009; Pruitt, 2014). Despite some advances within the field (e.g. Hagan, Rymond-Richmond, & Parker, 2005; Haveman & Smeulers, 2008; Kramer & Michalowski, 2005; Mullins & Rothe, 2008), missing from this work is a gendered analysis of these issues (Collins’ 2017 book is a notable exception). Whilst Mullins provides an excellent criminological analysis of sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide (Mullins, 2009a, 2009b) – and indeed, I too examine wartime rape and sexual violence during the course of this book – I extend Mullins’ work in three ways: first, I examine structural forms of violence against women and girls (Chapters 3 and 4). Second, I consider female perpetrators of sexualised violence and torture (Chapter 5). And third, I examine GBV against men and boys, demonstrating how men and boys are also victims of reproductive and genocidal violence within the conflict zone (Chapter 6).

With regards to the feminist critique of mainstream Criminology, in her article, Has Criminology awakened from its ‘androcentric slumber’?, Cook (2016, p. 340) reviews the ‘social realities of gender’ in relation to crime and victimisation. While there has been significant developments in this area – notable contributions include theories of ‘doing gender’, work on intersectionality and an understanding of gender as situated action (Cook, 2016, p. 343) – Cook (2016, p. 344) argues that ‘there is room for their expansion within [C]riminology’. In Chapter 5 of this book, drawing on Feminist and Visual Criminology, I explore, among other issues, intersectionality and crime as resource for accomplishing gender in relation to women’s involvement in sexualised violence and torture at Abu Ghraib.

As discussed earlier in relation to new wars, many crimes committed during armed conflicts are crimes committed by the State. There has been a growing body of criminological research on State crimes (e.g. Kramer & Michalowski 2005; Michalowski & Kramer, 2007; Rothe, 2009; Rothe & Mullins, 2011; Whyte, 2007). Criminologists have also addressed the subject of risk, moral panics, terrorism and the war on terror (see Aradau & van Munster 2009; Mythen & Walklate, 2006, 2008; Rothe & Muzzatti, 2004). Absent from this body of work is a gendered analysis of State crimes committed during armed conflict. Also missing is a gendered analysis of the ‘war on terror’. In Chapters 2 and 3 of this book – drawing on international case studies relating to contemporary armed conflicts – I address State crimes from a gendered perspective. In Chapter 5, I provide a gendered analysis of the war on terror.

Two final contributions are worth highlighting:

Both within and outside of the discipline, traditional theories of genocide argue that in order for perpetrators to carry out atrocities they must dehumanise their victims first. I challenge the dehumanisation thesis and argue that the concept of ‘essentialisation’ (Chirot & McCauley, 2006) better explains the use of rape and sexualised violence by German men against Jewish women during the Holocaust, as well as by West Pakistani men against Bengali women. This is done in the first chapter in relation to the woman-as-nation thesis. I then revisit my anti-dehumanisation thesis in Chapter 5 when unpacking sexualised violence and torture against the enemy ‘other’.

Finally, in Chapters 4 and 6, drawing on research from Political Geography and Environmental Studies, I expand the analytical framework to consider how climate variability, and the extreme weather events it leads to (such as droughts), is linked to the violence(s) of armed conflict.

Case Studies and the Five Key Messages of the Book

The case studies that I have chosen for analysis address all of the issues outlined in the preceding section. They include, The Holocaust, The 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh, and the armed conflicts in the DRC, Iraq, Syria and Darfur. These case studies are central for illustrating the five key messages of this book:

  1. The GBV(s) that take place during and in the aftermath of armed conflict cannot be reduced to visible acts of interpersonal violence, they also include, and are connected to, structural violence, State crimes and institutional organisations (Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5).

  2. As both symbolic and corporeal mothers of the nation, women are at risk of reproductive and genocidal violence during war/armed conflict (Chapter 1).

  3. Gender essentialism – that is, the equation of maleness with war-fighting and femaleness with victimisation – obscures the experiences of male victims and female perpetrators (Chapters 5 and 6).

  4. Climate variability intersects with gender to inform structural and interpersonal forms of violence within and beyond the conflict zone (Chapters 4 and 6).

  5. The violence(s) of war/armed conflict take place at the interrelated macro-, meso- and micro-levels (all chapters).

The Analytical Framework of the Book

Throughout the book, gender and the violence(s) of war/armed conflict will be analysed at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels. This is the framing device for understanding and analysing the different types of violence across all case studies. The macro-level refers to large-scale, overarching social, cultural, political and/or economic processes, interactions and/or structures. These operate at both the global and State levels. The meso-level refers to institutions (e.g. the military) the law and (government) organisations. The micro-level deals with small-scale interactions and processes, often examining behaviour at the individual level. At the beginning of each chapter, I outline how these three interrelated levels map onto the case study under discussion.

As mentioned earlier, a key feature of new wars is the global informal economy. To assist in my discussion of this within the DRC, Iraq and Syria, I will draw upon the feminist political economy approach. This approach draws attention to the economic, political and gendered dimensions of armed conflict. It examines the macro- (global), meso- and micro- (local) contexts in which the violence(s) of armed conflict occur. It traces how GBV is both produced and reproduced within and beyond the conflict zone.

Organisation of the Book

Drawing on two historical case studies, the Holocaust and the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh, Chapter 1 explores the implications of the woman-as-nation thesis. Here, I explore how the female reproductive body, alongside discourses of biological motherhood, form part of women’s experiences of sexualised, genocidal and reproductive violence during and in the aftermath of war/armed conflict. I draw on the concept of essentialisation (which opposes the dehumanisation thesis) to encapsulate the vulnerability of the maternal body. In both examples, it will be argued that rape has political, social and gendered motivations (Banwell, 2014, 2016). Furthermore, across both cases – and within the general literature on wartime rape and genocidal violence – I argue that such violence(s) take place at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels. In this chapter, I reimagine the woman-as-nation thesis to the following: woman-as-Jew, in the case of the Holocaust and, mother-as-nation, in the case of Bangladesh.

Chapter 2 draws upon the feminist political economy approach to examine rape and sexual violence in the DRC. It demonstrates how these violence(s) are perpetrated and facilitated at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels. At the macro-level, I outline the complex relationship between economic globalisation, hegemonic masculinity, global hyper-capitalism and conflict-related sexual violence in the Congo. Here, transnational corporations compete for access to minerals contained within the DRC. Fighters on the ground use rape to terrorise and displace the civilian population. This allows them access to these minerals. These are then sold to the various national and transnational companies involved in the trade. These actors, who rely on the chaos of the conflict to engage in these illegal transactions, are guilty of committing State crimes that include war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the meso-level, I explore how the military institution encourages men to adopt a violent and aggressive heterosexual masculinity. Pre-existing gendered inequalities, as reflected in Congolese law and cultural practices, are also explored at this level. And finally, at the micro-level, I argue that individual soldiers utilise rape and sexual violence to overcome their subordinate position within the gender hierarchy (Banwell, 2014).

These State corporate crimes are analysed with reference to the gender hierarchy and globalisation masculinities (Connell, 1998, 2005). Drawing on the concept of a ‘feminist ethics of war’ (Sjoberg, 2006b), the chapter closes with some suggestions for how we can address the crimes committed in the DRC.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been described by criminologists as a State crime, a crime of aggression and an illegal intervention under international law (Kramer & Michalowski, 2005, 2011). Utilising the feminist political economic approach, Chapter 3 explores this illegal intervention through a gendered lens, revisiting Connell’s (1998) notion of globalisation masculinities.

In order to examine the gendered impact of this invasion and occupation, I compare pre-conflict security and gender relations in Iraq with the situation post-invasion/occupation. I also review men’s and women’s involvement in the illicit economy in Iraq following the intervention and the collapse of the formal economy. This analysis demonstrates how economic policies (specifically privatisation) imposed by the Global North on the Global South, resulted in women and girls either being forced into the illicit economy as a means of survival or, trafficked for sexual purposes by profit-seeking (male) criminal networks in post-invasion/occupation Iraq. While both are examples of GBV, forced prostitution is treated as a form of structural violence. A review of the different types of coerced sexual activities that occur during war/armed conflict – as well as the feminist debates that surround them – is also provided.

In Chapter 4, using the example of Syria, I argue that the securitisation of wartime rape and sexual violence against civilian women and girls obscures other forms of GBV that are taking place. Departing from this reductive tendency, and following on from Chapter 3, this chapter examines structural forms of GBV in Syria: denial of reproductive healthcare, specifically access to safe abortion; denial of education, exacerbated by the use of early marriage and denial of employment opportunities, leading to survival sex. Denial of reproductive healthcare is discussed in relation to President Trump’s foreign policy on abortion, while diminished access to employment opportunities is attributed to environmental forces. Here, I explore the link between climate change and women’s involvement in coerced sexual activities.

The feminist political economy approach (True, 2010, 2012) is used to demonstrate how women and girls’ experiences of these three types of structural violence – taking place at the local level within and beyond the Syrian conflict zone – is informed by macro- and meso-level economic, cultural and political policies and practices: economic globalisation, neoliberalism and patriarchy.

In Chapter 5, I use Feminist and Visual Criminology to critically examine three women’s involvement in the sexualised violence and torture at Abu Ghraib: Megan Ambuhl, Lynndie England and Sabrina Harman. This chapter provides a gendered analysis of the war on terror. It unpacks the three main narratives that emerge: ‘the woman in need of rescue and protection,’ ‘the woman in danger’ and ‘the fallen woman.’ At the meso-level, I consider women’s role within the US military, replacing militarised femininity with my notion of ‘war-on-terror femininity’. At the micro-level, I unpack the involvement of individual women (Lynddie England and Sabrina Harman) in the violence(s) that took place. All three levels are set against the backdrop of American exceptionalism.

In order to investigate women’s involvement in these violence(s), four images from Abu Ghraib are analysed. This is done in three stages. In the first section, I use literature from Visual Criminology and scholarly work on war photography to explore the following: gender and sovereign violence; gender, ethics and appropriate responses to images of suffering (specifically the postmodern ‘doing a Lynndie pose’) and the limitations of images. Drawing on Feminist Criminology, the second section reviews mainstream media accounts of Lynndie England’s involvement in sexualised violence and torture. With reference to the belief that crime is a resource for doing gender, the final section considers my notion of ‘war-on-terror femininity’.

In Chapter 6, in order to redress the invisibility of male victimisation, I examine conflict-related sexual violence committed against men and boys. I focus in detail on the use of genocidal and reproductive violence (rape, sex-selective killing and acts of genital harm) against men and boys in Darfur. These sexual GBV(s), that are demarcated along environmental, institutional and interpersonal lines, are explored at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels. To facilitate this analysis, I replace Connell’s notion of globalisation masculinities with my notion of glocalisation masculinities. The term glocalisation was used by Howe (2008) to capture the relationship and impact of macro-level systems and structures on experiences at the meso- and micro-levels. At the macro-level, I unpack how climate variability, and the severe droughts it led to, forms the backdrop to the genocidal violence that took place at the local level during the conflict in Darfur. At the meso-level, I unpack how State-led Arabisation policies were used to alter the gender hierarchy in Darfur for the purpose of marginalising African Darfuri men. Rape and sexual violence were the tools used to accomplish this subordination. Finally, at the micro-level, I examine genocidal and reproductive violence committed by the Janjaweed and the government of Sudan against Darfuri African men. Here, I explore individual and localised acts of conquest and expulsion.

I will close this Introduction by restating the main question I seek to answer in the remaining chapters of this book, namely: how does gender inform both the experiences of those who victimise and those who are victimised during war/armed conflict? In other words, how are the experiences of males and females (as victims and as perpetrators) distinct? This will be a qualitative endeavour rather than a quantitative, comparative analysis; one that is concerned with understanding the lived experiences of victims, survivors and perpetrators. The book explores the GBV(s) committed and experienced within and beyond the war/conflict zone, tracing how they are interrelated at the macro-, meso- and micro-levels. It does so through a gendered lens.

The overarching goal is to challenge the inherent gender essentialism within existing explanations and representations of gender and the violence(s) of war/armed conflict.

My criticism of this security paradigm should not be read as though I am suggesting that wartime rape and sexual violence are not worthy of attention (or recourses for that matter), nor do I want to diminish the impact these crimes have on victims and/or survivors. Rather, my goal is to draw attention to the implications of disproportionately focusing on rape and sexual violence at the expense of other types of conflict violence. At this point I would also like to acknowledge that the case studies and types of violence discussed in this book are based upon the experiences of those we might refer to as cisgender male and female - referred to throughout as boys, men, male(s) and girls, women, female(s). Elsewhere I have written about the experiences of LGBT+ individuals. See the chapter on Sex and War in the forthcoming book Sex and Crime by Fanghanel, Milne, Zampini, Banwell & Fiddler.

In the interest of full disclosure, when I began writing about wartime rape and sexual violence against women and girls, I too was blinded by this focus on disproportionality. However, after spending more time researching, thinking and writing about this topic – expanding my analysis to include the experiences of men and boys – I began to see how shortsighted this quantitative, comparative endeavour was/is.

With regards to using the terms victim and/or survivor, I will use the terminology chosen by the individuals themselves and/or how they have been referred to in the literature.

A foreign policy campaign created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.