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), "Woman-as-nation", 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. 19-42. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78769-115-520201003
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2020 Stacy Banwell
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As highlighted in the Introduction, wartime rape can be used to destroy the opponent’s centre of gravity: their women. Thus, ‘the rape of the women in a community can be regarded as the symbolic rape of the body of this community’ (Seifert, 1994 as cited in Fein, 1999, p. 43). Indeed, in times of war/armed conflict, female bodies are regarded as the vessels through which national, ethnic, racial and religious identities are reproduced (Cohn, 2013, p. 14; see also Sharlach, 2000; Takševa, 2015). Rape in this context is used not only as an attack upon the individual female, but also as attack upon the nation (Alison, 2007; Baaz & Stern, 2009; Leiby, 2009). It is also, as Sjoberg (2013) notes, an attack against men and the masculine, specifically men belonging to the enemy group who have failed to protect women belonging to their group (we will revisit this in Chapter 6).
In this chapter, and elsewhere in this book (Chapters 4, 5 and in the Conclusion), drawing on a number of examples of war/armed conflict, I examine how State policies interact with discourses of biological motherhood and the (post-conflict) maternal body to form part of the landscape of physical and structural violence against women and girls. As noted above, according to the woman-as-nation thesis, women are understood as both symbolically and corporeally mothers of the nation. The implications of this coding are discussed in this chapter. Through an exploration of the Holocaust and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, both the regulation (as was the case in Bangladesh) and the destruction of motherhood (which occurred during the Holocaust) are examined. In the case of Bangladesh, State regulation of motherhood was an attempt to recuperate the post-war maternal body. In the case of the Holocaust, the attack upon the maternal body (and its reproductive capabilities) formed part of the genocidal campaign. These historical case studies have been chosen because they both, albeit in different ways, exemplify the woman-as-nation thesis. They both highlight how women, as reproducers of the nation, are targeted during war/armed conflict. In response to the question, ‘is it more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict?’, the two examples explored here unpack the unique ways in which women and girls experience war/armed conflict. Across both examples, we see how rape and sexual violence operate at the three interrelated levels: the macro-, meso- and micro- (these levels were defined in the Introduction).
I would like to close this Introduction by outlining my challenge to the dehumanisation thesis. Within mainstream analyses of genocide, it is argued that in order for ordinary individuals to carry out ‘excessive’ and brutal acts of violence their victims have to be ‘transformed conceptually and psychologically into less-than-human creatures’ (Lang, 2010, p. 227). Hagan and Rymond-Richmond (2008, p. 876) argue that collective dehumanisation places the targeted group ‘outside the normative universe of moral protection’, thereby leaving them vulnerable to genocidal violence. I believe that the logic of the woman-as-nation thesis (outlined above) necessarily negates the notion that the violence(s) enacted require persons to be dehumanised first. Let me explain in more detail.
Rape in warfare has been present throughout history. It has been used in both old and new wars. For example, Belgian women were raped during the First World War, Chinese women were raped during the invasion of Nanking in 1937 and the widespread rape of German women occurred at the end of the Second World War (Henry, 2016, p. 44). Henry (2016, p. 44) goes on to list the following recent examples: ‘Vietnam, Bangladesh, Uganda, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Peru, the DRC, Darfur, Libya, Iraq … Syria.’ To this, we can add Myanmar and Yemen. In modern civil conflicts, such as the former Yugoslavia, the DRC, Syria and Myanmar, rape is used as a systematic weapon against civilian populations.
According to Henry (2016, p. 44), a common theme among these examples ‘…is that rape is a product of warped (yet normalised) militarised hegemonic masculinity, which arguably is structurally embedded in pre-conflict gender inequality and unequal power relations’. In my own work, I have identified an additional theme within this literature: the assumption that, in order to commit such acts, perpetrators must dehumanise and objectify their victims first.
In contrast to this work, I argue that the concept of ‘essentialisation’ facilitates a more nuanced understanding of the use of rape and sexualised violence by German men against Jewish women during the Holocaust. According to Chirot and McCauley (2006), essentialisation involves the reduction and denigration of a diverse group into a single, redundant category, attributing them all with the same negative characteristics. They state:
The idea of essence … turns out to be a key psychological concept in examining violence against groups. Something about members of the targeted group is inherently disgusting – their habits … their appearance – and this justifies the violence against them because their disgusting characteristics threaten to pollute the environment and must be eliminated. (Chirot & McCauley, 2006, p. 81)
As established through the woman-as-nation thesis: ‘…motherhood often starts with a conceptualization of the womb as a recruiting station in nationalist discourses… [W]omen serve their nation by “producing” children/soldiers [preferably sons] of the nation’ (Åhäll, 2017, p. 22). Based on this, I argue that it was precisely because of their Jewishness (race) and their reproductive (gender) capabilities – the coding of woman-as-Jew – that Jewish women were targeted by German men during the Holocaust. My notion of woman-as-Jew has been adapted from Cohn’s (2013, p. 14) ‘nation-as-woman’ and ‘woman-as-nation’ as, I would argue, in the case of Jewish women, Jews – along with Poles and Roma – would have been considered by the Nazis as a source of contamination to the German nation/bloodline, and thus more likely regarded as a counter-nation.
This notion of essentialisation can also be applied to my second case study. However, in my discussion of the 1971 Liberation War, and in contrast to what occurred during the Holocaust, I focus my attention on understanding genocidal rape as a form of social death when forced impregnation cannot be applied. My challenge to the dehumanisation thesis will be explored in more detail below. It will be revisited in Chapter 5 when I examine sexualised violence and torture against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Outline of the Chapter
Drawing on two historical case studies, the Holocaust and the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh, this chapter will demonstrate how women were targeted based on the notion of woman-as-nation (Cohn, 2013). The chapter will begin with a gendered analysis of the Holocaust. It will then review the literature on wartime rape and genocidal rape, before examining the use of rape during the Nazi genocide. Essentialisation (the anti-thesis to dehumanisation) informs the discussion of sexualised and reproductive violence against Jewish women by German men. The chapter then moves on to unpack the second case study. This section begins with an overview of the 1971 conflict, including details of the systematic rape of Bengali women by the Pakistani army. The theme of dehumanisation is revisited briefly. The main focus, however, is on understanding the individual and social consequences of sexualised and reproductive violence and how, in this example, rape was used as a tool of genocide. A discussion of the regulation of the post-war maternal body concludes this case study analysis. A comparison of both iterations of the woman-as-nation thesis brings the chapter to a close.
For both case studies, I will draw upon Halbmayr’s (2010, p. 30) notion of sexualised violence:
The term sexualized violence makes it clear that male violence against females is not about sexuality but is a show of power on the part of the perpetrator and includes many forms of violence with sexual connotations, including humiliation, intimidation, and destruction… From this we can derive that violent acts can be understood as sexualized if they are directed at the most intimate part of a person and, as such, against that person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual integrity.
I will also draw upon Grey’s (2017, p. 906) notion of reproductive violence. Reproductive violence – violence that violates a person’s reproductive autonomy or violence that is directed against an individual due to their reproductive capabilities – encompasses forced impregnation, forced miscarriage, forced sterilisation and forced abortion (Grey, 2017, p. 907).
Sexualised violence against Jewish women will refer to rape and other bodily sex-based violations that can be viewed as emotional expressions of violence (e.g. public nakedness and the shaving of hair from intimate parts of the body). All of these can be understood as sexualised violence as they are directed at the most intimate part of a person. Whilst perpetrator motivation may not always be rooted in sexual desire or gratification, the female victim may, nonetheless, experience the attack as a violation of her sexuality. In the case of the Holocaust, reproductive violence will refer to forced abortion and forced sterilisation. In Bangladesh, sexualised violence will refer to rape, while reproductive violence will be used to capture the assault and regulation of women’s reproductive bodies during and following the 1971 Liberation War.
In this chapter, the differences between genocidal rape and rape used during the Holocaust are highlighted. At this point, it will be useful to outline the concept of genocide.
Genocide is defined in Article 2 of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (2014) as:
[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Based on this definition, rape can, and is, used as a tool of genocide. In this context, it is used intentionally and systematically as a weapon of war. Examples include the 1971 Liberation War, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These will all be discussed in due course.
In the Introduction, I argued that this book engages in a qualitative analysis of gender and the violence(s) of war/armed conflict, tracing the distinct ways in which both genders suffer. To this end, I begin my analysis of the first case study (the Holocaust) by highlighting the unique ways in which women experienced sexualised and reproductive violence during this genocide. This forms part of a broader comment on the importance of a gendered analysis of the Holocaust. I also promised that where possible I would draw upon victim and/or survivor testimonies. Throughout this chapter, I include testimonies of Holocaust survivors that have been archived by the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education. Let us start with a gendered analysis of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust Through a Gendered Lens
Ringelheim (1958/1993, p. 375) was asking crucial questions about gender and the Holocaust as far back as 1985. Among them were:
[I]f you were Jewish, in what ways did it matter whether you were a man or a woman … Is there … anything to be seen in statistics about the number of men killed compared to women?
On the subject of the function of sexism within Nazi racist ideology, Tec (2003, p. 8) advances a different argument to Ringelheim. She argues that there is no systematic data to suggest that women were more oppressed than men during the Holocaust. Furthermore, she is less interested in whether more women than men died, and more interested in how ‘women and men fared in different Holocaust settings, and how they responded to their circumstances’.
More recently, in the edited collection by Hedgepeth and Saidel (2010), Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, the following questions were raised: ‘what happened to women during the Holocaust?’ and ‘…was there anything different in their experience because they were women?’ (Reinharz, 2010, p. ix). Taking these as my point of departure, the questions I hope to answer are: why did soldiers of the Third Reich rape Jewish women if, firstly, sexual relationships with Jews were a criminal offence and, secondly, rape was not an explicit function of the genocidal campaign?
Whilst Jewish women were raped by non-German allies, collaborators, civilians and fellow prisoners (see Friedman, 2002 and the edited collection by Hedgepeth and Saidel, 2010), this chapter will focus on the rape of Jewish women by German men: soldiers, guards, members of the Third Reich and SS members. Coerced sexual activities (forced prostitution and sexual slavery) and sex for survival – ‘entitlement rape’ (Fogelman, 2012, p. 20) – also formed part of women’s gendered experience of the Holocaust. They also formed part of women’s experiences of the 1971 Liberation War. These will not be reviewed here (a more detailed analysis of coerced sexual activities, including sexual exploitation and abuse, are discussed in Chapters 3 and 4).
As we know, the Holocaust was a genocide that targeted all Jews as Jews (Banwell, 2016). It also targeted other non-Aryan groups that it deemed inferior and undesirable such as homosexuals, Roma, the mentally ill and disabled people, as well as a number of political and religious opponents (Fogelman, 2012). So, whilst a gendered analysis of the Holocaust may be a legitimate focus of investigation, it is still important to answer the questions: why women? Why gender? (Weitzman & Ofer, 1998). It is because the Holocaust – and the Final Solution in particular – was the first event that did not treat the female population as the inevitable spoils of war. Viewed as the carriers of the next generation of Jews, the Nazi eugenicist policy explicitly targeted pregnant women for death: women whose pregnancies were visible were killed immediately upon arrival at a concentration camp (Goldenberg, 1998, 2013; Horowitz, 1998; Katz, 2012; Patterson, 2013; Perl, 1984/1993; Weitzman & Ofer, 1998). As articulated by Yolan Frank: ‘some women were taken away for men’s pleasure and when they got pregnant … they are sent back to the gas chamber’.1
It may seem illogical to focus on gender when Nazi ideology was premised on the status of Jews as Jews and their genocidal policy targeted them based on their ‘race’. Yet, it is clear from women’s testimonies that they experienced the Holocaust differently from men (Goldenberg, 1998; Horowitz, 1998; Weitzman & Ofer, 1998). Women were vulnerable to sexualised and reproductive violence in a number of ways: rape, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, sexual abuse, pregnancy, childbirth and the killing of their newborns. Most of these are uniquely female experiences and women suffered them as women and as Jews (Friedman, 2002).
By examining the genocidal violence women experienced during the Holocaust, it is not my intention to ignore or dismiss the violence(s) visited upon men, nor do I wish to reduce the Holocaust to an example of sexism (Rittner & Roth, 1993). We know that Jewish men were also targeted and attacked as Jews and as men. Indeed, as Tec (2003) argues, given the Nazi emphasis on patriarchal values – which depicted men as rational, aggressive and more powerful than women – Jewish men were regarded as a greater threat to the political system than women. Thus, the goal of annihilating the Jews began with the extermination of Jewish men. Men endured indignities and assaults on their biology, including sexual assault and rape (Friedman, 2002; Horowitz, 1998). According to Chalmers (2015), male rape occurred more often within the context of coerced homosexual interactions. Young boys would provide sexual favours, or act as sexual slaves, in order to receive food and better living conditions. This was mainly in the concentration camps. Overall, Chalmers (2015) argues that the sexual abuse of men was less prevalent. This may be the result of underreporting (Chalmers, 2015; this theme is addressed in more detail in Chapter 6).
An Overview of Wartime Rape and Genocidal Rape
Explanations of wartime rape and genocidal rape can be demarcated along macro-, meso- and micro-levels. Gender plays an integral part at every level. At the macro-level, rape is central to a regime or policy directive (Waller, 2012, p. 85). It is used as a political and social tool to achieve the goals of genocide and ethnic cleansing (Waller, 2012). The consequences of rape in this context are death, both literally and figuratively (social and psychological) (Card, 1996). It destroys communities and social bonds. It ‘dilutes’ – and in some instances eradicates – the next generation (Waller, 2012). Rape, in cases of ethnic cleansing and genocide, acts as a statement of hetero-nationality and serves as an ethno-marker (Lentin, 1999). It may also serve as an attack upon the nation’s culture of women (Cohn, 2013). This is the weapon-of-war paradigm.
At the meso-level, patriarchy, phallocentrism, the military institution and hegemonic masculinity all socialise men to embody a violent and aggressive heterosexual masculinity, whereby rape is normalised and used to achieve and perform this type of masculinity. And at the micro-level, in stark contrast to the weapon-of-war thesis, wartime rape is considered an opportunistic crime (Davies & True, 2015). Enloe (2000) referred to this as ‘recreational rape’. It can be related to the ‘pressure-cooker’ theory. This views wartime rape as a result of men’s biological/innate sexual drive and/or the result of the chaos of war (Mullins, 2009a). Individual men, at the micro-level, use rape and sexual violence to feminise their victims and to subvert their marginal position within the gender hierarchy. Rape is used not out of lust, but out of aggression to enhance masculine identity (Banwell, 2014).
Generally speaking then, rape has political, social (genocide and ethnic cleansing) and gendered (phallocentrism, misogyny and hegemonic heterosexual masculinity) motivations. These operate at all three levels of analysis. More inclusive studies consider the victimisation of males as well as females during war/armed conflict and offer theoretical frameworks for understanding sexualised and genocidal violence against males (see Chapter 6 of this book). I acknowledge the multiple dimensions and motivations of conflict-related sexual violence and argue that in some cases rape is used as a weapon of war, while in others it is not (see Chapters 2, 4 and 6).
It is worth reiterating: what unites these traditional understandings of genocide and wartime sexual violence is the tendency to view dehumanisation as a precursor to this type of violence (see Fogelman, 2012; Friedman, 2002; Hagan & Rymond-Richmond, 2008; Waller, 2012). I offer a different interpretation. Based on the woman-as-nation thesis, I propose the following: during the Holocaust Jewish women were subjected to sexualised and reproductive violence precisely because of their essentialised Jewishness. Dehumanisation may have been what followed – it may have been implicated in the process of the violence, as a by-product – but it was not the condition under which this violence was performed in the first instance. Dehumanisation was not a precondition of this violence.
The use of rape against Jewish women – unlike rape used in Bangladesh, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, and the DRC – was not an official component of the Final Solution (Goldenberg, 2013). However, in order to understand the sexualised and reproductive violence against Jewish women by German men, it will be useful to consider examples where rape is used as an official weapon. As I will be examining the DRC in the following chapter and Darfur in Chapter 6, I will limit my discussion in this chapter to genocidal rape in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, before comparing the use of rape during the Holocaust. A more detailed analysis of genocidal rape in Bangladesh forms the second part of this chapter. Space will not permit an in-depth analysis of the causes of the genocides in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, nor the conflicts that formed the backdrop to them. For my purposes here, I will be focusing on the issue of genocidal rape, starting with genocidal rape during the Rwandan genocide.
The Rwandan genocide began on April 6, 1994 when the plane of the Rwandan president, Habyarimana, was shot down (Buss, 2009; Mullins, 2009b). It lasted three months and it is estimated that 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsi, were killed during this time (Buss, 2009). Between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandan Tutsi women were raped during the 12 weeks of the genocide. Perpetrators were primarily Hutu men (Buss, 2009; Jones, 2002; Mullins, 2009a, 2009b; Sharlach, 1999, 2000). The rapes involved sexual mutilation and torture. As Sharlach (1999, pp. 395–396) notes: ‘[t]he mere extermination of Tutsi was insufficient; the Interahamwe inflicted upon the Tutsi every imaginable act of sadism, including rape, before killing them’. Women were gang raped and raped to death (Sharlach, 1999). There is also evidence to suggest that the deliberate transmission of HIV was a component of genocidal rape in Rwanda. Reports from survivors note that HIV positive Hutu men raped Tutsi women in order to transmit the disease (see Sharlach, 1999, 2000).
Genocidal rape was also used during the Bosnian genocide. The Yugoslav wars (the Croatian war of independence, 1991–1995 and the Bosnian war, 1992–1995) took place between 1991 and 1995 in the former Yugoslavia, resulting in the dismantling of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Although these wars were fought over territory, nationalism and independence, for my purposes here, I will focus on the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians by Serbs and Bosnian-Serbs. A key element of this genocide was the systematic rape and the enforced impregnation of Muslim and Croatian women by Serbian men (Chinkin & Kaldor, 2013; Diken & Lausten, 2005; Sharlach, 2000; Takševa, 2015). It is estimated that between 25,000 and 40,000 Bosnian women were victims of rape and forced pregnancy (Takševa, 2015. Men were also victims of reproductive and genocidal violence; see Chapter 6).
The International Criminal Court (ICC) defines forced pregnancy as: ‘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’ (Rome Statue of the Criminal Court, 2011, p. 4). In the case of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, women were assaulted in the streets and in their homes. This was mainly by ethnically Serbian soldiers (Sharlach, 2000; Takševa, 2015). Others were detained in ‘rape camps’ where they were repeatedly raped until they became pregnant and held captive until access to safe abortion was no longer possible (Takševa, 2015). As noted in the genocide convention, this prevents births within the group. This is because women’s wombs are occupied with babies from a different ethnic group, which results in the birth of ethnically mixed children. These children serve as a symbolic reminder of the genocide (Mullins, 2009a). More than that, as Mullins (2009a, p. 18) and Takai (2011) point out, in societies where patrilineal parentage determines lineage membership, these children – who belonged to the father’s ethnic group, rather than the mother’s – altered the community’s ethnic group membership. This amounts to ‘transferring children of the group to another group’ (Article 11(e) of the Genocide convention).
As well as forced pregnancy, women’s inability and/or unwillingness to engage in sexual relations following rape (not least due to the physical injuries women sustain), also ‘prevents births’ and contributes to the elimination of the group. It is important to note that, in addition to their physical injuries, women also have to live with the psychological and social impact of rape. In both of the examples discussed above, it is those who are raped, not those who rape, who are stigmatised (Sharlach, 2000; this also applies to male victims, see Chapter 6). According to the logic of the woman-as-nation thesis, genocidal rape not only dishonours the woman, it also dishonours the ethnic group to which she belongs. Women may be ostracised or expelled in order to restore lost honour and men may refuse to engage in marriage and/or sexual relationships with ‘spoiled’ women which, again, serves to destroy the group (Takai, 2011).
The Limitations of a Macro-level Understanding
Unlike the examples of systematic and genocidal rape discussed above (Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia), rape was not carried out in this manner during the Nazi genocide (see also Wood, 2009 who discusses the absence of systematic rape during the civil war in Sri Lanka). The aim of the Final Solution was the elimination of all European Jews. In this context then, as Goldenberg (2013) points out, sexual violence is a redundant weapon of terror. Given this, trying to understand the individual motivations and the context/conditions under which rape took place during this genocide becomes slightly more complicated.
During the Holocaust, women became more undesirable given the various oppressions they were subjected to. Yet, this did not deter German men from raping them. For Fogelman (2012, p. 18) then, it is ‘a myth that only pretty women were raped’. In the beginning, however, before women were subjected to various physical degradations, the motivation for rape may have been based on reinforcing masculine identity and used for sexual gratification. In the latter stages of their imprisonment – when their feminine attributes and attractiveness had been stripped away, through a series of degradations – the motivation to rape may have arisen from aggression, power and dominance (Fogelman, 2012). Indeed, testimonies from survivors and witnesses describe instances of brutal and sadistic violence (see Perl, 1984/1993). As illustrated by Sara Moses, this was also the case for instances of sexualised violence and abuse:
[T]here were two men there and there were some other people in the room, I think. I was put on a table. From what I remember, [it was] a table or it could have been a high table. I was very little so it seemed like it was very high up from where I was and I was very violently sexually abused. And I remember being hit, I remember crying and I wanted to get out of there. And I was calling people and screaming and I remember one thing that stands out in my mind that one of them told me that they would stand me on my head and cut me right in half. And they wanted me to stop screaming and I’ve had nightmares about that most of my life.2
Another survivor, Doris Roe, talks about being taken into a doctor’s room where a female doctor strapped her to a bed. Three naked SS men entered the room. The female doctor instructed the men to rape her. She describes being gang raped by these men. She described her legs being tied to the bed so that she could not escape. After the first three men raped her, another three men entered the room. She describes being raped by 12 men in total. She believed that rape was used as a form of initiation for these men. She stated that the officer’s bit off her nipples while she was in Birkenau so she could not breastfeed her child.3 This viscerally reminds us of Halbmayr’s argument that violence is sexualised if it is directed at the most intimate part of a person’s body.
‘Sadistic rape’ (see Fogelman, 2012) allowed German soldiers omnipotent control over their victims, whist simultaneously reducing German soldiers’ sense of impotence. Fogelman (2012) argues that soldiers, who may have felt as though they were powerless cogs in a machine, could use sadistic rape to reinstate power. Related to this motivation is ego-gratification (Fogelman, 2012). For ordinary men, seeking to subvert their marginal positions within German society, the Nazi regime offered them success, notoriety and a chance to advance their careers (Fogelman, 2012). Excessive violence, through rape and various acts of sexualised violence, boosted their self-esteem and ‘add[ed] to the already-increased bravado of being an officer’ and ‘having power and privileges’ (Fogelman, 2012, p. 23).
However, in order to appreciate the more specific meaning of rape during the Holocaust, we must, as Fogelman (2012) suggests, place this behaviour within the social, political and cultural context of the Third Reich. This moves us away from the limitations of the macro- towards a meso-level of understanding. Despite transgressing German policy, there was, paradoxically, as Katz (2012) points out, something ‘political’ about the sexualised violence committed against Jewish women. The political coding of woman-as-Jew relocates this sexualised violence from an individual attack, to an assault upon the collective Jewish body (particularly when we consider the various acts of reproductive violence that were carried out).
Sexualised, Genocidal and Reproductive Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust
Lentin (1999) argues that the definition of genocide must be gendered in order to acknowledge that many of these political campaigns – aimed at the ‘alteration or elimination of a future ethnic group’, through sexual slavery, mass rape and mass sterilisation – are transmitted through and upon women’s bodies. Indeed, in the context of the Holocaust, the Nazi eugenic vision of German racial superiority specifically targeted Jewish women as child-bearers (Bock, 1984/1993). The reproductive body of the Jewish woman became a ‘biological danger’, as their wombs would ‘bear future generations’ of Jews (Levenkron, 2010, p. 15). To create a superior Aryan race, Nazi race-hygiene policies demanded the elimination of inferior races. Women’s sexuality and their reproductive capabilities became integral components of this agenda. In order to better understand this assault on women’s sexuality – in all its devastating forms – it will be useful to unpack Halbmayr’s concept of ‘sexualised violence’ in more detail.
Halbmayr’s definition also encompasses indirect, emotional expressions of violence in the form of (sexualised) humiliations. Here, they include: forced public nakedness, shaving of hair and invasive physical examinations. Male guards carried out these degrading public humiliations knowing that they would be experienced as grotesque sexual violations (Aoláin, 2000). By placing this sexualised violence within the historical–political context of the Holocaust, we can view this as part of a continuum of genocidal violence. At one of end of the spectrum, we have rape and other forms of direct physical, reproductive/genocidal violence (forced sterilisation and forced abortion), and at the other, we have these more indirect forms of sex-based violations.
Rape was committed by Germans and their Nazi collaborators, as well as by other Jews. This took place in the ghettos, in hiding and in the concentration camps. In the ghettos, Jewish women were also vulnerable to murder, including the murder of their children, as well as forced abortions and a number of other sex-based violations. Women were also sexually assaulted while they were being transported from the ghettos to the camps (Aoláin, 2000; Katz, 2012). Whilst some similarities may be drawn, the rape of Jewish women during the Holocaust involved factors that complicate a comparison with wartime rape in other contexts (Katz, 2012). Three distinctive features can be identified. First, we have the crime of Rassenschande. The law against Rassenschande (racial defilement) prohibited sexual relations between Aryans and non-Aryans. This involved all sexual relationships between Aryans and Jews, consensual or otherwise. Between 1935 and 1945, 2,000 cases were brought before the courts. Sentences for those found guilty of committing Rassenschande averaged between four and five years (Katz, 2012).4 Second, if these sexual encounters resulted in pregnancy, these women and their foetuses would have to be murdered. Unlike rape in other contexts, where the genocidal aim is to contaminate the bloodline by reproducing an ethnically mixed cohort of children, contamination of the German bloodline was antithetical to Nazi ideology. And third, unlike other examples of wartime rape, where emphasis is placed on the violation of the woman’s body, German men who raped Jewish women violated their own existence and jeopardised their membership in the future master race (Goldenberg, 2013). Below I will elaborate on the first and second of these distinct characteristics: the crime of Rassenschande and the murder of forcibly impregnated Jewish women.
The requirement to kill Jewish women following the violation of Rassenschande – and its potential reproductive consequences – was particularly common in the Skarzysko-Kamienna concentration camp. In the words of survivor Milla Doktorczyk:
My friend, she was working alongside me in Skarzysko. One beautiful girl, tall and slim, a beauty…Came one time, a German, he took her away from the machine. They raped her a couple of times, everybody, and then they killed her…They raped her in the middle, one after another one, and they killed her…5
Paula Neyman, another survivor, recounts the rape and murder of a pregnant Jewish women at the Bruss-Sophienwalde Concentration Camp:
They dragged her out, four young Germans, each one had a leg or an arm and they threw her on the snow and…the commanders…they made everybody stand and watch…in full view of these young girls. Six or eight raped this pregnant girl. They picked her up like a sack of potatoes…and threw her on the truck. She was never heard of [again].6
Fogelman (2012) argues that some acts of rape were committed clandestinely, whereas others were done in public to humiliate and dehumanise the victim. During their interviews, a number of survivors talked about women being dragged to the forest to be raped in secret. They discussed the methods guards used to conceal their crime of race defilement. For them, it was clear that these guards were aware of the law of Rassenschande. This is clearly illustrated by Bronia Shlagbaum’s account:
A Jewish girl. You know. He want a Jewish girl. You know. To the forest. And he raped her. And it was Rassenschande. That means, how come a German should rape a Jewish girl? So they wanted to wipe up all the footsteps. They were ashamed.7
In a similar account, Ana Cymerman states:
One day he comes over to me and says to me I should come with him in a room and he’s going to show me what to do. So I did. You had to. He asked me. He would like to have sex with me.
She explains that she was surprised that, as a German, he wanted to rape her. She was aware of the law of Rassenschande. She explains that at the time she was thinking to herself: ‘[h]ow can you say this to me? I’m a Jew. A dirty Jew. You shouldn’t say that to me. Because I’m Jewish’.8 Sonia Nightingale also references Rassenschande. She explains that sexual molestation happened a lot ‘…it was how they call it… Germans shouldn’t touch a Jewish girl…Shouldn’t even look at her’.9 Sonia struggles to find the correct phrase and so the interviewer suggests Rassenschande. She then explains that they shot the women afterwards.
Based on the interpretations of survivors, we can argue that these acts (rape and murder), including the manner in which they were carried out, were perpetrated against ‘woman-as-Jew’: an essentialised group and bearers of the next generation.
Having reviewed these acts of sexualised violence, we will now consider acts of reproductive violence in the form of forced sterilisation and forced abortion.
Assault on Jewish Motherhood
Aoláin (2000, p. 61) argues that the separation of children from their mothers and the removal of their capacity to bear children count as explicit sexual harms. It is an assault upon a woman’s bodily integrity ‘both in its actual and symbolic manifestations.’ As a symbolic function, this act communicates to the wider ethnic or cultural group that the destruction of mother and child denotes the achievement of broader military aims: the elimination of that particular group (Aoláin, 2000).
Forced sterilisation was carried out on thousands of women without the consent, or often the knowledge, of the female victims (see Halbmayr, 2010). These genocidal experiments (which largely took place at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück and other concentration camps) were conducted by means of X-ray, surgery and drugs (Aoláin 2000, p. 56). The topic of sterilisation was discussed by a number of survivors. Elizabeth Feldman de Jong states, ‘[t]hey tried to give big injections in your womb. The needles were very painful. They pulled pieces of the womb…so you could not get children’.10 In response to questions about medical experiments, Sylvia Amir stated: ‘[h]e put two injections in [to the uterus] and closed the tubes. He closed the tubes and this was sterilisation’.11 Magda Blau talks about the experiment centre in the camps. When asked about the experiments that were carried out, she states: ‘[f]irst of all they did sterilization…and they made different operations on woman … [T]aking out the woman’s business’. Magda points to her abdomen. She explains that this was done to hundreds of Jewish women: ‘[a]ll Jewish women’. 12
Forced abortions were also performed as part of the racist ideology. Indeed, abortions were forbidden for Aryan women who were considered to be the bearers of the future ‘master race’ (Halbmayr, 2010, p. 37). In many of the forced-labor camps and the concentration camps, abortion was not even an option: Jewish women were immediately condemned to death. A number of survivors also discuss the murder of newly born babies. Pearl Iroff explains: ‘[t]here was one girl that was pregnant…and then she gave birth to the baby…and the doctor killed the baby’.13 Similarly, Ruth Foster explains:
One baby was born … the mother carried the full term of pregnancy … the SS … it came to our commandant … it came to his ears that there was a child born in the ghetto … the mother was brought with this little baby of a few days into the hospital … the soft part of the baby’s head had to be pressed in … had to be killed. It wasn’t shot, but it was killed that way.14
Describing the birth of a child in Auschwitz, Isabella Leitner states:
Most of us are born to live – to die, but to live first. You, dear darling, you are being born only to die …You belong to the gas chamber. Your mother has no rights… She is not a mother. She is just a dirty Jew who has soiled the Aryan landscape with another dirty Jew. (Leitner, 1978/1993, pp. 31–32)
Women were forced to kill infants in order to save the mother’s life. This murder of a newborn requires mothers to ‘…kill something of themselves, part of their own souls, part of the essence of the feminine’ (Patterson, 2013, p. 172). Furthermore, Patterson argues that the unique condition of the Holocaust caused ‘…the murder not only of human beings but of the very origin of human life and of human sanctity…the Jewish mother’ (Patterson, 2013, p. 171). Doris Roe describes giving birth to a little girl. A few weeks after the baby was born she informed the nurse that her baby was hungry. She recalls the nurse telling her that the baby would not cry for much longer: ‘[s]he walked up to the bunk and picked up my baby and slammed her head against the bottom of the bunk. I passed out’.15
In a similar incident, Eva Lassman recalls:
A woman was with me who was pregnant. They let her carry the baby to term. When she delivered, the Germans send in a Jewish man to take the baby away from her. And the baby was pinched by the nose. It was suffocated. She never saw her baby.16
Let us reflect upon these stories in relation to the concept of essentialisation:
Essentializing the out-group means that there is something bad about all of them, every one of them … Nazis knew perfectly well that Jews were not literally rats … But they did believe that everyone in that category, old and young, strong and weak, threatening and helpless–all must be exterminated, just as all vermin must be exterminated. Essentializing turns the enemy into a single dangerous and irredeemable character. (Chirot & McCauley, 2006, pp. 84–85).
Chirot and McCauley (2006, p. 86) further argue:
The very ideas of pollution and contamination require the idea of essence, an unseen spirit or nature that is endangered by contact or infection. The German volk had to be protected from the foreign and degrading Jewish essence.
Making a similar argument, Hagan and Rymond-Richmond (2008) argue that by definition, genocidal killing involves killing by category and by membership in a group rather than by individual guilt or criminality. Similarly, La Capra (1994, p. 104) refers to the Nazis’ ‘exorcism’ of the Jews through racial essentialism/hypostatisation.
Based on these arguments, I argue that these assaults on motherhood were carried out on woman-as-Jew.
‘He Used to Pick the Most Pretty Girls’.17
Sharon Marcus (391 as cited in Flaschka, 2010, p. 78) states:
Masculine power and feminine powerlessness neither simply precede nor cause rape; rather, rape is one of culture’s many modes of feminizing women. A rapist chooses his target because he recognizes her to be a woman, but a rapist also strives to imprint the gender identity of ‘feminine victim’ on his target.
To paraphrase Flaschka (2010): if we accept this position, then it makes theoretical sense to ask Jewish female survivors if they understood their rape as a reminder that they were female/feminine in an environment that had stripped them of their feminine qualities. This question forms the basis of Flaschka’s argument. It supports my argument against the dehumanisation hypothesis. The testimonies of female survivors who were raped and witnessed other rapes believed they were raped because of their female attractiveness.
Here are two examples. Eve Gabori:
[T]hey looked at me, and I was a beautiful girl…I was all sunburned, even my hair grew about half an inch. I looked healthy my face was red and brown, because the sun was beating down. This girl was tall, huge, huge beautiful grey eyes, very delicate… they told us to go into the barrack to wash the floor…and it was horrible. We went in. They locked the door, grabbed this girl and went into this other small room. I heard her screaming. I knew what they were doing to her. I never saw the girl again.18
He did not let me go. In his eyes I was very pretty. In his eyes. And he started to make me compliments. ‘Beautiful breasts’…that I’m very young…he says he can’t resist me. He took his right hand and twisted my breast.19
The concentration camps ‘challenged women’s identities as women’ (Flaschka, 2010, p. 80). When women entered the camps their heads were shaven, and they were given formless clothing. Starvation meant loss of body weight, especially from their breasts and hips. This diminished their quintessentially feminine attributes (Flaschka, 2010). Perhaps the rape of these women served, paradoxically, to reinforce their gender identity that had hitherto been challenged by the camp environment. In this context, rape may have functioned to remind women that they were women in an environment that challenged their identities as women (Flaschka, 2010). In fact, the survivor accounts presented above – and many others – suggest that this was the case. This does not support the notion that victims were dehumanised before they were raped.
According to an anonymous female survivor, ‘[a]mong the many defeats at the end of this war is the defeat of the male sex’ (Anonymous, 1954/2011, p. 64). Based on the laws of The Protection of German Blood and German Honor and Rassenschande, one way of interpreting the actions of soldiers of the Third Reich is to view them as the actions of weak men: their actions had an existential cost and undermined their German identity. This may have been the consequence of their actions, yet, what was their purpose? Mass rape in this instance did not occur. Its use was not explicitly genocidal. Impregnated women were killed so the aim of rape in this context, unlike genocidal rape in other contexts, was not to contaminate the bloodline or to reproduce an ethnically mixed cohort of children.
In terms of contextualising and interpreting the behaviour of German men, sexualised violence was not enacted upon a dehumanised body. It was carried out on the reproductive bodies of Jewish women. It was, as Patterson (2013) has argued, an assault on Jewish motherhood, as the source of the Jewish people is the Jewish mother. The concentration camps were described as places that were the anti-thesis of the maternal. In the concentration camps, motherly love – pregnancy and maternity itself – were capital crimes, often resulting in women’s immediate death.
Forced sterilisation and forced abortion are acts of reproductive genocidal violence. Unlike the use of rape, they did not contradict the Nazi eugenic vision of creating an Aryan race. Their devastating genocidal logic is apparent. Both examples, however, benefit from an analysis which views Jewish women as an essentialised group: woman-as-Jew. Moving beyond the dehumanisation thesis allows us to understand the political, racial and gendered dynamics (intersubjective) and meanings (degradation/humiliation) behind this sexualised and reproductive violence. In the context of the Holocaust, I would argue that Jewish women faced a double jeopardy: first as women (as socially, economically and politically subordinate to men) and second, as Jews (perceived to be racially inferior to Germans). From a gendered perspective, both the feminine/feminised (through rape) and maternal Jewish body were attacked.
Having considered sexualised and genocidal violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust, this chapter will now address both phenomena against Bengali women and girls during the 1971 Liberation War.
Rape and Genocidal Violence During the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh
Following the partition from India during the 1940s, Pakistan was divided into West (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan. Following three decades of tension – stemming from the economic, political and racial marginalisation of East Pakistan by the West – in March 1971, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) declared its independence. This led to the 1971 Liberation War (Takai, 2011; see also Bose, 2007; Brownmiller, 1975; Mookherjee, 2006, 2007, 2015; Sharlach, 2000). It is estimated that 3 million people died during this nine-month war (Mookherjee, 2006, 2007, 2015; Sharlach, 2000).
There is a paucity of literature on the subject of the Liberation War in Bangladesh both generally and specifically on the use of rape and sexual violence during the war. As articulated by a survivor:
There is an erasure of the 1971 history of genocide committed by Pakistan in Bangladesh in the world holocaust archives … It is important to record that this is one of the world’s earliest and most heinous genocides, where perhaps the largest number of women were targeted by systematic rape, torture and subsequent execution. (Dr Rabbee, a survivor, as cited in Hossain, 2016)
Like with the other examples discussed, and as noted above, genocide was a feature of this war. This was a genocide committed by West Pakistanis against East Pakistani Bengalis. West Pakistanis were an exclusively Muslin group, while East Pakistani Bengalis were an ethnic group comprised mainly of Hindus, as well as some Muslims. The former deemed the latter racially inferior (Sharlach, 2000; Takai, 2011). Responding to the genocide – and believing that non-Bengalis were supporting West Pakistan – the Bengalis attacked and murdered 150,000 non-Bengalis in East Pakistan (Sharlach, 2000). Over the course of the nine months, West Pakistani soldiers raided houses, killed men and raped Bengali women of all castes and religions (Brownmiller, 1975, Sharlach, 2000). And while it is important to acknowledge that this was a genocide committed against the Bengalis as an ethnic group (see Beachler, 2007 for a detailed review of this genocide), gender played a significant role during this war. Gender-based violence (GBV) was committed against males and females during this war. While men and boys were executed and expelled during this genocide, regrettably there is a dearth of in-depth information about their experiences. By no means do I wish to diminish the violence(s) inflicted upon men and boys during this nine-month war however, given the focus of this chapter, I will be addressing the unique sex-based violations women and girls suffered during and in the aftermath of this war.
It is estimated that between 200,000 and 400,000 women and girls were raped during the genocide (Mookherjee, 2007, 2015; Sharlach, 2000; Takai, 2011. Some have contested these figures. See Bose (2007) for a more detailed discussion). In the words of a reporter:
A stream of victims and eyewitnesses tell how truckloads of Pakistani soldiers … swooped down on villages in the night, rounding up women by force. Some were raped on the spot. Others were carried off to military compounds. (War correspondent Joseph Fired as cited in Brownmiller, 1975, p. 79)
This is corroborated by a survivor who – translating an excerpt from the book Ami Birangona Bolchi (The War Heroine Speaks) – states:
[Women were] abducted, tortured and raped in concentration camps by the Pakistani army who set up rape camps in all towns and villages they went to. It was part of a systematic plan to disempower and destroy the vertebrae of Bengali society. (cited in Hossain, 2016)
The assaults against women were widespread and systematic: the Pakistani army raped hundreds and thousands of Bengali women and girls leading, in part, to the ‘destruction of the Bengalis as a group’ (Takai, 2011, p. 414). Rape, in this instance, was used as a weapon of war. According to Newsweek (1971), it was used as a ‘…calculated policy of terror amounting to genocide (as cited in Sharlach, 2000, p. 95). In a similar vein to the rape of Jewish women by German men, this violence was not carried out on a dehumanised group: it was carried out on an ethnic group deemed racially inferior. Before moving on to consider rape and sexualised violence against Bengali women and girls, it is worth pausing to outline the steps involved when dehumanising an ethnic group that has been identified as inferior.
This process of identifying certain groups as lesser is based on the logic of ‘us-them’ distinctions. This involves highlighting and exaggerating the differences between an in-group and an out-group. Closely related to this concept is moral disengagement. This involves a process of detachment, whereby certain ‘individuals and groups are placed outside of the moral boundary’ (Waller, 2012, p. 88). For Waller (2012, p. 89) ‘[m]oral disengagement is facilitated by the dehumanisation of the victims’. The argument goes like this: dehumanisation occurs when the target group is identified as a separate category of people belonging to a distinct racial, ethnic, religious or political group that perpetrators view as inferior and/or threatening. I disagree. Surely identifying ‘them’ as belonging to an identifiable ‘group’ contradicts the central premise of the dehumanisation argument? Furthermore, this ‘Othering’ of the victim does not always involve dehumanising the victim. Less dramatic processes to that of dehumanisation are that of ‘difference’ and ‘distance’. The concept of ‘difference’, which is based on ‘us-them’ thinking or, ‘Othering’, creates a ‘social context for cruelty’ (Waller, 2012, p. 92). In this context, victims, in this case the Bengali ethnic group, are placed in binary opposition to the perpetrators. They become the vessel onto which perpetrators project all of their anxieties, insecurities and hostilities. The out-group are disparaged and treated as undesirable and unwanted elements of society (Lang, 2010).
Having outlined my opposition to the dehumanisation thesis, let us continue with our discussion of rape and sexualised violence committed against Bengali women and girls. The Women’s Media Centre, specifically the Women Under Siege journalism project, is dedicated to researching how rape and other forms of sexualised violence are used as weapons during war/armed conflict. In their section on the war in Bangladesh, they outline how sexualised violence was used as a weapon during this war (see Women’s Media Centre (WMC), n.d.). The rapes involved sexual torture and gang rape. Women were often murdered after they were raped. Some women died from their injuries and some killed themselves following the assault (Sharlach, 2000). According to a local newspaper, others ‘…fled to Pakistan with their Pakistani captors rather than face what awaited them in Bangladeshi society’ (WMC, n.d.).
Here I would like to remind readers of Halbmayr’s (2010) notion of sexualised violence discussed above. Specifically, the idea that sexual violence encompasses both indirect and direct forms of sex-based violations that include: humiliation, intimidation and destruction. Indeed, the impact of sexual violence committed against Bengali women and girls was not just physical. It was also social and psychological (as in the case of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia discussed earlier). As established, the consequences of genocidal rape are death, both literally and figuratively (social and psychological). In terms of the latter, in Bangladesh, female victims were ostracised; and their families and their communities were ‘spoiled’ (Brownmiller, 1975; Mookherjee, 2006, 2015, Sharlach, 2000).
Becoming Abject: The Individual and Social Consequences of Rape
Here I will return to a point raised in the Introduction: pre-war gender arrangements and social divisions. In the context of Bangladesh, the importance of pre-war gender relations needs to be considered alongside religious and cultural traditions. Prior to the war, Bengali women lived in strict isolation from men, both in public and in the home. Modesty and chastity were key features of this Purdah-based culture and family honour was linked to a woman’s status (Brownmiller, 1975; Takai, 2011). Regarded as men’s private property, the rape of women in Bangladeshi society was treated as an insult to the husband (Mookherjee, 2006). Following the war, female victims of genocidal rape were expelled from these respectable communities. They were blamed for bringing dishonour on their families and many families shunned these women (Sharlach, 2000; Takai, 2011). The deliberate use of rape to achieve this humiliation and the destruction of the group amounts to genocide.
Diken and Lausten (2005) discuss these ideas of humiliation and shame in relation to abjection. In their article, Becoming Abject: Rape as a Weapon of War, they draw upon the concept of abjection in their discussion of the rape victim. Put simply, the abject is that which provokes disgust. It is that which is deemed perverse, dangerous and threatening (Kristeva, 1982). In her book, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Kristeva (1982) provides a detailed analysis of abjection. Treating that which is abject as a form of pollution, she distinguishes between abjection from without (disease) and abjection from within (menstrual blood). Here, I am interested in applying her ideas about impurity, contamination and defilement to the excluded bodies of women violated during war. To do so, I will draw on the work of Diken and Lausten (2005, p. 113). They argue that rape victims often view themselves as abject, ‘dirty’ and morally inferior; and regard their bodies as marked by a stigma that is hard to remove. Key to my purpose here is their assertion that abjection is communal as well as individual. This is because, according to the twisted logic of the coding of woman-as-nation, genocidal rape is not simply an attack upon an individual female, it is an attack upon the group to which she belongs. Diken and Lausten (2005) also discuss the pollution/contamination associated with rape and the impact this has on the purity of the victim.
On the subject of both the physical and the social-symbolic element of genocide, Card (2008, p. 180) argues that while ‘physical destruction’, as outlined in the genocide convention, can relate to mass murder or the ‘interference with biological reproduction’ (as in the case of forced pregnancy resulting from genocidal rape), there are other ways to physically destroy a community. Here she proposed the idea of genocide as ‘social death’; as the destruction of ‘social vitality’. By social death, she means that victims are stripped of their group membership and their social identities, of attributes that give their lives meaning.
While Diken and Lausten’s (2005) analysis is based on the Bosnian war. I want to apply their thinking, and Card’s (2008) notion of social death, to the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh.
Birangonas (war heroines) was the term used by the Bengali government to refer to all of the female victims of rape during the Bangladesh war (see Mookherjee, 2015 for a more detailed discussion). They set up rehabilitation centres for the survivors and offered rewards to men who would marry the raped women (Mookherjee, 2006, 2007, 2015). Yet, their attempts were unsuccessful. Instead of being valorised as war heroines, they were treated with disrespect (Takai, 2011). Most Bengalis refused to issue marriage proposals or allow survivors to return to their families (Sharlach, 2000). As a result, many fled to West Pakistan or committed suicide (Takai, 2011). Paradoxically, alongside these public attempts to reintegrate female victims/survivors, attempts were also made to conceal the sexual violence that had occurred during the nine-month war.
Mookherjee (2006, p. 433) considers the silence and public secrecy surrounding the use of rape against Bengali women and girls. She highlights the contradictions between survivors’ ‘national position as icons of honor’ and their treatment in their communities where villagers would subject them to various forms of khota (sarcastic and scornful comments). As one survivor recalls: ‘I was branded a bad girl, a slut…by local people’ (Das, 2011). Based on the lives of three women, Kajoli, Moyna, and Rohima, from Enayetpur, a village in western Bangladesh, Mookherjee (2006) traces the various subjectivities that were constructed in relation to the raped women (see also Mookherjee, 2015). As a result of khota, which affected both the women and their families, the women refrained from mixing and socialising with others for fear of being scorned. They also refrained from talking about what had happened, believing it was too shameful. Shame in this context is linked to family and community. In addition, sexuality, purity and honour are linked with shame. Indeed, as relayed by the women, man ijjot – ‘meaning status and honor linked to sexual relationships’ – is of the utmost importance (see Mookherjee, 2006, p. 438).
Understanding the Genocidal Rape in Bangladesh
Taking on board this work by Diken and Lausten (2005); Card (2008) and Mookherjee (2006), all discussed above, as well as evidence from survivors, reporters and eyewitnesses, I posit that the rape and sexualised violence committed against Bengali women and girls amounts to the crime of genocide. Here, physical destruction is not simply based on ‘killing members of the group or, causing serious bodily harm’, it is also caused through social death. The depiction of raped woman as abject, inferior, polluted and in need of expulsion, caused serious mental harm. This is included in the definition of genocide.
There is also evidence to suggest that forced impregnation (defined above) was the aim behind the mass rape of Bengali women and girls of reproductive age (Takai, 2011). In the words of a Pakistani soldier: ‘[w]e are going. But we are leaving our seed behind’ (as cited by Sharlach, 2000, p. 95). However, the claim of forced impregnation is hard to prove. Debates have emerged within the literature on the subject of genocidal rape. For some, forced impregnation is what constitutes genocide, not the rape itself. For others, proving intent is problematic (see Card, 2008; Cudd, 2008; Sharlach, 1999, 2000). Indeed, I use these deliberations to inform discussions with my students during seminars. A common response from these students is: ‘if the consequences of an act are genocidal does it matter if there was no intent…?’ The answer is yes. An act is defined as genocidal based on its intent to destroy. Herein lies the conundrum. Even if the consequences of rape appear to be genocidal – that is they destroy in whole or in part members of a group – this is redundant if genocidal intent was absent. Regardless then, if, in some instances, the consequences of rape may speak to some of the elements listed under the genocide convention: pregnancy following rape by members of a different ethnic group, expulsion of the group and so on, this will not count as genocide, unless enacted with the explicit intent of destroying members of the group. A prime example of this is the case of Bangladesh.
With regards to rape, as outlined above, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this was used as a genocidal tool. There is less support, however, for the case of forced impregnation. Forced pregnancy, like rape, can constitute the crime of genocide. Article 11(d) of the Genocide Convention involves ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’ (The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 2014). As mentioned earlier, forced pregnancy prevents women from carrying babies from their own ethnic group. And:
By preventing births within the target group, perpetrators of forced pregnancy are ‘deliberately inflicting’ on the target group conditions of life that will cause the destruction (i.e., weakening by de-population) of the target group. (Takai, 2011, p. 404)
According to numerous sources, 25,000 babies were born as a result of the widespread use of rape during the 1971 war (Brownmiller, 2011; Takai, 2011). Viewed as a constant reminder of the assault on Bengali society, as well as its cultural identity, these war-babies were rejected by the Bangladeshi government. Female survivors were either forced to have abortions or give their babies up for adoption oversees (Brownmiller, 1975, Mookherjee, 2007). I will discuss both of these issues in more detail below.
Despite the number of babies born as a result of the systematic rape of Bengali women, there are, Takai (2011) argues, problems in prosecuting forced pregnancy as a crime of genocide. In a very detailed article, Takai (2011) outlines the reasons for this. First, the perpetrators must be of a different ethnic group to the victims in order for it to contaminate the bloodline or to involve the ‘transferring of children’ from one group to the other. Therefore, to paraphrase Takai (2011), as the Bangladeshi government can only prosecute Bengali nationals with this crime (where perpetrator and victim are of the same ‘bloodline’), forced pregnancy cannot be tried and charged in this case. Second, within international criminal law (as outlined above), forced pregnancy requires the detention of the victim for the full length of the pregnancy (this is a theme I will return to in chapter 4). Despite evidence that rape camps did exist (Brownmiller, 1975, WMC, n.d.), there is insufficient evidence to prove that victims were detained until they gave birth (see Takai, 2011 for more details). The legal requirements regarding forced pregnancy notwithstanding, I would argue that these acts of sexualised violence are also examples of reproductive violence: pregnancies resulting from rape are a violation of women’s reproductive autonomy.
The Regulation of Women’s Post-war Reproductive Bodies
Even if forced pregnancy, as an act of genocide, cannot be proven in the case of the 1971 war, it is still important to unpack the impact and implications these pregnancies had for female victims/survivors. In her research on raped Bengali women, and their ‘war-babies’, Mookherjee (2007) considers how the State attempted to rehabilitate these women and, in the process, regulate their reproductive bodies. This speaks to Grey’s (2017) notion of reproductive violence.
Following the war, the new government set up rehabilitation centres offering women abortions or adoption for those too far along in their pregnancies to undergo an abortion (Mookherjee, 2007, see also Brownmiller, 1975). During this time, the State lifted the ban on both of these practices to facilitate the removal of these ‘war-babies’, who brought with them painful memories of war (Mookherjee, 2007). Motherhood, in the immediate aftermath of the war in Bangladesh, was premised on protecting raped women from ‘the emotions of motherhood’ through the use of these State policies (Mookherjee, 2007, p. 339). Furthermore, this construction of motherhood draws a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate motherhood ‘…and emphasizes a nationalist project that seeks to contain illegitimate motherhoods so that these same women might become available to nation-building programmes as legitimate mothers’ (Mookherjee, 2007, p. 350).
It can be argued that this removal of ‘war-babies’ (Mookherjee, 2007) was part of a cleansing ritual, designed to purify the abject, polluted woman. In the words of one survivor: ‘Bangladesh became a free nation and I a fallen woman’ (Das, 2011). But more than that – and here we return to Cohn’s woman-as-nation thesis – these State policies restored national honour through the control/regulation of women’s sexual and reproductive bodies. In the context of the Indian subcontinent, we might think of Cohn’s phrase along these lines: nation-as-mother and woman as mothers of the nation.
This regulation of motherhood can be contrasted to the assault on Jewish motherhood (discussed above) in the following ways. In the context of the Holocaust, the separation of children from their mothers and the removal of their capacity to reproduce children from their own ethnic group (through forced abortion and forced sterilisation) formed part of the Nazi genocidal campaign. In the case of Bangladesh, while the removal of ‘war-babies’ was not done through explicit use of force, this was, nevertheless, a State-wide policy. A policy carried out in response to genocide, rather than a component of it. It was the antidote, rather than the annihilation.
Both of the cases discussed in detail in this chapter are illustrations of the woman-as-nation thesis. In the first example, rape by German soldiers against Jewish women was not an official strategy of the war. In the second example, rape was used as a tool of genocide. Yet in both examples, sexualised violence was genocidal. It was used as an attack upon the nation’s culture of women. Context-specific analyses reformulate the coding of woman-as-nation to: woman-as-Jew, in the case of the Holocaust, and mother-as-nation, in the case of Bangladesh. It can be argued that less is known and/or has been written about the use of rape and sexualised violence during these genocides. Only recently has research been carried out on the subject of sexualised violence against Jewish women during the Holocaust (see Banwell, 2016 for a more detailed review). Unfortunately, research into rape and sexualised violence during the 1971 Bangladesh War remains limited. It is hoped that this chapter, which has also included the concept of reproductive violence, has enriched the reader’s knowledge and understanding of the gender-specific and the unique ways in which women were targeted during these genocides. Moving on to more recent examples of gender and the violence(s) of armed conflict, the next chapter focuses on rape and sexual violence in the DRC.
Interview 35354, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 29016, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 23687, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
See Decision of the Nuremberg special court in the Katzenberger race defilement case.
Interview 15012, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 4788, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 10747, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 8641, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 1832, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 543, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 6000, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 19441, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 34942, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 9538, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 23687, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 51181, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 450, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 1544, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
Interview 23436, USC Shoah Foundation testimony.
- Chapter 1: Woman-as-nation
- Chapter 2: Conflict-related Sexual Violence in the DRC
- Chapter 3: Empire-building and Coerced Sexual Activities in Post-invasion/occupation Iraq
- Chapter 4: Structural Violence Against Conflict-affected Females in Syria
- Chapter 5: War-on-terror Femininity and the Sexualised Violence(s) at Abu Ghraib
- Chapter 6: Glocalisation Masculinities and Violence(s) Against Men and Boys in Darfur