Experiencing Gender Based Violence as a Female Combatant by Bushra Tahir

Experiencing Gender Based Violence as a Female Combatant

During humanitarian crisis the risk of gender based violence is well anticipated. As Gloria Steinem stated: “It’s especially important for us to speak because we don’t have decision making power in going to war, and yet we’re affected by war”. [1] Robin Arnett explains some realities of Gender Based Violence in article “Women in Conflict”, which I have summarized below.

In war torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Nepal, Liberia, and Mozambique, to name a few, there is still a lot of work needs to be accomplished in reporting gender based violence.[2] It is obvious that due to free media, specifically the internet, women sufferings are obvious to the international community. This short paper will discuss some of the critical challenges women have been going through during humanitarian crisis and conflicts.

From historic perspective men engage and choose to fight. Women are least involved, either to participate or raise their voices at the time of confrontations. Thus, their bodies are only considered as an object being brutally oppressed by opponent due to the traditional patriarchal structure and consequently women are shamed in such situations. [3]

During the civil war in Liberia women were being recruited forcefully as soldiers. [4] Girls were used as a ‘child soldier’ in the Philippines and were assigned to care-taking jobs such as cooking, cleaning, and even cultivation. During the civil war in Uganda, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone female combatants were not only raped, but also infected due to sexually transmitted infections particularly HIV/AIDS. [5] In Ethiopia there are rituals being performed to reintegrate ex-combatants girls after conflict and are called as ‘cleansing rituals’. Primarily, the rituals have been reserved for men and women have to struggle in assessing them. Practicing female genital mutilation is a harmful ritual that has been used on the female ex-combatants.[6] There are also serious mental health associated at times of conflicts, as many female ex-combatants have to cope with post-war trauma, commonly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Nepal during Maoist movement, women had voluntarily given their political support and became combatants at the People’s Liberation Army. Women who became a part of the warfare had to change their feminine appearance by cutting their long hairs. [7] Would it be considered as an amicable sacrifice to lose their feminine appearance before holding a weapon?

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is a question: What are the preemptive strategies to involve women’s participation of not being targeted and victimized before, during, and after conflict? Unfortunately, legal and social protection system in many countries are under-developed and successful reintegration of girls and women in society after the war is still questionable.