- Conflict-Related Violence Against Women: Transforming Transition by Aisling Swaine
In 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on the subject of women, peace and security, calling "on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict."1
The phenomenon of the mass rape of women in wartime has become a subject of increasingly intensified concern over the past two decades, expressed in diplomatic initiatives and judicial developments, notably war crimes and crimes against humanity convictions for rape and forced marriage handed down by international criminal tribunals.2 The [End Page 763] understanding that the systematic rape of women is a core methodology of contemporary armed conflict has become part of the popular imagination, reflected in journalistic portrayals of sexual violence in wartime, reinforced in reporting by humanitarian organizations, and buttressed in academic analysis.3
Acknowledging that rape is sometimes utilized as a "weapon of war"—where one militant organization seeks to terrorize an ethnic or sociopolitical community associated with another warring faction through a pattern of sexual violations of numerous women of that community—represents an important development in humanitarian action and scholarly inquiry. The phenomenon of mass rape in conflict has been witnessed, analyzed, investigated, and prosecuted in recent conflicts from the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Colombia, among others.4
However, as Aisling Swaine instructs in her important book Conflict-Related Violence Against Women,5 "tactical" or "strategic rape" is but one important facet of the range of harms women experience in time of war, not to mention in peacetime. She cautions that the international community's concerted efforts to profile, prevent, and punish "conflict-time tactical sexualized violence"6 has had the unintended consequence of constructing a "monolithic rape identity"7 for women in wartime, with the result that "systemic public rape has been given more attention and credence than the violence that appears in women's everyday lives."8
Alongside her rejection of an impoverished encapsulation of women's wartime [End Page 764] identity as rape victims, Swaine points out a worrisome tendency among academics, the media, and others to promote "the 'othering' of violence in cultures which are perceived to have 'worse' or extraordinary violence," particularly in African countries, and including Liberia, a country she studies.9 Swaine points out that "the perception that one war is more barbaric than another may … have more to do with how wars are reported on and labeled than is readily admitted."10 With reference to her field research into recent conflicts in Europe, Africa, and Asia, Swaine highlights the connections between patriarchy, misogyny, the fear of women's power, and the multiple forms of violence that women experience across a great variety of cultures and societies. It is important, she notes, to address the more insidious forms of gender subordination that operate in a society, so that "despite the veneer of equality in a western democratic setting such as Northern Ireland, its patriarchy too is acknowledged."11
Swaine's treatment of "conflict-related violence against women" represents an important contribution to the canon of feminist scholarship on gender-based violence. Her insights emerge from qualitative research she conducted in three post-conflict countries encompassing Northern Ireland, Liberia, and TimorLeste. Wading into the fierce analytic currents of "public" versus "private" harms, she emphasizes the amorphous nature of the public and private realms through insights shared by the women she interviewed in her three field settings. Most significantly, she rejects the notion that so-called public violence against women in wartime should be our exclusive concern. Her research highlights that not all women who were sexually or otherwise assaulted in the conflicts she studies were attacked by unknown militants who used their vulnerable bodies as convenient mediums through which to repress their communities. Many women she interviewed were individually targeted and brutalized in intimate spaces by people they were related...