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>> 45 3 Defining Soldiers Tryphena, a girl soldier who was with the RUF for two years and seven months, is nicknamed Wanda-dai. In Krio, Wanda-dai means one who has tasted or nearly missed death. It also is a common way of expressing negative experiences that one managed to survive and implies that a person “went to hell but came back, or died once but is alive again.”1 Tryphena arrived at the Children Associated with the War (CAW) facilities with a bullet wound in the left side of her neck. It appeared to have just missed her spinal cord. She was complaining to CAW officials of pain in her throat. She gave the following account of her time with the rebels: “I was abducted during the rebel attack in 1997 and was forced to join the RUF. I was trained to fire a weapon. I was locked up in a house that was set ablaze. I tried to escape but was shot [in] the neck/throat. I was abandoned in a separate house because of the smell of my sore.” In addition to her training with, and use of, weapons, she reported destroying property and using drugs while with the RUF. Tryphena told CAW staff that she was in school before the war and that she believes her parents are alive. Female soldiers wholly disrupt gendered binaries associated with war, particularly the contrasting image of the male warrior and female victim. Furthermore , female soldiers challenge dominant war mythologies, including the myth that women are naturally peaceful and men are naturally violent or heroic. Acknowledging that female soldiers exist requires a radical rethinking of prevailing war narratives as well as a substantial reorganization of post–armed conflict and peace-building policies. Despite ample evidence that females participated in the conflict, policy makers in Sierra Leone largely refused to acknowledge these women and girls and name them as beneficiaries , or as subjects worthy of policy attention. The resistance to recognizing female participation in war has mainly resulted from gendered norms and assumptions associated with conjugal order, including the idea that women are naturally peaceful due to their life-giving roles and the notion that men, as heads of households, are the decision makers and the sole political actors within armed movements. 46 > 47 desecuritized and naturally peaceful female. I argue that this construction of male soldiers assumes that men are naturally dominant and violent and defines them as securitized subjects and, therefore, as a priority for disarmament and post-conflict reconstruction programs. This is contrasted to the manner in which women and girls—even those who participated as soldiers—are characterized as either victims or naturally peaceful. These assumptions relegate females not only out of so-called security priorities and security sector reform but off the radar of “normal” post-conflict politics. This chapter begins with an overview of how women and girls have typically been constructed both within mainstream literature on war and within criminology literature. I compare how the construction of perpetrators within the criminology literature and soldiers within literature on war requires the construction of an oppositional victim. In both cases, women and girls are often constructed as the “ideal victim.” I explore the tendencies within both these literatures to essentialize both victim and perpetrator by implying that perpetrators are always perpetrators and never victims, and victims are always victims and never perpetrators. I argue that this binary is not helpful in understanding the experiences of either male or female soldiers because there is evidence that most soldiers both perpetrated atrocities and were victimized through experiences such as physical violence or abuse, sexual violence, and/or the death of a loved one. The analysis of “ideal” victimhood is followed by a discussion of what is known about women’s and girls’ participation in Sierra Leone’s war and how these female soldiers defined themselves. Here, first-person interviews with female soldiers, interview data with local NGO staff, disarmament experts, and social workers, and child intake forms from a local organization are utilized to create a picture of women’s and girls’ participation in the war. Next, this chapter features the efforts that have been made by both local and international organizations and agencies to label female soldiers as anything but soldiers. First-person interviews with Sierra Leonean social workers and experts on post–armed conflict reconstruction and disarmament, along with data from intake forms of unaccompanied children, are utilized to demonstrate how women and girls who clearly...


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