Practitioners, researchers and policy makers often try to understand how gendered factors manifest themselves differently depending on what stage a conflict is in. Today we'll be framing the process in three stages: pre-conflict
, during the conflict
. The factors noted below, Rohee says, are just a few examples of how things play out in real life – certain details may be different depending on the context.
Right before a conflict breaks out, there's often a mass mobilization of soldiers. In the vast majority of cases these soldiers are predominantly men, and they may be recruited through forced conscription
or through political or cultural campaigns which may appeal to a sense of masculine strength, duty or virility. In cases where one of the parties is a non-state actor, men and boys may be abducted and forcibly brought to training camps. Often, women are left to take care of communities at home, which both provides an opportunity to step out of primarily domestic roles while also adding to their workload.
In the military camps themselves, women and girls may be recruited as sex workers – this can involve child prostitution. As wartime comes with additional economic burdens, some women may willingly take part in the sex trade, though this "willingness" may have been impacted by dire circumstances at home. In these camps, training protocols or hazing rituals may expose men to gendered violence including forms of sexual assault, or in a gradual dehumanization process meant to make them more effective soldiers.
Human rights abuses may also increasing in the pre-conflict phase and extend all through to a war's end – the heightened stress and climate of crisis may diminish focus on women's rights as more attention is paid to "other matters," making it harder for some women to address restrictive marriage roles, domestic violence or educational limits. In cases where one of the parties identifies as culturally traditional, women may be pressured to return home from school and take on more domestic duties in an attempt to culturally, religiously or ideologically "purify" the group in question.
During the conflict, men and women often face different risks of psychological trauma, physical violence and death. As mentioned above, men are disproportionately affected by war deaths, while women face greater risk of sexual assault, displacement, forced prostitution/pregnancy and various forms of humiliation. The degree of difference between these gendered experiences may depend on the degree to which men are framed as "active" societal actors and women are framed as "passive" ones.
When political negotiations and dialogue processes are underway, women may experience exclusion based on the degree to which they were excluded from political decision-making processes before the start of the conflict. This has been a matter of great concern to the international community since the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1325
in 2000, which aims to increase women's participation in these processes. Nevertheless, this participation may be limited to a token presence
of women at the negotiating table.
There are nuances here as well – even in cases where women are genuinely invited to participate, some women may find it difficult to overcome histories of neglect, humiliation, denial and suppression, often in institutionalized contexts. If women have been told to be silent for decades, it may be hard to find one's voice when the international community demands it of you.
These dynamics of participation can extend into the post-conflict stage, where ongoing dialogue over implementation can continue to marginalize women and their experiences. This may be due to institutionalized patriarchy, but it may also be out of a desire for quick results that aren't "weighted down" by additional factors like a gender perspective.
This isn't even taking into account the fact that, after a war, it may be incredibly hard to find one's voice, generally speaking. Armed conflict often requires people to repress their voices or feelings, or to regress into archetypal roles – coming back from this can be difficult. Women who had taken on active roles in wartime may be seen as "tainted" by their communities, and men who are seen as having failed to protect their families may not be "man" enough. Even in cases where such factors don't emerge, a community may be so eager to move on that there is no space to publicly mourn, discuss or process what's often a traumatizing experience. As a result, many individuals coming back home have no forum to speak about what happened, or find recognition for experiences that are often gendered.