The Politics of War – Gender and Genocide

Ever since I got into under-grad, I have read and analyzed various texts on the Politics of War and Violence. Personally, extremely unfortunate as it was, World War II seems the most interesting to me with the cool spies and brutal conspiracies.

War is not a singular concept and has various dimension to it, be it political, social, economic or sexual. I began my analysis with the Gender Lens for a variety of reasons, primarily the fact that my 3 semesters in the Lady Shri Ram College for Women has developed in me a feminist streak I did not previously possess and I’m hungry for more.

Bangladesh, 1971, mass rape by West Pakistani forces. Balkans 1991-1992, Rape Camps established by Serb forces, Muslim women systematically attacked. Rwanda 1994. Tutsi women targeted for savage sexual attack including multiple rape, gang rape and sexual mutilation. Kosovo, 1999, only Albanian Men of ‘battle age’ killed. Country turned into land of widows. Colombia 1998. Jammu and Kashmir 1999. Peru 1990. Sri Lanka 1991. Iraqi Kurdistan, 1983. The Jewish Holocaust.

All of these times when humans and humanity bathed in blood, both women and men have carried on diverse and often multiple roles of victims, perpetrators and spectators. Systematic and severe atrocities and abuses were inflicted overwhelmingly. A very significant inclusion in the deliberations around such incidents of carnage is the understanding of ‘Gendercide’ which carries commanding implications for the emerging field of comparative genocide studies.

The first thing I realized as I began my research on this topic was that the study of gendered dynamics of genocide and other forms of mass violence is exceedingly recent. There is a plethora of work on various genocides our world has witnessed over time but not many of them substantively focus on gender. No synoptic work on gender has unambiguously positioned itself in the genocide-studies literature. Radical-feminist authors have analyzed phenomenon such as ‘Femicide’ – the selective killing of women and girls, and of course other forms of sexual violence against women, especially rape. But this concept of GENDERCIDE or gender selective mass killings is now a topical issue and sadly an omnipresent feature of political and military conflicts across the globe. I wonder why the historical reappearance of this social phenomenon has failed to register as a grave social crisis, particularly among social thinkers and social scientists.

The amount of violence in these cases is inestimable. The statistics would shake us. The number of women raped during each of these times therefore remains a topic of ongoing debate but what is important to note here is that the number sure is sufficiently large enough to give rise to an entire concept of Genocidal Rape. When we discuss Rape in context of wartime and genocide, it becomes a tool, a tactic, or a strategy. It becomes a policy, a plan. In the words of Catherine MacKinnon, “Rape as a genocidal act is to destroy a people. What is done to women defines that destruction. This is not rape out of control. It is rape under control. It is rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape to kill and to make victims wish they were dead. It is rape to be seen and heard and watched and told to others: rape as a spectacle. It is rape to drive a wedge through a community, to shatter a society, to destroy a people. It is rape as Genocide.”

A series of questions remain unanswered. Are these gendercidal institutions against women structurally determined outcome of a patriarchal order, securing their conformity through threat and violence? Are such events nothing but a conscious process of intimidation to keep all women in a state of fear? Is it all just fanatic backlashes to reclaim patriarchy while more and more women attain position of prominence in myriad spheres?

As much as it is important to find an answer to these questions, we cannot ignore the fact that it is now widely conceded that women have played unprecedented role as perpetrators of the genocidal enterprise as well. Many believe that perpetrators in such horrifying times are overwhelmingly male. But there also exist arguments that prominence on women as victims has actually obscured the role of women as aggressors. And therefore it is no longer fully legitimate to isolate men as architects of gendercide. While discussing such horrendous tales of torture, what is forgotten is the fact that gendercide is a sexually neutral term. Sexually discriminatory killing is just as wrong when the victims happen to be male. We need to explore systematically in various wartime and peacetime contexts when non-combatant “battle-age” males are the targets. True that Genocidal killing and related atrocities carry a strong flavor of ‘macho’ swagger and involvement of women in perpetrating the genocide are highly unusual cases from a historical viewpoint. But an effort should be made not to make this a feminist-dominated discussion wherein the theme of men as victims becomes a powerful taboo.

Whichever equation we may consider, these experiences encompass both men and women equally. It is true that society around us today is all about power relations between men and women as well as groups of men. Our aim, nonetheless, should continue to be to look for effective strategies for intervention, prevention and reconstruction by allowing study of gender to assist them. But will humanity be reborn in its truest sense? Let our souls search.

Rape Camp Survivor


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