Sexing the State: The Gendered Origins of the Civil War in Sierra Leone


Lahai, John Idriss. 2010. “Sexing the State: The Gendered Origins of the Civil War in Sierra Leone.” Minerva Journal of Women and War 4 (2): 26–45. doi:10.3172/MIN.4.2.26.


Author: John Idriss Lahai


As a rethink to the existing gender-neutral argument surrounding the causes of the civil war in Sierra Leone, this article presents an alternative framework of pre-war gender structural inequality to explain the conflict. While it does not present a feminist-essentialist argument in defense of the nuanced "peaceful" nature of women, it contends that the long standing exclusion of women in politics, and the lack of social and economic structural equality - which also precipitated the social and political acceptance of violence - should be understood as an antecedent to the war. And it is also argued in this article that although the youth bulge contributed to a militarized culture before the war, the crux of the problem was the lack of women's pre-war reproductive rights and sexual autonomy. To insist on a gendered reasoning to explain civil wars, we should note, appears to be part of the feminist call for the recognition of gender (in)equality in the war-peace calculus. Despite that, it also bears some positive analytical framework for interpreting the "male-instigated" civil wars and the violence that occurred therein (see, e.g., Cockburn 2001). Against this backdrop, we cannot explain the ways how the war affected women, without looking at the pre-war gender structural inequalities. Thus, it is hoped that this article will give voice to women and explain how women's low status contributed to the militarization of pre-war state politics, in the subsequent war, and in shaping the patterns of wartime sexual and gender-based violence between 1991 and 2002.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender Analysis, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarization Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2010

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