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Peace Processes

Peacebuilding and Reconstruction with Women: Reflections on Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine


Moghadam, Valentine. 2005. “Peacebuilding and Reconstruction with Women: Reflections on Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.” Development 48 (3): 63-72.

Author: Valentine Moghadam


Valentine M. Moghadam looks at feminist insights into violence, conflict, peacebuilding, and women's rights, as well as developments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, to make the case for the involvement of women and the integration of gender into all phases of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction and governance.

Keywords: womens rights, conflict resolution, post-conflict governance, post-conflict reconstruction

Topics: Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Post-conflict Governance, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights, Security, Violence Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine / Occupied Palestinian Territories

Year: 2005

Rights of the Body and Perversions of War: Sexual Rights and Wrongs Ten Years Past Beijing


Petchesky, Rosalind P. 2005. "Rights of the Body and Perversions of War: Sexual Rights and Wrongs Ten Years Past Beijing." International Social Science Journal 57 (184): 301-18.

Author: Rosalind P. Petchesky


The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and its companion documents – those of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights (1993) and the International Conference on Population and Development (1994) – took important steps toward securing recognition for what we might call human rights of the body. These are affirmative rights relating to sexual expression, reproductive choice and access to health care and negative rights pertaining to freedom from violence, torture and abuse. But ten years later, the violated male bodies of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and Gujarat seem to mock certain of Beijing's most basic premises: that women are primarily the victims rather than the perpetrators of bodily abuses; and that, as such, women are, or should be, the privileged beneficiaries of bodily integrity rights. This paper re-examines these premises in the shadow of the “war on terrorism”, religious extremism, and practices of racialised, sexual, and often homophobic violence against men that emerge in wars and ethnic conflicts. In particular it looks at the war in Iraq and how that war configures such practices in both old and new ways. My purpose is not to repudiate feminist visions but rather to challenge the exclusive privileging of women as the bearers of sexual rights and to open up discussion of new, more inclusive coalitions of diverse social movements for rights of the body.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Health, International Human Rights, Peace Processes, Religion, Rights, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: Asia, East Asia Countries: China

Year: 2005

Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra-Leone


McFerson, Hazel. 2011. "Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra-Leone." Journal of International Women’s Studies 12 (4): 127-147.

Author: Hazel McFerson


Gender inequality in Sierra Leone, after colonialism among the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been heightened further by the civil war of 1992-2002—which was related in part to the struggle for control of "blood diamonds" but also to long-standing social and regional disparities, and to the collapse of formal institutions and widespread corruption. Sierra Leonean women are today among the most marginalized in the world, socially, economically and politically. However, there are differences among three groups: the better educated, comparatively richer "Krios" (descendants of the original freed slaves); relatively enlightened tribes; and the more traditional patriarchal tribes. The main route to improving the status of Sierra Leonean women is political empowerment. Some progress has been made since the civil war, post-conflict reconstruction programs and donor pressure are also opening up new opportunities for women progress, and there are hopes of significant electoral gains for women in the 2012 elections, inspired by the promising developments in neighboring post-conflict Liberia (which in 2005 elected Africa‘s first female president).  However, sustainable advancement depends on alliances whereby the better-educated urban women exert pressure for solving concrete problems of poorer women in exchange for their political support. Although such alliances are difficult, new grassroots women organizations have achieved positive initial results, which can be consolidated and expanded by appropriate partnership with international women NGOs.

Keywords: gender and development, post-conflict reconstruction, African women


McFerson begins her article with a summary of Sierra Leone’s history, explaining that the country gained its independence in 1961 and is now a constitutional republic. She explains that the country was ravaged by a civil war, which lasted from 1992-2002 and was fueled by competition over natural resources. In the following section, “Ethnicity and society,” McFerson presents the demographics of modern-day Sierra Leone, explaining that “the social structure in the country is in general both patriarchal and patrilineal” (35). Even in the post-colonial era, Sierra Leone has retained its chiefdom governance structure, which the British instituted. While these chiefs have historically repressed women, their increasing difficulty in maintaining control over the state may lead to their cooperation with women’s groups, which would afford women greater levels of political representation.

While the entire country suffers from extreme poverty, poverty levels are highest among Sierra Leonean women, women’s levels of education and literacy are drastically lower than those of men, and because of this lack of literacy, it is difficult for women to enter the official workforce.  Women in Sierra Leone also face extreme health hazards, particularly in childbirth, due to lack of medical resources and facilities. Barriers to women’s health are exacerbated by the traditional beliefs and practices, such as female genital mutilation, which afflicts the majority of Sierra Leonean women and is condoned by the country’s government.

The nation’s traditional, patiarchal culture is the primary reason for the subordinate status of women in Sierra Leone. While Sierra Leone’s Penal Code technically prohibits polygamy, it is allowed in customary marriages. Inheritance, divorce, and citizenship laws also favor men, denying women the economic rights of their male counterparts, and forced marriage is prevalent in Sierra Leonean society. Another issue confronting women in Sierra Leone is their limited property rights. Despite the gender bills passed in 2007, which strove to eradicate gender-based discrimination in ownership of land and inheritance, women still need the consent of their husbands in order to manage her property.  Widows continue to face inequality in their rights to own property; whereas a widower is entitled to the entirety of his deceased wife’s property, a widow may only obtain a portion of her husband’s property. While international institutions, such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank, have promoted economic land rights for women, these laws have not been enforced by the government of Sierra Leone and other African countries.

In her section, “The impact of the civil conflict on women and girls,” McFerson focuses on the 1992-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone, writing that it most directly affected the country’s women and girls, as they were routinely raped and kidnapped as sex slaves during the war. Resultantly, many of the women in Sierra Leone today are suffering from medical issues (due to unrelenting sexual abuse) in addition to social ostracization. The raping of women continues to be prevalent in Sierra Leone even in the post-conflict period, and domestic violence has become ingrained in the nation’s culture.

McFerson concludes her article by assessing the prospects for improving the status of women in Sierra Leone, arguing that the only path to gender equality is women’s political empowerment. While the laws granting women rights (i.e. Security Council Resolution 1325 and the 1995 Charter by the African Commission on Human Rights) have already been written, they much be instituted by the country’s government. She alludes to positive prospects for women’s empowerment, enforced by the 30% quota for women in political office; however, Sierra Leone is still lacking the unity of women’s movements necessary to propel efforts toward gender equality forward. Alliances must be forged between the educated, elite Krio women and other urban women in order to genuinely promote women’s rights. Ultimately, Sierra Leonean women’s poor access to international resources poses a barrier to the efficacy of women NGOs; thus international organizations must reach out to women’s initiatives in Sierra Leone to assist them in their effort to make their voices heard.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Gender, Women, Peace Processes, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2011

Impact of Combat and Sexual Harassment on the Severity of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Men and Women Peacekeepers in Somalia


Fontana, Alan, Brett Litz, and Robert Rosenheck. 2000. "Impact of Combat and Sexual Harassment on the Severity of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Men and Women Peacekeepers in Somalia." Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 188 (3): 163-169.

Authors: Alan Fontana, Brett Litz, Robert Rosenheck


The impact of combat and sexual harassment on the severity of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is compared for 1307 men and 197 women peacekeepers who served in the same military units. A theoretical model was proposed to express the nature of the impact. Structural equation modeling was used to evaluate the model separately for men and women. Good-fitting, parsimonious models were developed that showed substantial similarity for men and women. For men, severity of PTSD symptoms was impacted by exposure to combat directly and indirectly through fear and sexual harassment. For women, severity of PTSD symptoms was impacted by combat indirectly through the same two influences, although the mechanisms involving fear and sexual harassment were somewhat different. For both genders, moreover, PTSD severity was impacted directly by exposure to the dying of the Somali people. These similarities suggest that in modern stressful overseas military missions, both genders may be susceptible to the same types of risk for the development of PTSD. The incidence and impact of sexual harassment is particularly noteworthy in the case of men and calls for more detailed investigation in future studies.

Keywords: sexual assault, posttraumatic stress disorder, peacekeepers

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Gender, Women, Men, Health, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Humanitarian Assistance, Peacekeeping, Peace Processes, Sexual Violence, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Somalia

Year: 2000

Women and the Genocidal Rape of Women: The Gender Dynamics of Gendered War Crimes


Sjoberg, Laura. 2011. "Women and the Genocidal Rape of Women: The Gender Dynamics of Gendered War Crimes." In Confronting Global Gender Justice: Women's Lives, Human Rights, edited by Debra Bergoffen, Paula Ruth Gilbert, Tamara Harvey, and Connie L. McNeely, 21-34. New York: Routledge.

Author: Laura Sjoberg


Expanding on work from my 2007 book, Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics (with Caron Gentry), this chapter looks at the dynamics of women’s participation in the war crime of genocidal rape against other women. It asks both about why women participated and about how their participation was portrayed in media and scholarly accounts. The chapter looks at these questions by exploring five cases of women’s (alleged) commission of the war crime of genocidal rape. It concludes with a reformulated approach to the laws and norms against genocidal rape in the international community, taking account of women’s roles in the crime not only as (often) victims but also as (sometimes) perpetrators.



“This work, more often than not, defines genocidal rape as a crime where men are the perpetrators and women are the victims." (Sjoberg, 21)

“In previous work, Caron Gentry and I (2007) have identified these as the mother, monster, and whore narratives. The mother narratives feature women’s motherhood as a key motivator for their participation in violence. The mother narrative has two general strands – one that portrays women perpetrators of genocide as nurturing mothers, whose role in the conflict is to take care of and provide for their men – the fact that those men happen to be participating in genocide (and therefore nurturing them is too) does not change the women’s role in society or perception of their familial duty. The other strand of the mother narrative portrays women who commit genocide as vengeful mothers – avenging the deaths of their husbands, brothers, or fathers at the hand of those on the other side of the conflict.” (Sjoberg, 22-23)

“The second narrative we’ve identified is the monster narrative. This story of women’s motivation for involvement in genocide frames women perpetrators as severely psychologically disturbed. These stories tell women perpetrators as crazier and more monstrous than the men that they act with or alongside. Women’s monstrosity, in these stories, comes from the sort of irrational anger only women could have, or feelings of personal inadequacy coming from the inability to marry or have children.” (Sjoberg, 23) 

“The final narrative we’ve identified is the whore narrative. In the whore narrative, women’s participation in genocide is either defined by erotomania or erotic dysfunction. The erotomania story tells of women sexually obsessed with and therefore controlled by men – of women’s sexuality gone wrong and out of control. These women are portrayed as having committed genocide because their sex drive had gone out of control, and female sexuality at its worst is violent and brutal. The story of erotic dysfunction tells as story of a woman who has turned to violence because she is either unwilling to or unable to please men. These women are portrayed as having turned to violence because they were unable to function/serve as real women, which requires getting married and having children.” (Sjoberg, 23)  

“All of these stories about why women commit genocide share several things. First, they assume that the problem of why women commit genocide is a problem separate from the question of why men commit genocide (or even the question of why people generally commit genocide). Second, they preserve a distinction between women who are capable of violence and real or normal women who remain, as we have always assumed, more peaceful than men. Third, though real or normal women are seen as more peaceful than men, these stories depict women’s violence as the result of the excesses of femininity. Finally, these narratives imply that women cannot both be victims of genocide (as a class) and perpetrators of genocide (as individuals or as a group) – it has to be one or the other. Often, both in the public eye and in the academic literature, the identification of women as perpetrators has traded off with the recognition of women as victims.” (Sjoberg, 23)  

“Several accounts have also read women’s perpetration of genocide, genocidal rape, and other sexual crimes as a reversal of gender subordination – where women have become the perpetrators, and are therefore no longer the victims." (Sjoberg, 24)

“As such, the question of why women commit violence generally and genocide specifically is treated as a different question than the question of why men commit such violence. Women’s violence is often almost exclusively explained by gender-specific theories or gender-specified versions of traditional theories of individual violence. Women’s violence is explained as women’s violence rather than as women committing violence.”  (Sjoberg, 27)

“Their stories contradict the dominant narrative about what a woman is generally and about women’s capacity for violence specifically. Because their stories do not resonate with these inherited images of femininity, violent women are marginalized in political discourse. Their choices are rarely seen as choices, and, when they are, they are characterized as apolitical.” (Sjoberg, 27) 

“Those with a political interest in the gender order cannot hear or tell those stories of women’s participation in genocidal rape; instead, stories are produced and reproduced where women’s agency in their violence is denied and violent women are characterized as singular and abnormal aberrations.” (Sjoberg, 27) 

“If violent women are seen as different from what women as women should be, then their existence can be explained away without interrogating the fundamental problems with the stereotypical understanding of what women are – peaceful, virtuous, non-violent, etc.” (Sjoberg, 27)  

“In other words, in these accounts, women’s violence is worse (and to be feared more) than men’s violence, because women are naturally emotional and unpredictable as opposed to men’s presumed rationality and consistency, even in the commission of crimes.” (Sjoberg, 28) 

“Therefore, though they are a blight on the purity of femininity, women who commit genocidal rape or other sex-based crimes in genocide are described as being motivated by things that could only come from their status as women – what is abnormal to women is not their femininity, it is its uncontrolled status and extreme expression.” (Sjoberg, 28) 

“Finally, these stories of women’s participation in genocidal rape share that they either argue or imply that women’s perpetration of genocidal rape against women disrupts narratives of female victimhood….In other words, there are those who argue that women’s participation in violence signals the end of women’s victimization in war and genocide. Still, many of the women that were discussed in the five snapshots above sexually victimized women on the basis of gender. In other words, they perpetrated gender subordination.” (Sjoberg, 28)  

“Along with the implied naturalness of women’s subordination and the assumption of women’s incapability, we can see in the stereotyped reactions to women’s commission of sexual violence not only that women are expected not to violate other women – but also that there’s some normalness to men’s sexual violation of women.” (Sjoberg, 30) 

“The third step, then, is to reformulate international legal approaches to genocidal rape to accommodate the possibility of women perpetrators while still preserving the understanding that women are, as a class, victimized by genocidal rape based on gender.” (Sjoberg, 31)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Genocide, Justice, War Crimes, Peace Processes, Sexual Violence, Female Perpetrators, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, Europe, Balkans, Central Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany, Rwanda

Year: 2011

Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda


Burnet, Jennie. 2008. "Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda." African Affairs 107 (428): 361-86.

Author: Jennie Burnet


Across Africa, many countries have taken initiatives to increase the participation and representation of women in governance. Yet it is unclear what meaning these initiatives have in authoritarian, single-party states like Rwanda. Since seizing power in 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front has taken many steps to increase the participation of women in politics such as creating a Ministry of Gender, organizing women’s councils at all levels of government, and instituting an electoral system with reserved seats for women in the national parliament. This article explores the dramatic increase in women’s participation in public life and representation in governance and the increasing authoritarianism of the Rwandan state under the guise of ‘democratization’. The increased political participation of women in Rwanda represents a paradox in the short term: as their participation has increased, women’s ability to influence policy-making has decreased. In the long term, however, increased female representation in government could prepare the path for their meaningful participation in a genuine democracy because of a transformation in political subjectivity.


Keywords: post-conflict governance, post-conflict reconstruction, women's political participation


In her article, Burnet examines the increased percentage of women in positions of political leadership in Rwanda in the years following the 1994 genocide. Before the 1994 civil war, women had seldom held positions in the nation’s parliament. Between 1994 and 2003, however, the number of women in Rwanda’s government increased dramatically as a result of President Kagame’s effort to integrate women into the post-conflict reconstruction process. While the Rwandan Patriotic Front imposed quotas that made Rwanda the country with the highest percentage of women in its government in 2003, this gender equality on the political level did not implicate genuine female empowerment. Rather, the RPF’s introduction of women into positions of political leadership served to cover up the party’s authoritarianism and human right’s abuses as well as a way to gain praise from the international community.

In the years following the genocide, not only did women’s political representation skyrocket, but the number of women’s organizations also increased dramatically. Scholars cite four main reasons for the proliferation of women’s organizations: the extreme crisis that women faced following the genocide, the history of women’s grassroots organizations in the country, economic aid from the international community, and the Rwandan government’s policies. The RPF’s ideology also played into the drastic increase in women’s NGOs’s in the late 1990s. Burnet explains that RPF saw civil society as an intrinsic part of the state; thus, the regime encouraged the development of local organizations that promoted the stated goals of the national government.

The congruence between women in civil society and in government was affirmed in 1999 when the government passed “the Inheritance Law,” which gave women the legal right to inherit property, among other benefits, such as paid employment and contract rights; however, this promotion of women’s rights did not entail democratic values in the country’s politics. Members of the national government continued to be appointed by RPF leaders rather than elected by the public. In addressing the question of why, if the country was not a true democracy, the regime allowed the Inheritance Law to pass, Burnet writes that the RPF saw the legislation as a necessary step in protecting the rights of genocide widows and that the women’s NGOs that had formed worked in cohesion to manipulate the state and support the policy.  The major presence of women in Rwanda’s government also allowed female decision-makers to influence government policy. In analyzing the success of women in passing the legislation, Burnet concludes that “limited forms of democratic participation are possible under an authoritarian government” (378).

In the latter half of her article, Burnet assesses the situation of women in Rwanda today, arguing that it has not improved despite the participation of women in the nation’s governance. She writes that the women’s movement in Rwanda has been set back because the leaders of women’s NGOs have abandoned their civil society work to take government positions, leaving the organizations with weak leadership. Additionally, women’s organizations have not been able to rally around a single issue, which has undercut the unity of the women’s movement. Increased female participation in government has also had other negative consequences. Leaders of women’s NGOs in Rwanda view female politicians in the RPF as traitors to the women’s movement, which has weakened the cooperation between civil society and the state in promoting women’s rights, and some argue that the RPF has also carried out female-friendly policies merely as a way to further its own political agenda.

Burnet concludes that while women in Rwanda may not immediately benefit from the political and legal rights granted to them by the RPF, advancements in gender equality may develop in the long-term. As Rwanda’s culture continues to develop, women’s identities will change, affording them greater agency as an accumulation of their political, legal, and social rights. The incorporation of women into Rwanda’s government has changed public perceptions of women positively, paving the way for freedom in other areas of their lives. Post-genocide reconstruction has also necessitated the active participation of women in infrastructure projects, farming tasks, and other household and government roles. Thus, while the genocide confronted women with the difficulty of handling these new tasks without the help of their deceased male counterparts, it entailed a complete disruption of conventional gender relations, which provided offered women an opportunity for more robust political and social roles.

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, NGOs, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights, Security Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2008

Gender, Conflict, and Development


Bouta, Tsjeard, Georg Frerks, and Ian Bannon. 2005. Gender, Conflict, and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Authors: Tsjeard Bouta, Georg Frerks, Ian Bannon


Gender, Conflict, and Development was written as an effort to fill a gap between the Bank's work on gender mainstreaming and its agenda in conflict and development. The authors identify a link between gender and conflict issues and provide the most comprehensive review of external and internal sources on gender and conflict, with a particular focus on policy relevance for an institution such as the Bank. The book highlights the gender dimensions of conflict, organized around major relevant themes such as female combatants, sexual violence, formal and informal peace processes, the legal framework, work, the rehabilitation of social services and community-driven development. And for each theme it analyzes how conflict changes gender roles and the policy options that might be considered to build on positive aspects while minimizing adverse changes. The suggested policy options and approaches aim to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by violent conflict to encourage change and build more inclusive and gender balanced social, economic and political relations in post-conflict societies. The book concludes by identifying some of the remaining challenges and themes that require additional analysis and research. The book will be of interest to policymakers, scholars, researchers, graduate and upper-level undergraduate students of conflict studies/regional studies/gender studies. (Amazon)

Keywords: female combatants, gender mainstreaming

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Society, Combatants, Female Combatants, Development, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Governance, Humanitarian Assistance, Livelihoods, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Sexual Violence, SV against women

Year: 2005

Women and Wars: Some Trajectories towards a Feminist Peace


Afshar, Haleh. 2003. "Women and Wars: Some Trajectories towards a Feminist Peace." Development in Practice 13 (2/3): 177-88.

Author: Haleh Afshar


This paper seeks to explode a number of myths about women's absence from wars and conflict; it considers some problems about their vulnerabilities in these circumstances; and offers some feminist perspectives for addressing these problems. The paper considers the conflicting demands made on women in periods of war and revolution, and argues that differing historical processes result in different post-conflict policies towards women. There is, however, a commonality of experiences that universally marginalise women in the post-conflict and reconstruction phases. Even when women have participated actively in wars and revolutions, they are heavily pressured to go back to the home and reconstruct the private domain to assert the return of peace and 'normality'. This paper contends that the insistence on locating women within the domestic sphere in the post-war era may be counter-productive and located in the historical construction of nationhood and nationalism as masculine in terms of its character and demands. With the dawn of the twenty-first century and the long history of women's participation in wars, revolutions, and policy making, it may now be possible to use the symbolic importance given to them in times of conflict to articulate a different perception of nationhood and belonging, and to create a more cooperative and less competitive and hierarchical approach to politics and the reconstruction of nations and their sense of belonging.


Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Femininity/ies, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes

Year: 2003

Ladies First

"Ten years after the bloody genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people in just 100 days, Rwanda’s women are leading their country’s healing process and taking their society forward into a different future. They are playing a remarkable role in politics and are also emerging as prominent figures in the business sector.


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