The Psychosocial Effects of Conflict in the Third World


Summerfield, Derek. 1991. “The Psychosocial Effects of Conflict in the Third World.” Development in Practice 1 (3): 159–73.

Author: Derek Summerfield


In current armed conflicts around the world, over 90 per cent of casualties are civilians. This article reviews medical and anthropological evidence of the psychosocial effects of extreme experiences such as torture, mutilation, rape, and the violent displacement of communities. The consequences for women and children are considered in particular. The author argues that the social development programmes of non-governmental development organisations should be extended to support social networks and institutions in areas of conflict, and ends by giving guidelines for mental health promoters working in traumatised communities.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Development, Displacement & Migration, Gender, Women, Girls, Boys, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Mental Health, Sexual Violence, Rape, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Torture

Year: 1991

True Survivors: East African Refugee Women


Schafer, Loveness H. 2002. “True Survivors: East African Refugee Women.” Africa Today 49 (2): 29-48.

Author: Loveness H. Schafer


In this paper, I explain the process asylum seekers from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Somalia went through when they applied for asylum in Malawi between 1997 and 1999. I describe how international conventions concerning refugees were carried out in practice, paying particular attention to places in the process where women refugees confronted certain hardships. More specifically, I explore the ways in which gender-based violence, rape, and other harms particularly committed against women were dealt with in the processing of asylum applications in Malawi. I argue that both international conventions and individual host countries should revamp laws and mechanisms for admitting refugees to more adequately address the problem of gender-based violence. Despite the hardships they faced, women refugees were the real survivors, because they used all their skills and wits to survive their ordeals and save themselves and their children from abuse, torture, and death.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, International Law, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Torture Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, Somalia

Year: 2002

The Sexual Politics of Abu Ghraib: Hegemony, Spectacle, and the Global War on Terror


Tétreault, Mary Ann. 2006. “The Sexual Politics of Abu Ghraib: Hegemony, Spectacle, and the Global War on Terror.” NWSA Journal 18 (3): 33–50.

Author: Mary Ann Tétreault


Revelations of the torture, murder, and maltreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came with sensational photographs of U.S. military personnel torturing Iraqi prisoners and forcing them to perform sexualized acts. Evidence of gross violations of international law, the photographs have been used by U.S. elites to construct a discourse not about war crimes but "prisoner abuse, " some referring to the activities recorded as analogous to fraternity hazing. In this essay, I argue that the photos reflect complex reactions to the attacks of September 11, 2001, including a need to assert U.S. global dominance by punishing those who are, in American eyes, an inferior oriental enemy. The photographs are analyzed in the context of orientalism in the U.S. chain of command, a phenomenon linked to what feminists call "the politics of the gaze" - the vulnerability of women and other subalterns to virtual as well as actual violation by those in positions of domination. They are compared to evidence of other rituals of violence, such as lynching, orchestrated by elites and imitated by popular-culture entrepreneurs. The sexual politics of Abu Ghraib includes the deployment of female figures to brand, scapegoat, and repair the damage from discovery of the photographs, thereby trivializing the policies and behaviors of U.S. officials and eliding the American public's responsibility for the continued U.S. failure to condemn, much less to halt, the torture carried out in their name.

Keywords: hegemony, torture, war crimes, orientalism, pornography, rituals of violence

Topics: Combatants, Gender, Justice, War Crimes, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: MENA, Americas, North America, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq, United States of America

Year: 2006

Gendered, Racialized and Sexualized Torture at Abu-Ghraib


Nusair, Isis. 2008. “Gendered, Racialized And Sexualized Torture At Abu-Ghraib,” In Feminism and Wars: Confronting US Imperialism, edited by Mohanty and Riley, 179-93. London: Zed Books.

Author: Isis Nusair


This chapter examines the gendered, racialized and sexualized torture at Abu-Ghraib within the larger context of the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, and torture and mistreatment of detainees in other parts of Iraq; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Afghanistan. [Nusair] argue[s] that what took place at Abu-Ghraib is not an exceptional and isolated case perpetrated by few bad apples but part of an Orientalist representation that aims to shame and sexually humiliate detainees and reinforce their difference as racially inferior Others. Within this phallocentric binary logic of opposition where the East is represented as backward and barbarian and the West as civilizing and modernizing the naturalness and for-granted authority to dominate the Other is established. It is within this framework that [Nusair] analyze[s] the connection between militarist hyper-sexuality, feminization, and racialization at Abu-Ghraib. In addition, [Nusair] analyze[s] the silence around the rape of women at Abu-Ghraib, and the unveiling and stripping naked of detainees as they relate to the larger system of domination currently at play in Iraq. [Nusair] conclude[s] by analyzing current modes of feminist resistance in Iraq and the strategies used by activists to shape their lives within this highly masculinized and militarized system of control. 

Topics: Gender, Masculinity/ies, Femininity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Militarism, Militarization, Race, Sexual Violence, Rape, Sexuality, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: MENA, Americas, Caribbean countries, North America, Asia, Middle East, South Asia Countries: Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, United States of America

Year: 2008

Human Rights and Mental Health among Latin American Women in Situations of State-Sponsored Violence


Lykes, M. Brinton, Mary M. Brabeck, Theresa Ferns, and Angela Radan. 1993. “Human Rights and Mental Health among Latin American Women in Situations of State-Sponsored Violence.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 17 (4): 525-44.

Authors: M. Brinton Lykes, Mary M. Brabeck, Theresa Ferns, Angela Radan


A Task Force of the American Psychological Association Division 35, Psychology of Women, has been collecting resources that address issues of human rights and mental health among Latin American women living in situations of war and/or state-sponsored violence. This work is being conducted primarily by women's groups, progressive organizations, and individual women in these contexts of institutionalized political violence. This paper describes our reflections on themes that emerged from our reading of this work. We discuss the false dichotomy between public and private violence, the silencing of women as an inevitable consequence of state-imposed violence, and the collective efforts of women to resist violence and heal its effects. These themes suggest that extreme violence against women can be most adequately understood and responded to within a psychosocial and cultural framework. We examined three issues that emerge from the material gathered by the Task Force that suggest how some Latin American psychologists and activists have begun to articulate such a framework: (a) exile within and outside of one's country of origin; (b) torture, the most extreme form of state-sponsored violence; and (c) nontraditional, culturally appropriate interventions that are alternatives to Anglo-Saxon theory and practice. The work of Latin American individuals is described here as a resource for all who are engaged in the struggle to achieve justice for women.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Rights, Human Rights, Torture, Violence Regions: Americas, Central America, South America

Year: 1993

Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina


Stiglmayer, Alexandra. 1994. Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Author: Alexandra Stiglmayer


Alexandra Stiglmayer interviewed survivors of the continuing war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to reveal, to a seemingly deaf world, the horrors of the ongoing war in the former Yugoslavia. The women—primarily of Muslim but also of Croatian and Serbian origin—have endured the atrocities of rape and the loss of loved ones. Their testimony, published in the 1993 German edition, is bare, direct, and its cumulative effect overwhelming.

The first English edition contains Stiglmayer's updates to her own two essays, one detailing the historical context of the current conflict and the other presenting the core of the book, interviews with some twenty victims of rape as well as interviews with three Serbian perpetrators. Essays investigating mass rape and war from ethnopsychological, sociological, cultural, and medical perspectives are included.

New essays by Catharine A. MacKinnon, Rhonda Copelon, and Susan Brownmiller address the crucial issues of recognizing the human rights of women and children. A foreword by Roy Gutman describes war crimes within the context of the UN Tribunal, and an afterword by Cynthia Enloe relates the mass rapes of this war to developments and reactions in the international women's movement.

Accounts of torture, murder, mutilation, abduction, sexual enslavement, and systematic attempts to impregnate—all in the name of "ethnic cleansing"—make for the grimmest of reading. However brutal and appalling the information conveyed here, this book cannot and should not be ignored. (Amazon)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Ethnicity, Gender, Women, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Rights, Human Rights, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, Sexual Slavery, SV against Women, Torture Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Yugoslavia (former)

Year: 1994

War and Rape: Analytical Approaches


Seifert, Ruth. 1993. War and Rape: Analytical Approaches. Geneva, Switzerland: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Author: Ruth Seifert


With the establishment of camps in the middle of Europe, for the single purpose of committing rape and sexual torture, violence against women has reached a new stage. In the following I shall attempt to open up an analytical perspective on these events. First, the question of the purpose of rape in general will be posed. Second, five explanations of the function of rape in war will be developed. Finally, some light will be thrown on the logic of silence that is characteristic of war crimes against women to this day.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Justice, War Crimes, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Torture, Sexual Torture

Year: 1993

Embodiment of Terror: Gendered Violence in Peacetime and Wartime in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina


Olujic, Maria B. 1998. “Embodiment of Terror: Gendered Violence in Peacetime and Wartime in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 12 (1): 31–50.

Author: Maria B. Olujic


Gendered violence is not a special type of torture used only in war. Its roots are well established in peacetime. This article discusses parallels between the patterns of everyday domination and aggression during times of peace and war. Further, it discusses how metaphors and acts of rape in peacetime are transformed into symbols and acts of rape for wartime purposes. During peacetime the individual body, especially its essence--sexuality and reproduction--becomes the symbol of everyday domination and aggression. Wartime transforms individual bodies into social bodies as seen, for example, in genocidal rapes or ethnic cleansing, which are thought to purify the bloodlines. Then, institutions--that is, medical, religious, and government establishments--further reinforce the wartime process by manipulating the individual/social body into the body politic by controlling and defining "human life" and using political rapes to entice military action by the West. The final transformation (at the war's conclusion) is the reformation of the social body back into the individual body, making the individual body once again the focus of dominance and aggression as the acceptable social "order."

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Gender, Gender-Based Violence, Religion, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Sexuality, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia

Year: 1998

Women War Survivors of the 1989-2003 Conflict in Liberia: The Impact of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence


Liebling-Kalifani, Helen, Victoria Mwaka, Ruth Ojiambo-Ochieng, Juliet Were-Oguttu, Eugene Kinyanda, Deddeh Kwekwe, Lindora Howard, and Cecilia Danuweli. 2011. "Women War Survivors of the 1989-2003 Conflict in Liberia: The Impact of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence." Journal of International Women's Studies 12 (1): 1-21.

Authors: Helen Liebling-Kalifani, Victoria Mwaka, Ruth Ojiambo-Ochieng, Juliet Were-Oguttu, Eugene Kinyanda, Deddeh Kwekwe, Lindora Howard, Cecilia Danuweli


This article presents a summary of the qualitative data from research carried out in post-conflict Liberia by Isis-WICCE, a women's international non-government organisation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Gender and Development of Liberia and Women in Peace-building Network, WIPNET. Analysis of research findings detail women's experiences of conflict and the serious effects of sexual violence and torture on their physical and psychological health. The paper also describes the omission of women from justice and rehabilitation processes. In support of women participants' views, the author's recommend that funding is urgently required for the provision of holistic and sustainable, gender- sensitive services. Additional recommendations are made with respect to health, justice and policy changes in line with enhancing women survivor's roles and utilising their skills and resilience.



"The rates of sexual violence were higher amongst former combatants; 42.3%, amongst women combatants and 32.6% amongst male combatants." (9)

"The most visited health facility for psychological problems and surgical problems related to war were the private run clinics. However, significant numbers utilised self medication, traditional healers, local health centres and district hospitals. A tenth of the participants had not sought any treatment at all for their psychological problems. Participants described government health facilities as not having the necessary professional expertise to handle the psychosocial consequences of war as well as the emerging epidemic of domestic violence." (11-12)

"It was also observed that the DDRR largely failed to meet a large number of women's and girls' needs compared to men's and boys'. Thousands of women and girls formally associated with the fighting forces did not participate in the DDRR for reasons such as misinformation, lack of knowledge and understanding about the process, manipulation by commanders, lack of funding, lack of political will to ensure a gender-based approach, shame and fear. Some of the women that did participate were said to have been harassed by UN designated officials during the disarmament phase, including being ridiculed or hit whilst trying to disarm. Amnesty International (2008a) reported that some women did not benefit unless they were prepared to have sex with their commander. The programme failed to meet the needs of many women and girl combatants and did not ensure that their participation was proportional to their actual level of involvement. Many women were said to have failed to fully benefit from the rehabilitation and reintegration phase because the programme largely failed to acknowledge and address stigma and shame as a barrier to their participation, as well as taking into account adequate understandings of women's and girl's war experiences (Amnesty International, 2008a)." (14)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Health, Mental Health, Reproductive Health, International Organizations, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women, Torture, Sexual Torture Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2011

Women War Survivors of Sexual Violence in Liberia: Inequalities in Health, Resilience and Justice


Liebling-Kalifani, Helen and Bruce Baker. 2010. "Women War Survivors of Sexual Violence in Liberia: Inequalities in Health, Resilience and Justice." Journal of International Social Research 3 (13): 188-199.

Authors: Helen Liebling-Kalifani, Bruce Baker


This article argues that the human consequences of conflict sexual violence have often been misunderstood. Typically research has conceptualised these effects in terms of an individual manifestation of psychological trauma and physical injuries. The corresponding post-conflict responses have therefore been confined to a medical one. This paper, based on research with women war survivors in Liberia, argues for an alternative understanding and response. First, it views conflict sexual violence and torture as gendered, that is, although both men and women endure these experiences, their responses are different. Second, it believes that beyond the individual's trauma the impact of conflict sexual violence and torture affects whole communities and identity. Third, it recognises a strong desire for justice among survivors whose fulfillment is vital to their recovery. Fourth, it recognises high levels of resilience among women survivors. In the light of these perspectives, the article argues that for post-conflict responses to be effective they must go beyond a purely individualistic and medical conceptualisation of needs. Rather they have to be gendered, culturally sensitive, address justice as well as health needs and build upon the resilience of women war survivors and their communities.

Keywords: sexual violence, health



"Though Liberia was the first country to launch a plan for the implementation of UN Resolution 1325 (Republic of Liberia, 2008) and though the legal definition of rape was expanded and the age of consent was raised to 18 years, perpetrators are still hardly ever convicted. Part of the problem is the failure to report incidents or to look for medical or professional assistance due to shame, fear of rejection and lack of confidence that the ‘system’ will protect the rights of women (IRIN, 2009; MSF, 2007; UNIFEM 2004; and for northern Uganda see Liebling-Kalifani, in press). Whilst recognizing that both sexes are exposed to violence during armed conflict, women and girls are subjected to sexualized and gender-based violence that targets their sexuality and status." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 189)


"The war also had a serious detrimental effect on the very services that the war survivors needed namely judicial and medical. Although there are a few examples of health initiatives, the capacity of the Liberian government to respond to women survivors of sexual violence is thus extremely limited. There is little to address their physical and psychological health needs; and their need for justice against the perpetrators of the violence." (Liebling-Kalifani et al.,190)

 "This paper, drawing on findings of recent research carried out with women war survivors in Liberia, argues that for post-conflict responses to be effective they must go beyond a purely individualistic and medical conceptualisation of needs. Rather they have to be gendered, culturally sensitive, address justice as well as social and health needs and build upon the resilience of women and their communities." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 190)


"A culture of partial justice and impunity for the powerful had long marked by the pre-war system and in fact had been one of the primary catalysts for the civil war. According to one survey (Liberian CJS Report, 2002) 56% of those who had been arrested and forwarded to court believe that the court had not been fair to them, citing reasons such as partiality of judges (41%), interference by government officials (24%), no opportunity for legal representation (18%) and jury manipulation (6%). Thus 59% of these respondents were not satisfied with the outcome of the cases. Overall, 61% of respondents said they had little or no confidence in the courts to render justice." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 192)

 "Significant changes were made to legislation, which expanded the definition of rape so that now any form of sexual penetration is considered rape under Liberian law. The age of consent has also been raised to 18 years. The new laws have also established harsher punishment for perpetrators and abolished bail for rape cases. Despite these steps, the judicial system has yet to adapt these changes so the new laws have made little difference. Perpetrators are still hardly ever convicted. Rape still tends to be dealt with privately. Most victims never press charges. According to the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, there is a conspiracy of silence and denial within the community and within the families involved. The judicial system is an ongoing source of frustration." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 192)


"Analysis of the research data from Liberia suggests that the effects of conflict sexual violence and torture should be regarded as gendered, that is, although both men and women endure these experiences, their responses are different. Women war survivors reconstruct their identities by taking on male roles, becoming heads of households, peace building as well as engaging in collective and political activities. Women’s ability to voice their experiences, form groups as a political act of resistance, results in a shared identity and a decrease in trauma experienced. In contrast, men largely turn their trauma inwards, using strategies such as alcohol and drug use in an attempt to ‘manage’ their distress (Isis-WICCE, 2008). Further, it is suggested that women’s war trauma is differently constituted than men’s due to the effects of sexual violence and torture being understood as a ‘destruction of cultural identity’ and of the ethnic group. Hence, the effects of these experiences on women are equally valid, and therefore deserving of compensation and facilities for recovery, as has been awarded to male soldiers (Liebling-Kalifani, in press)." (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 194)


"It is emphasised however, that although destruction of cultural identity and entitlement to power was in many ways ‘successful’ from the point of view of the military groups, in the sense that it did erode Liberian women and girl’s sense of self, cultural identity and entitlement to power, this was never an uncontested process. Liberian women and girls, who were the objects of attack, also resisted the breakdown of their cultural identity, not only physically and militarily, for example as combatants, but also socially, psychologically and culturally. As Andermahr et al. (1997: 287) suggest, ‘theoretically informed accounts by women who have experienced rape and struggled to retain their sense of autonomy are needed.'" (Liebling-Kalifani et al., 195)

Topics: Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Sexual Violence, SV against Men, Torture Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Liberia

Year: 2010


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