Women's Bodies Are Battlefields

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Beth Speake

The targeting of women's bodies in times of conflict has come to light as a systematic strategy which has been used by different actors in many different contexts worldwide. Specific forms of violence, especially sexual violence, are used against women in what has come to be defined as ‘gender-based violence', violence which targets individuals or groups of individuals by virtue of their gender. Thus, though it is clear that men are also the targets and victims of violence, it is the gendered nature of violence which marks women's experiences as different. Sexual violence against women during conflict often becomes the accepted norm, as militarisation and increased access to weapons result in high levels of brutality and impunity (IRIN, 2004, p.11). However, violence against women during conflict cannot be separated from violence against women during ‘peacetime', and forms of violence, such as public rape, designed to humiliate communities, only function in a context where deeply held patriarchal views permeate society (Pankhurst, 2008, p.306). Furthermore, connections between militarisation and encouragement of violence against women during conflict cannot be separated from evidence showing the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the military, and high levels of domestic abuse in military families: men's behaviour towards women in one context must be linked to their behaviour towards women in another (Kelly, 2000). This essay will analyse the connections between violence against women in ‘wartime' and ‘peacetime', with reference to the case study of Guatemala, arguing that notions of wartime and peacetime violence are problematic, and that violence against women in both contexts is inextricably linked.

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