Tag Archives: gender violence

Violence and the State: Protecting and Threatening

Iraq_Military_pic_1One of the fundamental questions in conflict today is simply, “How do we develop a state that is strong enough to deter rebels and attackers while assuring the citizens that its power will not be used for ill?” This problem has reared its head in Iraq, Ukraine and now…the U.S.

The fundamental problem in Iraq is not the government did not have enough coercive power but that the governors were using that power against the Sunnis. The Iraqi government could have assured the Sunni population that force would only be used against those that opposed the government. Instead, promises were broken and the focus was on exerting dominance, which the reduced both the capacity and legitimacy of the army. The Sunnis who had joined with the U.S. in 2007 have now opted with the Islamic State.

The balance of power has shifted in Ukraine conveniently after the Presidential election as the government has begun to do a better job of assuring the people of Ukraine that they will only harm those who are fighting the government. The use of violence is not as selective as it could be but to many people the government has begun to seem like a better option.

The Israel-Gaza is an extremely complicated conflict but one clear aspect is the difficulty of balancing deterrence and assurance. Hamas as shown little interest in promising Israel anything and Israel insists its only trying to deter attacks. Whether or not you believe this to be true one of the factors of deterrence is that status quo must seem attractive. There must be something to go back to. After all deterrence is both a threat and a promise…”If you do nothing bad, nothing bad will happen to you.” Or, “if you stop we can go back to the status quo”…but what if I don’t like that status quo?


Democracy is often touted as a solution to this problem however even democracies struggle with this balance. The situation in Ferguson illustrates this very well where protests and riots have broken out over the killing of a young African-American male. Police need to have the capability to use force but that force needs to be backed with legitimacy. Furthermore the pattern in the U.S. suggests that the wrong kind of discrimination was at work in Ferguson. Rather than being discriminate in their use of force the police seems to be targeting people on the base of race as in New York.

This is why due process is so vital to a legitimate state. Due process is not just about justice…but also about being careful that the targets of state power are deserving. Like Democracy, due process is not perfect…some innocents are convicted and some guilty go free. But it is much better than when the use of violence is applied wholesale and unfairly by the state.


Boko Haram & Social Media

m_obama_girls_twWith the recent mass murdering of 310 people and the kidnapping of 276 school girls in Nigeria at the hands of Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, the world has joined in outrage via social media.  The emergence of the #BringbackOurGirls hashtag may not be offering the help you think and may in fact be harming the people in Nigeria.

Terror is a tactical use of violence by groups or governments to coerce the enemy rather than weaken him militarily. That is, it has little military use but more a strategic use of violence that will “terrorize” an audience by appalling them. When this strategic use of violence is employed by groups like BH the purpose is typically one or more of the following:

1. Incentivize the terrorized audience to pressure a government to change policy

2. Demonstrate a government’s inability to provide security (and therefore govern)

3. Visibility for the org and cause-often for the purpose of recruitment

Terror as a tactic fails then if we “keep a stiffer lip,” as the people of London were said to do during Hitler’s Blitz of WWII, and ignore it. By doing this objectives 1 & 3 are undermined.


The kidnapping of these girls is a dramatic event made for mass consumption. Groups like BH don’t want attention…they require it. The hashtag plays a small but collectively substantial role in aiding the group’s cause.  Are people making demands on government to change its policy? Is BH more visible today than it was prior to the kidnapping? Do possible sympathizers to BH now see them as a force to reckoned and possibly worthy of their support? YES.

So, as a member of BH’s audience what will you do? Will you emote on social media or will you act strategically? If you’d like to take some real action and follow your intent to your impact then sign up for one of the great organizations below.  Send them a check or become active in a human rights campaign, but please do not give stage to any hate group or terrorist organization.

Amnesty International

Global Fund for Women

Human Rights FIRST

Human Rights Watch



Gender Violence in Armed Conflict: Where Have All the Men Gone?

soldiers_01 The United Nations argues in Women, War and Peace that while women remain a minority of combatants and perpetrators of war they increasingly suffer the greatest harm.  This myth about gender and armed conflict has taken on a life of its own both in academia and in policy areas while no resource offers the breakdown of victimhood by gender necessary to make that claim.

The idea of predominantly female victimhood seems to stem from the misunderstood number that 90% of all casualties in war are civilians mentioned in the article.  The author makes two assumptions with that quote. First, casualty does not necessarily mean fatality  and “civilian” is being used interchangeably with “women.”  Associating ‘gender’ with ‘women’ is a common mistake, one that I’ve dealt with in my own classes.

If the data is restricted to conflict related deaths or the intentional killing of civilians by a combatant than men become far more likely to be victims than women, approximately 10 times more likely.

If you expand the definition of victimhood to include sexual violence and other types of conflict related attacks, that may sway the data but men are not immune to sexual abuse.  When it comes to indirect violence such as disease and malnutrition a study by ICRC states that women may be disproportionately represented in refugee camps, however the American Political Science review states that within civil wars women are more likely to perish from indirect violence.  While these reports don’t contradict each other they demonstrate the divide in how to measure gender violence and the difficulties in gathering data on indirect violence.

The very term “gender violence” is often misused to mean ‘violence against women’ by policy agencies and academics.  This gender stereotype has deadly consequences for men as it equates a person’s sex with gender roles in battle.  If it is accepted that men are combatants, then they all become targets and a woman’s role in combatant is not questioned. This binary categorization of the genders in combat is resulting in men not being allowed civilian status and protection as is happening on the Syrian/Jordanian border.  

Why does any of this matter?  Changing the views of male victimhood may change the way we see larger societal gender roles.  The feminist movement has long used the woman warrior to challenge gender roles, its odd that male victims have not been used for the same goal.