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.