Sierra Leone: Victims Or Perpetrators – Analysis
By Cemre Yapici
There has been increasing acceptance that to understand importance of the nature of conflict and post conflict process with the effect of gender roles and masculinity in recent years all over the world (Cockburn,1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997). Meanwhile, gender issues have come into prominence within all base of society and concerning to prominence of conflict, their effect on situations of armed conflict and peace process are particularly marked in the academic literature(Moser and Clark, 2001). Some feminist scholars claim that considering and studying conflict without gender is incomplete and biased yet, the different roles and behaviors of women, men determine the way that how conflicts and peace process playout (Cockburn,1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997).
In other words, social expectations with the effect of stereotypes have impact upon the way that people play in efforts to armed conflict and peace process (Cockburn, 1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997). Furthermore, the notion of the victim has been characterized by masculinity dominated gender stereotypes (Cockburn, 1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997). Gender power is seen to create an assumption that women are only “victims of conflict”, whereas; men are “heroes” and “perpetrators” (Cockburn, 1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001)
Politicization of rape has been another conspicuous component of victimization of women in order to overshadow active participation and agency of female combatants and create a single –sided and subjective understanding of armed conflict (Cockburn, 1999; 2001, El- Bushra, 2007 Moser and Clark, 2001). On the other hand, stereotypical gender roles and politics of victimhood have played crucial role in terms of effectiveness of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process in conflict areas to keep stable peace and equality between male and female combatants (Carlson andMazurana,2004 MacKenzie, 2009). Female combatants are excluded from these policies because of stereotypical assumption that women are as only victims and symbol of peace and innocence (Carlson andMazurana,2004 MacKenzie, 2009).
Regarding these, it is significant to understand that how gender norms and stereotypes interact with armed conflict and post- conflict re-integration process (Cockburn, 1999; 2001, El- Bushra, 2017,) In this essay, I particularly focus on the notion of gender roles, its substituted components such as power, agency and politics of victimization in detail to challenge supposition that men are “perpetrators of conflict”; whereas, “women are victims and peace envoy” and to demonstrate that how stereotypical understanding of conflict impact upon both understanding of armed conflict and integration policies in post- conflict zones with case study and empirical qualitative analysis from Sierra Leone.
Gender Roles, Masculinity and Stereotypes
“Gender refers to socially politically constructed roles, behaviors and attributes that a society considers which one most appropriate and valuable for women and men”(Gender Analysis of Toolkit for Saferworld, 2013; pg.2) Nonetheless, “gender norms are sets of expectations about how people of each gender should participate in society from masculine or feminine perspective and are produced by culture, education, social construction and media” (Gender Analysis of Toolkit for Saferworld, 2013: pg.2). Masculinity refers to anything which is associated with men, just as femininity refers to anything which is associated with women (Gender Analysis of Toolkit, for Saferworld 2013). At the same time, with the effect of constructed gender roles women and femininity are associated with positivity, peace, emotional, innocence, victim, need for protection, nursing, affection, maternity, care and motherhood, whereas; men are associated with war, perpetrators, autonomy, aggression, heroism, rational and protection (Cockburn,1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997).
However, many feminist scholars have emphasized that “gender is not only way to differ women and men but it also is a system of power and agency which shapes to lives, relationship and access to resources within a society, conflict and post- conflict because both agency and power as concepts have applicability”(Cockburn,1999; 20001 El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997). In social sciences, agency is described as the capacity of individuals to act and make their own choices independently (Cockburn, 1999; 2001, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001, Yuval Davis, 1997).
According to feminist authors, it is important to distinguish between official power and informal power correspond to notions of male and female power to promote a distinct divide between men as powerful and women as powerless and needy respectively (Cockburn,1999; 20001 El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001).On the other hand, Cockburn, analyses “how the importance of gender differentiation and local constructions of masculinities and femininities is embedded in issues of agency and power”(Clark and Moser, 2001: pg.5) She identifies the significance of gendered power relations in order to indicate that stereotyping underestimates people’s role as social actors in different moments of conflict (Clark and Moser, 2001). In each stage, it is the contextually specific female and male stereotyping, positioning and agency in patriarchal gender systems (Clark and Moser, 2001). Also, Sharoni and Butalia challenge the relation between gender, power and agency with the assumption that “power is a male monopoly, whereas, women are perceived as powerless and lacking of agency in armed conflict and political violence” (Clark and Moser, 2001, pg: 8).
Therefore, stereotypical essentializing and labelling of women as ‘victims’ particularly of sexual abuse or rape and men as ‘perpetrators’ ‘heroes’ and ‘defender’ on the behalf of the nation and their wives, children and honors have universal phenomenon (Cockburn,1999; 20001 El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001). In other words, many versions of constructed gender roles with the effect of hegemonic masculinity are constituted in the practice of fighting: “to be a real man is to be ready to fight and, to kill and to die” on the behalf of honor of the nation, flag, women and children” (Cockburn,1999; 20001Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001).
Having said that, building upon the imaginary of familial symbolism as another significant result of stereotyping of patriarchy constructed gender roles, because label women as naturally positive, peace envoy, victim and needy for protection (Cockburn,1999; 20001 El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001)To illustrate, images of motherland tend to be symbolized as a woman who is biological reproducer of nation, victim, needy and lacking of agency, whereas enemies tend to be symbolized as a male who threatens, damages or embargos motherland (Cockburn,1999; 2001, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2001).
As a result, in this way, it is easy to leave aside women’s agency, roles and potentials in armed conflict, and gain them unacknowledged roles; whereas, to gain men activate roles as the most agent social actor responsible for both armed conflict and peace process (Cockburn, 2000, El- Bushra,2017, Jacobson et al..2000, Moser and Clark, 2000, Yuval Davis, 1997).
Politics of Victimization: Sexual Abuse, Rape and Violence Against Women
The notion of the ‘victim’ is always feminized by male power women and children are victims, whereas, men are aggressor (Clark and Moser, 2001, Turshen, 2001). The problem is even more complicated and problematic when ‘victim’ is related with ‘lack of agency’ because the notion of victim has become a socially constructed identity which adulterates women experiences and participation of armed conflict (Clark and Moser, 2001, Turshen 2001).
That is why, the concept of victim has been attached with sexual violence, and rape against women during armed conflict (Clark and Moser, 2001) Having said that, Caroline Moser outlines three categories of violence, citing political and economic violence in addition to the more common reported social or interpersonal violence (Moser, 2001). This informative definition has played significant and advanced role in terms of understanding of gender and armed conflict because it leads to understand the specific reasons of rape and sexual violence during armed conflict (Moser and Clark 2001, Turshen, 2001). On the other hand, sexual violence and conflict have been complicated and controversial themes in terms of armed conflict and political violence in accordance with women’s rights and agency (Clark and Moser, 2001; Cockburn, 2001; Turshen, 2001)
Moser’s analysis about different types of political violence interrogates the political of rape and sexual abuse as an aspect of political and economic violence during armed conflict(Moser, 2001). Moreover, Moser describes her analysis from the aspect of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women yet, both sexual abuse and rape are gendered and male dominated activities because of ideologically male power dominated gender roles, relations, agencies and identities stereotypically (Moser, 2001; Turshen, 2001).
In other words, the gendered continuum of rape has been significant role as a systematic strategy of armed conflict because rape during the armed conflict is a socially constructed and male power dominated (Moser, 2001; Turshen,2001). At the same time, it has a traditional sexist role as a result of stereotypical gender relations between men and women (Moser, 2001; Turshen,2001). Especially, systematic and militarized rape and sexual abuse are among the strategies of men to commodify women by disregarding women’s agency and active roles(Turshen, 2001) because militarized rape has been directly related role as a function of formal institutions such as the states’ national security, defense of military arm, and honor of the country(Turshen, 2001).
Meredith Turshen describes the relationship between systematic rape and commodification of women agency in detail. Turhsen claims that “concepts of virtue and family honor objectify women, as does to need to protect a woman’s virginity for the reputation of her family” (Turshen, 20001: pg. 65) in order not to acknowledge women’s individual rights as society’s inalienable property (Turshen, 2001). In this way, militarized and systematic rape have cultural significance role for commodification of women by being honor of the nation, family and state (Moser, 2000, Turshen,2001) because “behind the cultural significance of raping ‘enemy’ women lies at the institutionalization of attitudes and practices that regard and treat women as property and honors of the state” (Turshen,2001: pg. 60).
To add more, both biased gender roles and politics of victimization against women have negative impact upon both the understanding of active participation of female combatants in armed conflict and post conflict re- integration, rehabilitation policies(Carlson andMazurana,2004 Cockburn 2000, MacKenzie, 2009, Moser, 2000). In conjunction with these indications, the active role of female combatants in armed conflict has become a crucial theme in gender and conflict studies
Women as Actors in Armed Conflict in Sierra Leone: Stereotypes versus Evidence
Female combatants’ role, agency and active participation remain invisible during armed conflict because of male power dominated gender roles, whereas; women participate in armed conflict actively (Coulter, 2008, Mazurana and Carlson, 2004). The number of female combatants in armed forces have increasing in recent years despite armed forces have traditionally known asmale dominated institutions (Brett 2002, Coulter, 2008, Coulter et al.. 2008MacMullin and Loughry 2004, Mazurana et al. 2002). Especially, “in many of the African ‘independence wars’, often with a socialist agenda, women’s liberation was seen as sufficient and essential component of the overall struggle” (Nzomo,2002, Coulteret al.. 2008).
At the same time, particularly, in African armed conflict women have shown themselves as capable as men in terms of performing acts and what is worse, local populations and data prove that female fighters are even more brutal and cruel than male fighters (Coulter et al… 2008, Coulter, 2008, Carlson, 2004). That is why, it is significant to understand what women do in actual fact of armed conflict (Coulteret al .. 2008). However, there is a tendency even in studies of women, gender and war, women do not participate in armed conflict actively because of some stereotypical assumptions (Cohen, 2013, Coulter, 2008, Mazurana and Carlson 2004).
To illustrate, women have either supporting roles such as cooks, cleaners, and sexual slaves to male combatants or are victims of the armed conflict regardless of their death ratio and symbol of innocence, peace, peace envoy or stereophonic icons of war in conjunction with gender biased stereotypes and politics of victimization (Cohen, 2013, Coulter, 2008 Mazurana and Carlson, 2004). Hence, understanding the role of female fighters and combatants technicality in armed conflict has related with other subjects such as victimization, violence, gender and sexual abuse(Cohen 2013, Mazurana and Carlson, 2004). In this part of the essay, I critically analyze women’s role as perpetuators of conflict in order to challenge the general stereotypical understanding of armed conflict with case study about Sierra Leone.
“The Sierra Leone civil war began on 23 March 1991, when a small rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, entered southeaster part of the country from Liberia. The war continued in varying degrees of intensity throughout the 1990s, and pace was officially declared on 18 January 2002. The rebels were accused of committing widespread atrocities namely, cutting off people’s limbs, creating mass destruction. The war has been described as one of the more brutal in the late twentieth century, its levels of brutality compared to that of Rwanda or Cambodia in the 1970s. Approximately, 75.000 people were killed, and many more injured. Also, the war was particularly destructive in the rural areas, in particular the diamond rich east. Today, after two peaceful post- war elections the country enjoys a fragile stability.”(Coulter, 2008:pg.58)
Furthermore, Sierra Leone civil war is not only a case as one of the most brutal conflict, it is also a controversial issue in terms of female combatants because most of them were abducted from rebel forces. Coulter, 2008).Despite, some of them were abducted by rebel forces, they had active participation in formation of armed conflict (Coulter,2008, Mazurana and Carlson, 2004). That is why, the category of female fighters in Sierra Leone civil war (1991-2002) challenges the gendered stereotypes of women as ‘victim’ of armed conflict because of lacking of agency or women have essential services in armed conflict namely, carrying water, washing clothes, finding food, cooking or sexual slave, whereas” men are labelled as the perpetrator, power and heroes of the armed conflict (Coulter, 2008, Mazurana and Carlson, 2004).
During the discourse of the Sierra Leone civil war (1991-2002), it is estimated that between 10 and 30 percent of all fighters were women and girls (Richards, 1996;89; Mazurana and Carlson, 2004: McKay and Mazurana, 2004; 92, Save the Children, 2005). Also, during and after the civil war, stories of brutality of combatant women became a popular and interesting theme especially in terms of gender studies as an example to challenge stereotypical and male power dominated assumptions and to show that female fighters would be more cruel, cold- blooded than men (Coulter, 2004, Cohen, 2013). In Sierra Leone, many female combatants actively participate armed conflict as fighters who kill, and behave both civilians and enemies mercilessly (Coulter,2008, Cohen, 2013).
Also, being messengers between rebel camps, spices, communication technician or distributor of weapons to boy and girl fighters and to train them how to attack enemy forces are other decisive roles of female fighters during armed conflict (Coulter, 2008).Dara Kay Cohen and Chris Coulter analysis war time rape and female fighters in civil war with original evidences including interviews with ex-combatants and survey data, which prove that female combatants perpetrated rape and sexual abuse, violence against civilians (Cohen, 2013 Coulter, 2008). Particularly, interviews with ex- combatants in Sierra Leone reveal how gender roles mislead understanding of conflict. For instance, Aminata and Ramatu as ex- female combatants in armed conflict report that,
“If you are not trained and you meet your, enemy, how can you fight to rescue your life? Women were really fighting. If you saw us entering Waterloo on the 5th of January, to enter the city, (Freetown) you would not have been able to look at our faces. We were bloody. We were like slaves, very dirty. So to ask about women fighting! Some were even braver than men” (Interview with Aminata, female ex- fighter in Sierra Leone, January 2004, Coulter, 2008: pg,5).
“All members of the fighting party, including the women and the girls, would then drink the blood so they would not be afraid during the attack. They would then cut the person’s throat turn them upsdie down: and ‘squeeze them from toe to head’ to drain their blood into bucket”. (Interview with Ramatu T, female ex- combatants in Sierra Leone).
Furthermore, the results of empirical data display to what extent female combatants have active role and are cruel. Cohen analyses that, there is a hypothesized correlation between the large number of women fighters and high levels of civilian rape (Cohen,2013). In fact,
“data from Sierra Leone indicate that the proportion of women in an armed group is positively associated with the sexual violence committed by the group and the date contradict one of the central observable implications of the traditional perspective: groups with more women not only committed rape but actually committed more rape than did groups with fewer women” (Cohen 2013: pg.399).Allin all, empirical analyses, interviews and data from Sierra Leone indicate that female combatants commit an offense in armed conflict just as male combatants do.
Women’s and Girl’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Policies in Sierra Leone
International policy makers classify Disarmament, Demobilization and Re- integration programs as one of the most crucial components for post- conflict areas to keep peace process and gender equality stable (Carlson and Mazurana, 2004). Indeed, DDR programs have played essentialrole in terms of peace- keeping process for The United Nations and other international peace operations because they build secure field in post conflict zones by improving human capacity (Carlson and Mazurana, 2004).
The World Bank has defined a successful DDR program as the key factor for an effective transition from war to peace (Carlson and Mazurana, 2004). The United Nations defines disarmament as “.. the collection of small and light and heavy weapons within a conflict zone” (Carlson andMazurana,2004: pg,8). Demobilization is described “as both the formal disbanding of military formations and the release of combatants from a ‘mobilized’ state”; (Carlson and Mazurana, 2004: pg,8) whereas, reintegration refers “initial reinsertion such as the short – term arrival of an ex- combatants into his| her former home or into a new community and long-term reintegration” (Carlson and Mazurana, 2004: pg,8).
However, the lack of recognition women’s active role and participation in armed conflict leads to doubled victimization of female combatants in reintegration and rehabilitation policies in post conflict areas (Carlson andMazurana, 2004 MacKenzie, 2009). Sierra Leone’s case study of female ex- combatants evidently demonstrates the negative impact of gender roles on post- conflict integration and rehabilitation programs in terms of particularly females (Carlson and Mazurana,2004 MacKenzie,2009).
“DDR programs started to be implemented in Sierra Leone from 1998 to 2003 and it has been supported from the United Nations, the World Bank. From the time of its implementation in 1998, 72,500 former combatants passed through the program, including 4,751 women (6.5 percent)” (Carlson, Mazurana, pg:6).
In theory, female combatants have been included in DDR processes but, as Mazurana and Carlson noted, “most programmes are more effective in reaching out to male fighters than female fighters who are constantly underserved” (Mazurana and Carlson 2004:pg 2). Also, DDR program in Sierra Leone was seen as a fundamental and indispensable element for the country’s transition out of civil conflict (Mazurana and Carlson, 2004). However, MacKenzie, Mazurana and Carlson critically examines the recommendations of DDR programs into the country. In her analysis, MacKenzie demonstrates that the extent to which females participated as combatants, in contrast to low numbers participated in DDR programs (MacKenzie, 2009).
On the other hand, Mazurana and Calrson’s study and analysis about DDR programs and female fighters in Sierra Leone strengthen MacKenzie’s analysis. Mazurana and Carlson state that majority of the women and girls as ex- combatants and fightersneither participated nor benefited from DDR programs in Sierra Leone (Mazurana and Carlson, 2004). That is why, ex-female combatants are excluded from the society in Sierra Leone (Mazurana and Carlson, 2004, MacKenzie, 2009). On the other hand, there are some specific reasons to understand exclusion of female fighters from DDR programs in Sierra Leone. MacKenzie, Carlson and Mazurana explain these specific reasons of exclusion of women combatants from DDR process in detail.
The one of the most important reasons is that the representative of the stereotypical and historical understanding of women roles such as “camp followers”, “sex slaves” or wives of male leaders (MacKenzie, 2009) to explain why DDR programs failed in terms of female fighters in the post conflict context in Sierra Leone. The second important reason is the requirement of weapon in order to be defined as combatant (MacKenzie, 2009). In Sierra Leone, Coulter found that half of the interviewed female ex-fighters claimed that they had actually wanted to disarmand re- integrate but only a handful could participate because out of those 22 percent stated that the reason for this was that they did not have access to a weapon (Coulter ,2004, MacKenzie, 2009).
In addition, MacKenzie, Carlson and Mazurana regard international and local communities responsible because of their stereotypical, male power dominated attitudes toward female combatants as another reason to explain the exclusion of female combatants from DDR programs (Mazurana and Carlson, 2004, MacKenzie, 2009).MacKenzie criticizes that the international organizations and media concentrate on just female victims (MacKenzie, 2009).”There are many examples of internationally supported programs directed at female victims of conflict; whereas, there are few programs (in fact almost none) that are directed at ex-female combatants” (MacKenzie, 2009; pg, 245)Finally, MacKenzie focuses on importance of leaving aside traditionally male dominated gender roles in order to keep stable peace and (gender equality) in Sierra Leone (MacKenzie, 2009). Briefly, Sierra Leone’s DDR process failed to attract women combatants compare to male combatants yet, females’ active experiences, roles, and agencies during the armed conflict were not acknowledged because of the assumption that women and girls are only victims, and symbol of innocence, peace, sex slaves and cooker in armed conflict (Carlson and Mazurana, 2004, MacKenzie, 2009).
Male power dominated gender roles and stereotypes have crucial impacts upon both understanding of armed conflict and post- conflict disarmament, reintegration policies in conflict zones because women are labelled as peace envoy, sign of innocence, sex slaves and victim; whereas, men are labelled heroes, and perpetrator of armed conflict.
At the same time, politics of victimisation toward just females to underestimate their agency and power in armed conflict have another impact upon shaping of armed conflict. However, in reality, females have active participation as combatants in armed conflict and commit an offence like male combatants do. Sierra Leone civil war has plays important role in order to challenge this male power dominated understanding of armed conflict because female combatants have participated actively in conflict and committed rape just like men combatants have done.
Results of both qualitative and quantitative research about Sierra Leone indicate that groups with more women not only committed rape but actually committed more rape than did groups with fewer women. Despite the fact that, female combatants have active participation in armed conflict, they are excluded from Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process in post- conflict context because of male dominated stereotypes and understanding of conflict in Sierra Leone. Also, attitudes of both international and domestic communities and NGOs toward female fighters as a victim of the conflict led to exclusion of female fighters from DDR process into the country. In other words, DDR process failed to integrate ex- female combatants into the society.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy
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