Panel 14

Gender, sexuality and violence during and after humanitarian crises

Panel organiser: Rachel Gordon, Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium and Tufts University, USA

E-mail of panel organiser: Discussant: Ingela Winter-Norberg, Sida

It is widely acknowledged that humanitarian crises caused by conflicts, natural hazards, and public health emergencies such as Ebola impact people differently depending on their gender, age, ethnicity, and other social markers. However, we have limited understanding of exactly how those impacts are gendered. In addition, relatively little is known about the gendered nature of people’s responses to their circumstances in the midst of such crises, and how crises may (re)shape gender relations and social norms.

This panel, convened by the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC), will explore sexual violence and exploitation as well as the use of transactional sex as a livelihoods strategy in crisis contexts in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The panel invites contributions on sexual violence, sexual exploitation, transactional sex, masculinities in humanitarian crises, and aid interventions addressing the above issues.

Approved abstracts panel 14

1. All violence is gender(ed) violence: men, women, and aid programming in crisis.

Author: Rachel Gordon (Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium and Tufts University, USA)

Discussions of gender, violence, and conflict usually focus on sexual and gender-based violence. “SGBV” has become such a common catch-all term that the acronym is rarely explained, much less unpacked, and it has dominated some headlines along with NGO budget ledgers governing aid response to many conflicts. Prostitution, early marriage and pregnancy, and FGM, associated with both conflict and ‘recovery’ contexts across the continent, are similarly recipients of consternation, concern, and capital resources intended by well-meaning policymakers and aid practitioners to bring an end to such ‘scourges.’ This paper draws on research in South Sudan, Uganda, and Sierra Leone to interrogate these well-intentioned efforts, which tend to repeat and reproduce the unfortunate – and unfortunately common – conflation of ‘sexual’ and ‘gender’ with ‘women,’ with several effects. First, this tends to ignore sexual violence against men, including the ways in which men are forced to commit violence (sexual and otherwise) against women or other men as part of their participation in armed groups. It overlooks the ways in which violence both committed and experienced by men is based in socialized demands of male demonstration of masculinity. It also elides structural and economic violence against women, and the gendered manifestations of the every-day violence of poverty and desperation that drive participation in ‘risky’ occupations and behaviours by men and women, and boys and girls alike. Finally, programming responses tend to focus on ‘empowerment’ of women and girls – as if power exists to be redistributed by authorities and aid agencies – rather than addressing larger social norms and narratives that normalize violence, misogyny, and male dominance.

Key words: Gender, Africa, Crisis, Aid, SGBV

2. Surviving the post conflict: The everyday lives of women survivors of sexual war crimes and their children born of rape in Northern Uganda

Authors: Teddy Atim (Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, Uganda, and Tufts University, USA) or
Dyan Mazurana (Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, Uganda, and Tufts University, USA)

Sexual war crimes against women and their children born of rape has gained increased attention. Evidence exists of the long term consequences of experiencing such violence on attaining social harmony in the post conflict periods. Studies show that girls and women who return with children born of sexual war crimes experience ongoing re-victimisation and discrimination. This paper draws on both quantitative and qualitative data to explore and analyse the lives of female survivors of conflict related sexual violence and their children born of war in Lango and Acholi sub regions of Northern Uganda. The paper provides more nuances to their daily lives, challenges and survival of the mothers and their children. The findings show that ongoing challenges faced by the mothers and their children are deeply rooted in the socio-cultural norms and practices that are discriminatory and stigmatising towards women, and which become amplified by experiences of sexual violence and having children outside marriage, in particular with Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commanders.

3. Sexual violence response in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Author: Nynke Douma (Independent research consultant WHYZE communications & research, Netherlands)

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is known internationally for its vast mineral resources, its wars, and the conflict-related sexual violence that has affected the lives of a very large number of victims. Along with the growing awareness of these phenomena, the number of programmes addressing sexual violence in DRC is impressive, with remarkable achievements in diminishing taboos, helping victims heal and recover, and criminalising and prosecuting perpetrators.

Over the past years, however, questions have emerged about the effects and effectiveness of sexual violence response programmes. Research conducted in 2011 revealed a number of negative effects related to the complexity of the problem, the political, social and cultural context in DRC, and false assumptions and biases in the interventions. Based on these findings, we argued that sexual violence in DRC was often understood as a single-cause, single-type phenomenon (rape caused by conflict), without taking the complex context into consideration. We also note that programmes too often dealt with symptoms rather than contributing factors, and fail to include broader themes and wider community needs. This risks creating false victims and parallel services. Furthermore, coordination was poor and sexual violence assistance was largely detached from overall development planning. Finally, the interventions in the justice sector failed to ensure the independent functioning of Congolese legal actors and often created unfair trials.

Congolese stakeholders and some international actors had already identified most of these critiques, but they had not yet been openly debated. As this was expected to change, follow- up research was conducted in 2014 to identify how engagement and practices on sexual violence response had evolved.

It was found that since 2011, attention to sexual violence has indeed become more regulated and coordination has improved, including with regard to the engagement of the Congolese government. The approaches of actors dealing with sexual violence also changed, with more attention for other forms of gender-based violence, women’s empowerment and leadership. Victim-oriented support largely transformed into community-based responses. There is also more recognition of other medical needs.

However, the discrepancy between international rhetoric and realities on the ground is large, with international representations still focusing on conflict related rape. This is problematic from an ethical point of view, comes at the expense of transparency, and makes it difficult to scrutinize programmes for their effectiveness. Another major concern is that the fight against impunity has found a way in the political economy of survival and corruption, especially in the cities, where accusations of sexual violence are often used for revenge or extortion. Citizen disengagement with the issue of sexual violence has become stronger as a result.

4. “Kila mutu alisha kuwa chef”: Economic life of markets in east DRC: Case of Bukavu

Author: Gloria Nguya (Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium and Wageningen University, Netherlands) /

It’s often assumed that governance in fragile states is related to the absence of institutions of the state or the incapacity of the state to assume its role as provider of basics services. This argument is frequently used in relation to DRC, particularly eastern DRC. Since 1996, eastern DRC has become a territory of conflict. It makes the area an interesting place to come to a better understanding of the role of the state in situations where it is considered not to exist or seen as collapsing. To better understand the role of the state, this research will look at the organisation of the market place as a particular place where both state and non-state actors play a role in governance. To get access to the market, people and particularly women need to understand the rules of the game. The sociology of economic life approach is really helpful in understanding different actors involved in the organisation of markets, and to depict the interaction of formal and informal spheres in everyday economic life. In this paper, the exploration of these rules highlights the presence of the state which is often said to be absent or non-existing, the relevance of hybrid governance in the market, the role of different networks in the markets, and finally the interaction between formal and informal market. Most important, the paper suggests that the interaction of formal and informal institutions are taking advantage of vulnerable women, especially Internally Displaced Persons.

5. At home and in the bush: Sex, marriage, and masculinity among (ex)combatants in northern Uganda

Author: Holly Porter (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK),

When it comes to rape in war, evocative language of rape as “weapon of war” or the female body as battlefield are commonplace. Yet often such language does not map onto the lived experiences of men and women caught up in violence and assumes a level deliberate strategicness that can distort understandings of actions of fighters in armed groups—and thus theories of rape in war. For young men in the Lord’s Resistance Army, they were often (though not always) forcibly conscripted as teenagers into a group with a high level of sexual regulation — where opportunities for sex were in one of two ways: as a reward in the form of a forced marriage — usually not with a partner of their choosing; or, in violation of strictly enforced rules where consequences included death or castration. In this context, many male LRA fighters came of age, often had “wives” and fathered children. However, little is known about how these experiences of “the bush” shape their current, post-reintegration, intimate relations and understandings of masculinity. Based on over seven years of ethnographic work in northern Uganda focused on gender and sexual violence and long-term relationships with ex-LRA, this paper examines understandings of masculinities through the lens of sexual relationships young men had with women and girls in the LRA compared to their civilian sexual relationships in civilian life. The paper moves towards explanations of the sexual relationships (whether violent or not) of ex-combatants by giving attention to the interplay between personal agency of young men seeking affirmation of manhood through their intimate relationships as well as the bodily enactment of broader masculine sexual norms in the moral spaces of “bush” and “home.”

Key words: Gender, Africa, War

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