War affects sexual debut

Rwanda and DR Congo have both been plagued by violent wars that have left millions of dead. These large-scale conflicts can be measured, but so too can everyday events in women’s lives. In this way, the connection between war and everyday life can be identified.

For her thesis, Elina Lindskog, a sociologist specialising in demography, is undertaking three studies that cross-reference statistics on sexual debut, birth and infant mortality with conflict data.

In her first study, she maps the age of women in Rwanda at the time they first had premarital sex during the war and the genocide of the 1990’s. Her results show a significant increase in sex before marriage during the genocide.

“The probability of having numerous sex partners increases with early sexual debut.  This leads to augmented risk of STDs, unwanted pregnancies and dangerous abortions. It’s crucial to clarify these linkages to enable government authorities and organisations to respond,” says Lindskog.

There is currently a lack of research on these issues and she hopes her studies will help to fill the void. However, she admits that her methodology has shortcomings.

“My data don’t cover migration, which is crucial. Women in refugee camps have not been interviewed. Many of the most vulnerable women died, and they are not included in my data either.”

Her second study considers the number of births during the war in DR Congo.

“Normally, the birth rate decreases during wars, and is followed by a baby boom. However, in DR Congo the rate was high even during the conflict. I’m looking at the timing of each birth to identify the trend.”

Lindskog is also mapping geographical differences in her studies. The basis for her research project is the extensive statistics in the “Demographic Health Surveys”, which are combined with Uppsala based data on conflicts.

During her attachment to the Nordic Africa Institute, Lindskog has focused on the third of her themes, infant mortality in DR Congo during the war. In conflicts, the risk to everyone of being killed increases, but babies are by far the most vulnerable. Maternal well-being during pregnancy and delivery are both crucial to the health of mother and child, and access to clean water is another crucial factor in infant survival.

“The risk of sexual violence also increases in conflicts and it can be very difficult to access health care”, says Lindskog.

Lindskog’s research method is focused on comparing existing statistics:

“This approach allows one to detect patterns, which other researchers can mine more deeply, she concludes.”

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