Young women in African Wars

Children in front of recruitment poster for the new Liberian army. Including women in the rank and file have been an important task in the Security Sector Reform that Liberia is currently going through. Picture taken in Buchanan 2006 by Mats Utas.

Coordinator: Mats Utas
Project established in 2007, finalized in 2012

Women are both victims and perpetrators in African wars. This policy project has aimed at unraveling some of the complexities of young female livelihoods and survival during the difficult times of civil wars. The participants in this project have specific research experience studying young women in African wars leading to conclusions going well beyond the ordinary. Drawing on research the intention with the project is to provide policy makers and aid practitioners with state-of-the-art overviews of the situation for young women in African war and post-war situations as well as giving recommendations in order to enhance efficient aid to young women in these fragile situations. Four publications have been published by the Nordic Africa Institute: A shorter overview of young women (2007) and a longer one with focus on young female fighters (2008), both authored by Chris Coulter, Mariam Persson and Mats Utas; A policy note on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping missions (2009) by Fanny Rúden and Mats Utas; and finally a longer study on survivors of sexual abuse and local means of trauma healing (2009) by Mats Utas.

Beyond ”Gender and Stir”: Reflections on gender and SSR in the aftermath of African conflicts, NAI Policy Dialogue, no. 9, 2012. Editors: Mats Utas and Maria Eriksson Baaz, (Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Conflict, Displacement and Transformation).

Despite general agreement that security sector reform (SSR) efforts need to be gendered, there is less concurrence on what gendering means and how it should be achieved. The policy field of gender and SSR is characterised by handbooks rather than empirical studies.

Young female fighters in African wars: conflict and its consequences (NAI Policy dialogue no. 3 2008) and Young women in African Wars (NAI Policy Note no. 1 2007) Authors: Chris Coulter, Mariam Persson and Mats Utas

Young women are combatants in contemporary African wars. They also participate in a whole array of different roles. However, by and large, they remain invisible to us. In fact, our hackneyed ‘Northern’ views on women’s innate non-participation in war prevent us from seeing the specific needs of young women during and in the aftermath of wars. For instance, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR ) programmes often fail to address the appropriate needs of young women and in a variety of ways ‘prevent’ them from participating. Issues of stigma, safe demobilization, and individual concerns about post-war marriage, health and education need to be addressed both in a more gendered way, and with an appropriate understanding of young women’s agency in both peace and war. In Young female fighters in African wars and Young women in African Wars we argue that to improve policy and programming efforts it is necessary to broaden the understanding of young women’s roles and participation in armed conflict in Africa historically and today.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeeping Operations in Contemporary Africa (NAI Policy Note no. 2 2009) Authors: Fanny Rúden and Mats Utas

In international peacekeeping operations (PKOs) some individuals are involved in sexual exploitation and abuse of the host country’s population, buying of sexual services and trafficking of prostitutes. Far from being a new phenomenon it goes back a long time, and reports on the issue have increased over the years. All too frequently we read about peacekeepers visiting prostitutes, committing rape, or in other ways sexually exploiting host populations. Some peacekeepers are taking advantage of the power their work gives them, and becoming abusers rather than protectors in situations where the host population is powerless and in dire need of protection. Peace­keepers’ abuse of their mandate is inflicting severe damage on host societies and often results in a number of unintended consequences such as human rights violations, rapid spread of HIV, decreased trust in the UN as well as other international aid agencies, and harmful changes to gender patterns. Peacekeep­ing operations risk doing more harm than good in African war zones, and if they cannot learn from previous mistakes maybe they ought to stay at home. In Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeeping Operations in Contemporary Africa we do not argue for the latter; rather, we point towards the urgent need to change explicit and implicit patterns and habits in international peacekeeping operations in relation to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in Africa.

Sexual Abuse Survivors and the Complex of Traditional Healing: (G)local Prospects in the Aftermath of an African War (NAI Policy Dialogue no. 4 2009) Author: Mats Utas

The United Nations and many international non-government organizations (INGOs) involved with emergency aid in African conflicts have for some time been debating the issue of whether and how traditional healing methods can, or should, be included in postwar aid programmes; whilst at the same time very little scholarly literature have been available to throw light on it. Sexual abuse survivors and the complex of traditional healing takes a hands-on approach to answer these questions by digging into the complexities of local socio-culture and tradition of one country while at the same time giving some very specific suggestions on how practically to proceed in the field. The study gives insights into sexual abuse and local healing methods from the aftermath of one war: the Sierra Leone civil war (1991–2002). Although the focus is on a specific country, it is not my intention to limit the audience to humanitarian aid workers and policy makers interested in this country only, but rather, by giving enough depth to a single case study, to open up a more general discussion on the question of how to deal with sexual traumas in African civil wars.

Gender relations
Mats Utas
Policy making
Women's role
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