The carnival is up
Topic: 16 Days
The first part of the Carnival of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is up at Black Looks. I'm looking forward to going through the linked posts at greater length soon.
Blogging Against Gender Violence (Post 2)
Topic: 16 Days
My previous post
discussed how women's rights activists pushed to have acts of gender-based violence recognized as violations of women's human rights in international human rights language and instruments, and how these efforts appeared to reach critical mass in the early-to-mid 1990s.
In doing my thesis research, I found it very interesting that it was also in the early 1990s that one of the first documented allegations of widespread sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers arose. The UN had a massive operation in Cambodia from 1991, aimed at helping the country transition from Khmer Rouge rule to democratic government. Other international organizations moved into or increased their operations in Cambodia at this time, as well. One effect of huge influx of foreigners, the majority of them men, was a substantial increase in prostitution. And, according to an open letter to the UN Special Representative signed by both expatriates and Cambodians, enough male UN personnel behaved as if Phnom Penh was a sexual-free-for-all -- propositioning, harassing and assaulting women they worked with and women on the street -- that many women felt unsafe. The UN Special Representative's response to these charges was, effectively, "Boys will be boys."*
This attitude gets at some of what Sokari is concerned with when she talks about the normalization of gender violence. This behavior, by and large, was not seen as a problem -- at least, not by the people who were in a position to do something about it. It was just men being "manly." For ten years, the problem largely went unnoticed and unaddressed in major international arenas, until the 2002 release of a joint report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children. The report revealed widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of refugees in West Africa. Stories from major Western media focused on cases where male employees of the UN and international organizations exchanging money, gifts, relief supplies, or the promise of jobs, for sex with young women and teenaged girls. They also highlighted stories of aid supplies being withheld from families to coerce women into sex. Reports of sexual violence against women and girls were not as widely featured, but were present in the report. With external attention and pressure finally on, the UN and major aid organizations began implementing policies aimed at protecting vulnerable people from such abuses in the future. However, reports of abuse continue to surface. Just this past summer, allegations
of sexual abuse and misconduct were levied against UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Cote d'Ivoire.
Why did it take so long for the UN and other international organizations to recognize that sexual misconduct on the part of its employees was a problem? And why does it continue to be a problem? There are a lot of factors, but one that I found particularly critical is that national militaries (the suppliers of peacekeeping soldiers) and the management of large aid organizations are set up to encourage certain kinds of people to succeed and advance. There tends to be a rather limited range of mindsets, lifestyles, and concerns that are shared among the leaders of these organizations, even as the set of traits vary among organizations to some extent. The leadership of these organizations does not include large numbers of women. Neither do they tend to include large numbers of people, men or women, who concern themselves with issues of sex and gender. Where there is a high degree of homogeneity among leadership in an organization, there will tend to be a strong idea about what is "normal" behavior, and it will take a lot of energy to create change.
Changing military culture is particularly challenging, because one of the long-standing ways that militaries have created bonds among men is by dehumanizing women and vilifying "feminine" behavior and values. In War and Gender, Joshua Goldstein explores at length the way military culture attempts to reduce women to objects for soldiers' use. Women on the homefront provide something to fight for, nurses provide support and assistance. The small numbers of women soldiers in combat positions or combat zones have done little to affect this overall treatment of women in military culture - in fact, women often get by or get ahead by being "one of the boys" themselves. "Enemy" women are a threat, a potential source of attack or distraction, and therefore targets for violence and abuse. Changing these attitudes means convincing military leaders that training tactics and military culture need changing, which is a huge challenge. Many countries have not even been convinced that peacekeeping soldiers should have training on gender issues before deployment, a much smaller change than weeding out the misogynistic practices and attitudes in military culture. (Edited to add:
For some idea of the scope of the challenge involved in changing attitudes and practices in the military, see tigtog's recent post on rape in the military
The problem with writing a thesis on the obstacles to developing effective measures against gender-based violence in international aid and peacekeeping operations is that it doesn't leave one feeling terribly optimistic. These are not, for the most part, highly flexible and accountable organizations. The UN appears to be making a good-faith effort to implement protection policies and provide redress for people who suffer abuse at the hands of their staff, but policy implementation has been uneven, and the UN's approach has been critiqued from many angles. One critique of my own is that the way their policies are written tends to reinforce the idea that women are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, not perpetrators themselves. There is also only infrequent recognition that men and boys suffer sexual abuse and exploitation.
The scale of the change of that needs to happen is sometimes disheartening, but in my review of policy language at the UN, I saw improvements in the intellectual framing of approaches to protection from gender-based violence taking place from 2002 to 2004. However frustratingly small these changes may be, they are taking place. There is attention focused on the issue, there is energy directed toward addressing it, there is now recognition that a problem exists, even if the means being employed to solve it are currently limited. The obstacle of silence and ignorance has been, if not removed entirely, pushed strongly to one side, opening the path to address other obstacles behind it.
*Sandra Whitworth, in Men, Militarism & UN Peacekeeping, discusses these allegations, and other gendered impacts of the UN presence in Cambodia, in much greater detail.
Blogging Against Gender Violence (Post 1)
Topic: 16 Days
The topic of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence, Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles, resonates with me because I spent all of last year investigating a) the problem of international peacekeepers and aid workers sexually exploiting and abusing the people they were supposed to protect and assist, b) why it took over 10 years for this problem to reach any sort of critical mass in the international sphere, and c) why organizations like the UN have had difficulty addressing these abuses. I wrote 14,990 words related to the challenges of implementation, and they are myriad.
At Feministe, Cara commented about the way the 16 Days campaign has been set up:
I think that this is an absolutely amazing structure: beginning discussion relatively narrowly and then building up to a broader world view to remind people that gender issues are human rights issues.
This was the challenge international women's rights activists faced throughout the latter part of the twentieth century - linking women's rights to human rights. In the early 1990s there was a particularly concerted effort around "women's rights as human rights" in the lead-up to the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. A series of tribunals around the world provided women with a platform to discuss the impact of violence on their lives and on their ability to realize their human rights. Their testimonies that were presented at the Vienna Conference, and the resulting Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action explicitly recognized this link, stating: "The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights." The Vienna Declaration also highlighted particular violations of women's human rights, targeting gender-based violence, sexual harrassment, sexual exploitation and rape as a tool of conflict.
The early '90s were a critical time in reshaping understandings of sexual violence against women in conflict situations. International activist coalitions on behalf of the so-called "comfort women" enslaved by the Japanese Army in WWII were initiated at this time. International and local NGOs in Bosnia and Rwanda helped to document and substantiate women's claims of rape and sexual assault in those conflicts, demonstrating that rape was a systematic tool of conflict in these cases. Rape in conflict, when it had even been addressed before the 1990s, tended to be treated as a breakdown of military discipline, a side-effect of war rather than a weapon in it. The confluence of these cases of systematic sexual assault and the long-running campaigns to recognize sexual violence as a violation of women's rights were all instrumental in overcoming resistence to recognizing women's rights as human rights in international human rights documents and language.
That was one barrier that came down. Having the language to back the claims that women wanted to make about specific violations of their human rights - violations that had gone largely unrecognized at the international level removed one obstacle to recognizing and counteracting violence against women. Many, many others remain. In my next post, I want to work from Sokari's statement that:
One fundamental problem is that because gender based violence is so common across the world that it has been “normalised” - through actions, language, imagery, pornography
to discuss some of difficulties eradicating gender-based violence within militarized peacekeeping missions.
16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
Topic: 16 Days
via Women of Color Blog, Feminist Philosophers, and Feministe:
From today, 25 November (International Day Against Violence Against Women) through 10 December (International Human Rights Day), the Center for Women's Global Leadership is coordinating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. This year, the campaign's theme is Demanding Implementation, Challenging Obstacles: End Violence Against Women.
This theme intersects with my thesis topic, so I plan to write at least one post in upcoming days based around my thesis. For now, I wanted to point out the above links for further information, and highlight the upcoming Carnival Against Violence Against Women, hosted by Sokari at Black Looks. If you want to participate, the due date for submitting posts for the carnival is 6 December.