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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Women = Innocent Victims, Men = Can Die (1/2)

"Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat." - Hilary Clinton

I want to be a primary victim of war rather than a secondary victim (i.e. a man who gets killed) any day


The sexist obsession with protecting women (and only women) that leads to the neglect and marginalisation of male rape is bad enough, but this is even worse.

"Women and children first" might not have been a reality with shipwrecks, but for NGOs dealing with contemporary international conflicts it certainly is:

"The analysis in this chapter contributes to recent theoretical work in international relations on the role of transnational advocacy networks in contributing to inter-subjective understandings... I want to argue that even seemingly good norms may emerge as dysfunctional, and therefore their robustness may he diminished, if they are framed in a way that undermines their moral logic (Payne 2001).

Civilian protection discourse exemplifies this phenomenon... Each gender essentialism situates women alongside children as innocent, dependent and vulnerable, therefore civilians and therefore worthy of protection. These generalizations, even when rooted in empirical realities, draw attention away from the fact that able-bodied adult men may also he civilians worthy of the protection network’s concern...

The term “innocent women and children” abounds in international discourse, but protection agencies often make this association explicit. Their appeals for donations or international concern Lend to picture women as both the primary civilian victims of slaughter and the living in need of relief; their brochures picture hungry mothers or desolate refugees (Cohen 2001; Moeller 1998). The same year that 8,000 men and boys disappeared from Srebrenica, the ICRC published a slick brief entitled “Civilians in War,” which contained no images of un-uniformed adult men, and included sections on “women” and “children” alongside “mines,” “water” and “humanitarian law,” without discussing patterns of attack against civilian males. Web sites of major humanitarian organizations, such as the ICRC and the OCHA, contain “protection of civilians” web pages with links to “women,” “children” and sometimes “elderly” and “displaced” but not to “men.” Civilian protection advocates invoke the language of “innocent women and children” to call on belligerents to restrain themselves; on powerful states to intervene; and on potential donors to send aid...

[Save the Children's] 2002 State of the World's Mothers report specifically emphasizes armed conflict. Here, women are positioned as both mothers and civilians

It has become increasingly clear that the lives of children are jeopardized when the lives of women are not protected... the global community can and must do more to make the protection of women, of mothers, of children in armed conflict a priority. (Save the Children 2002, 2)

When houses, schools and hospitals are bombed, food supplies are cut off, agricultural fields are strewn with land mines and wells are poisoned, mothers struggle mightily to preserve their way of life and keep children safe and healthy. (Save the Children 2002, 4)

Belligerent parties deliberately inflict violence on civilian populations, and women and children are killed... (Save the Children 2002, 8)

This language is also reflected in the web content of the OCHA page on “Women and War,” situating women (but not men) as civilian care-givers: “in spite of all they endure in camps, towns, villages, and fields across war zones, women persevere and work to preserve the integrity of their families and communities.” Here, women’s role as mothers is linked to an assumption that they are inherently peaceful, which has led some actors to frame women as peace-building resources, in efforts to get major UN organs to see women’s rights as part of their broader agenda with security and peace (Cohn et al, 2004). This discourse also draws on traditional imagery, deployed by some UN agencies, situating women in the private sphere...

The disappearance of men is both assumed and treated as a factor affecting their families’ plight rather than a protection issue in its own right. The burden of parenting and care-giving is presented as entailing risks only for women. Civilian fathers, before and after separation from their families, are invisible in a frame that assumes their absence and associates childrearing with women. As Save the Children emphasizes: “the care and protection of women and children must be the humanitarian priority in ethnic and political conflicts” (Save the Children 2002, 6).

Attention by the protection network to “especially vulnerable populations” still tends to include every possible category except able-bodied adult civilian males. This discursive usage, which is to be distinguished from the sorts of vulnerabilities and capabilities assessment instruments popularized in the development community (March, Smyth and Mukhpadhyay 1999), equates “women and children” with vulnerability and is used to draw international attention to specific demographic groups (Caversazio 2001; Baines, 2004). Describing the concept of “vulnerability,” and considering whether adult men could be vulnerable, a representative of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told me: “Commonly when you speak of vulnerability you have the image of women, children and the elderly. The idea of a 20-year-old man who can’t defend himself Ilaughterl he can just run away and join the army or join the rebel force” (Respondent #29, Phone Interview, October 2002).

This framing of vulnerability is most evident in the attempt to place the protection of civilians on the agenda of international institutions. The Secretary-General’s 1999 Reports to the UN Security Council on the Protection of Civilians refer to the “special needs” of women as well as children (UN 2001 and UN 1999g). By contrast, no reference is made to the vulnerabilities of adult men, other than one statement in the September report that they are most likely to he killed. (This is buried in the section on page 3 regarding women’s special needs.) In 2001, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs disseminated a pamphlet entitled Reaching the Vulnerable which emphasized deprivation rather than lethal attack and whose images included no civilian males (OCHA 2001). The opening statement of the Report on the Civilian Protection Workshop in South Africa states: “Civilians are no longer just victims of war today. They are regarded as instruments of war. Sex is no defence, nor is age: indeed women, children and the elderly are often at the greatest risk” (OCHA 2002, 1)

When mention of the risks to men does appear in policy documents or speeches, it is seldom followed by analysis or policy recommendations. A recent report on gender-based violence in conflict settings acknowledges that “GBV programming targeting men and boy survivors is virtually non-existent among conflict-affected populations” (Ward 2002, 4) hut the report goes on to focus almost entirely on women and girls, and includes no recommendations regarding men other than the need to incorporate them into initiatives to eradicate violence against women. OCHA’s Emergency Relief Coordinator pointed out in a 2000 public statement that “While research has been undertaken on types of violence and traumatic stress disorders experienced by women during war, less is known about the psychosocial consequences of violence, including sexual violence, suffered by men during conflict” (McAskie 2000, 3). But none of the policy recommendations at the end of her talk included gathering data on such issues.

Actors within the civilian protection network have never agreed on how to define “vulnerability.” Protection workers I spoke to made reference to two partially conflicting definitions. To some, “vulnerability” accrues from physical characteristics, such as age or disability, which make certain individuals inherently less able to withstand attack or escape from harm... Women are often included as such in this group. Some respondents seemed to see women as inherently vulnerable “due to physical reasons and these kinds of factors” (Respondent #25, Personal Interview, September 2002, Geneva). Others, when probed, made it clear that it was only certain aspects of biology that rendered some women vulnerable some of the time, but these aspects were being generalized to women as a group. In particular, pregnant or lactating women possess inherent vulnerabilities stemming from their biological sex (IASC 1999). Overall, however, it makes objectively less sense to define able-bodied adult women without nursing infants as innately vulnerable. Although social vulnerability can vary greatly across societies, in strictly biological terms, a healthy adult woman is far more similar to a healthy adult man than to an elderly invalid or a child under five (Goldstein 2001, 132-134).

Others emphasize socially induced vulnerability. Regardless of physical characteristics, some groups in some contexts are more vulnerable than others to particular forms of threat based upon societal inequities in access to resources, role expectations or geographic location. It is perhaps less empirically problematic to include women as women in this construction of vulnerability. For much of the time under any given social system, women are indeed made vulnerable by social factors, and this is particularly true during times of armed conflict... Thus, there is a case to be made for conceptualizing all women as always socially vulnerable because of the gendered structure of power within war- affected communities. If empirically undistorted, however, such a frame would account as well for men's socially induced vulnerabilities. While able-bodied men, as adults, are among the least vulnerable group physically, they become far more vulnerable than women, children and the elderly to certain forms of attack in certain situations because of socially constructed assumptions about male gender roles (IASC 2002)...

Gender imagery proves a potent cultural resource in terms of agenda-setting, precisely because it resonates with pre-existing gender discourses, hut since this gender essentialism is fundamentally misleading, it distorts the civilian protection frame it is intended to promote.

According to Payne, frame distortion occurs when “normative debates fail to meet basic standards of communicative rationality,” which “imagines actors’ reciprocally challenging one another’s validity claims in order to find shared truth” (2001, 46-47). Payne asserts that only through such “genuine” persuasive practices can “true” norm-building take place. If the resonance of a norm is based on misleading or distorted claims, the process of norm-strengthening itself can be undermined by norm advocates’ internal contradictions (Smith 2001, 45). Target populations may respond to the frame rather than the norm: “We are civilized troops, so we will kill only the adult men.” Moreover, intentionally distorting a moral claim by appealing to only partially compatible symbolism can undermine the broader moral claim itself when the gap between the norm and its frame becomes evident to constituencies: “Women and children are under arms, so there is no longer any such thing as a civilian.” Particularly in the human rights field, “information that turns out to be exaggerated or biased harms the organization’s credibility and ultimately the interests of the people it seeks to help” (Caversazio 2001, 102).

Why do advocates sometimes engage in seemingly counter-productive frame distortion in order to promote their agenda? Part of the answer lies in the existence of such distortions prior to the process of framing. Pre-existing cultural tropes are the stock of ideational resources from which the frames themselves are built. 1f these symbolic technologies already contain distortions, challenging them can reduce the potential for a resonant frame. But the extent to which this is the case will be contingent on strategic factors, through which these cultural tools are filtered, and which therefore provide the incentive structure that drives framing choices. This combination of factors determines the way in which issues will be framed once they reach the agenda of elite organizations in international society, such as the UN Security Council.

Understanding this process renders explicable the persistent use by civilian protection actors of gender stereotypes they know to be outdated and which some claim to be destructive to their cause...

Given the gendered parameters of the immunity norm, and the fact that warring parties generally see adult men as agents during time of war, providing explicit assistance to men can undermine the perception that humanitarian actors are in fact neutral. Take the example of British relief shipments to German-occupied Greece during World War II. Junod (1951, 185) describes British concern that humanitarian aid would be channeled to Greek collaborators and thus sustain the German war effort: “Mr. Jordan, the commercial attaché of the British Embassy, was all in favour of relieving the sufferings of women and children, hut he insisted that men should not benefit... ‘you really must see that Her Majesty’s Government can never agree to feed factory workers in Greece who are working for the enemy’”...

[There is a] perception within the network that the protection of women and children is even more indisputable than the protection of civilians in general, both because gender norms governing protection of “women and children” seem universal, and because of widely held assumptions that women and children are “objective” non-combatants (Respondent #33, Personal Interview, August 2002, Geneva). Whereas intervening in civil wars (or promoting women’s empowerment) can he seen as the deeply politicized processes they are, “protecting women and children, well nobody can argue with that” (Respondent #4, Personal Interview, July 2002, Washington, DC). The gendered aspects of the immunity norm are "amplified” so as to resonate with individuals’ sense of familial obligation, and draw attention away from possibly divisive moral arguments about agency and neutrality, which are nonetheless an intricate part of the protection network’s activities on the ground (Snow et al. 1986).

Frame amplification is used to encourage action as well as to broaden the legitimacy of a frame. Activists frame an issue in such a way as to provoke a response: a check in the mail, a letter to an elected official, an interventionist force. They are faced with distinguishing their cause among the litany of appeals that potential “conscience constituents” will receive, and with overcoming the pervasive denial that afflicts donor populations (Cohen 2001; Moeller 1999). Frames are amplified when they are “clarified or invigorated to bear on a particular issue” (paraphrasing Snow et al. 1986). According to these authors, both principled and causal beliefs can be amplified in order to enhance the resonance of a particular frame.

Rhetoric on civilian casualties within the network is calculated to affect constituents’ sense of moral urgency (principled beliefs) as well as their empirical understanding of the current situation (descriptive beliefs). By claiming that most of the affected are women and children, the appeal is designed to invoke unconditional sympathy and response. By claiming that the severity of the situation is new, unprecedented, a break from the normality of the past, a sense of urgency is conveyed, along with a sense that things can again be “put right.”

The appeal distorts the frame because it is empirically specious. It reifies the association of women but not men with civilian status. More misleadingly, it suggests that of all adult civilians, women are most likely to be singled out for attack: “Civilian women are the primary victims of modern-day warfare,” reads the Midterm Review of the 2000 Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeals, publicized by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR 2000, 2). This is the view that has been internalized and reproduced at the Security Council:

The most vulnerable in society — women, children and the elderly — are often targeted and deprived of the most basic human right, the right to life. (UN 1999a, 14)

Among the civilians who hear the brunt o such conflicts are women and children, the most vulnerable groups. They are targeted for physical elimination and abuse. (UN 1999a, 18)

Civilians have thus become the first and main target in armed conflict. Women, children, the elderly, the sick refugees and internally displaced persons have been attacked in large numbers. (UN 1999b, 3)

But as previously described, available data show that civilian men and older boys are more likely to be directly killed in war or civil strife (Goldstein 2001; Jones 2000); women and younger children are particularly affected by conflict’s long-term, indirect effects, in part because they tend to be disadvantaged socially during reconstruction (Cockhurn and Zarkov 2002; Gardam and Jervis 2001; Meintjes, Pillay and Turshen 2001), in part because they are more likely to survive the immediate conflict period (Ghobarah, Huth and Russell 2003) to suffer in the aftermath. By conflating these factors, “women and children” are framed as the primary “targets” of armed violence, obscuring sex-selective targeting of men and boys."

--- 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender Norms and the Protection of Civilians / R. Charli Carpenter (continued in Part 2)
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