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Thursday, March 14, 2013

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

(continued from Part 1)

"The use of numbers to suggest a drastic rise in proportions of civilian deaths is also questionable, as the Indian delegate to the Security Council pointed out in the 1999 debates, citing centuries of atrocities against colonized populations (UN 1999h, 1619). The current statistics include deaths from indirect and long-term causes, which have usually been excluded from casualty counts of earlier periods to which they are being compared. It also suggests civilian fatalities have increased rather than casualties in the broad sense of dead, injured or displaced, but many of the still living seem to actually be factored into the current estimate, exaggerating the novelty of the current situation compared to the past (Small and Singer 1982; Smith 1994, 2; Wood 1968, 24, cited in Beer 1981, 37). This frame produces the appearance of drastically rising civilian casualty rates. But as Frohardt, Paul and Minear write (1999, 17): “Data does not substantiate the view that civilians are increasingly being targeted by belligerents.”

So why does this view persist? While distorting, it presumably appeals to constituents’ immediate sense of urgency and agency: if wars were once “civilized,” perhaps they can be so again. It is reiterated strategically to the public by figureheads of protection agencies, even as those same agencies’ statistical divisions produce empirical data contradicting the public statements...

For women’s advocates, the emphasis on war-affected women was part of a strategy to promote women’s human rights in general, rather than those of civilians (Joachim 1998; Penn and Nardos, 2003; Thompson, 2002). As Keck and Sikkink describe (1998, 195), of all issues affecting women’s human rights, women’s advocates successfully seized upon “violence against women” because it was an issue that could unite a broad constituency.

While not all women who experience gender-based violence are war- affected, the problem of violence against women in armed conflict became a potent symbol for the broader problem of violence against women (Barstow 2000c, 238-239), which then epitomized the claim that the international community must take seriously the human rights of women (Respondent #5, August 2002). Widespread outrage over reports of mass rape in Bosnia provided a proximate political opportunity (Joachim 1998, 156): the Bosnian Muslim rape victim came to symbolize the plight of civilian women in war, at the hands of male (Serbian) soldiers... Drawing greater attention to "women and children in armed conflict" rather than civilians per se was the programmatic aim of women's advocates, and they worked actively with organizations in the civilian protection community to achieve this goal... Organizations such as the WCRWC also actively supported sex-specific protection initiatives such as the "United States Women and Children in Armed Conflict Protetion Act of 2003" (WCRWC 2003).

The connectivity between women’s network frames and those of the civilian protection network is evident throughout the post-Cold War era. In the early 1990s the discourse of women’s activism on war-affected women dovetailed in key respects with the civilian protection network’s focus on “women and children” as innocent victims of violence perpetrated by men. Both the Vienna Tribunal and the 1995 Beijing Conference, occurring in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, focused almost exclusively on women as civilian victims of war, despite some women’s participation in both the Bosnian conflict and the Rwandan genocide: “Those making the war are not women, however those being raped, yes, we are women,” lamented the judge appointed to hear the cases at the tribunal (quoted in Barstow 2000b, 236). Scholarship on war-affected women during this period also tended to emphasize women as civilian victims, and as particularly vulnerable to political violence (presumably in comparison to men).

Women and children, in particular, arc victims of widespread and apparently random terror campaigns by both governmental and guerilla groups in times of civil unrest or armed conflict. (Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright 1996, 267)

Civilians — women, children and elderly men — are often the targets in [ethnic] conflicts. (Mertus 2001, 21)

Women’s advocates have often been reluctant to highlight women’s roles as agents of political violence or war crimes against men, children or other women*. Part of this stems from a fear that acknowledging women’s agency will reduce international leverage on their behalf as victims; and that acknowledging men as victims will draw hard-won resources away from women**. Moreover, because women’s advocates have understandably focused on the human rights of women, they have tended to avoid addressing the victimization of civilian men in armed conflict, except insofar as it affects women. Therefore:

* - Hutalia (2001) and Mukta (2000) discuss the leverage the feminist activists have sometimes gained from defining women as a uniform victimized group, an assumption that their analyses of women’s participation in communal violence demonstrate cannot be sustained.

** - Domestic feminist movements and literature have sometimes grappled with the same dilemma, as Gordon acknowledges in her study of family violence: “Defending women against male violence is so urgent that we fear women’s loss of status as deserving, political ‘victims’ if we acknowledge women’s own aggressions” (1997, 317).

Women are often forced to witness the brutal torture or murder of loved ones... Minka watched Out of the bushes as her father was murdered. They killed him and then cut him in pieces with a yard axe... (Bunch and Reilly 1994, 40)

As a result of the genocide, many women lost male relatives on whom they previously relied for economic support and are now destitute. (Human Rights Watch 1996, 2)

Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. (Hilary Clinton, 1998, quoted in Jones 2000,91- 92)

The use of such frames among women’s advocates has both reinforced and provided a disincentive for the protection network to challenge gender essentialisms associating women and children with civilian victim-hood and men with armies. Officials in the protection units of major protection organizations often cited the activity of the women’s network as crucial in their understanding of how to protect war-affected women; others felt constrained by the need to legitimize their work on behalf of “women and children” by appealing to the concerns of women’s advocates.

In the media women and children are often mentioned, especially if there are casualties, children who have died in the conflict. In UNHCR we often do use it as well. And I think it is linked to the way in which within the organization we are struggling to mainstream gender in our operations, and it’s also linked to the fact that a lot of HCR staff members, and a lot of donors are really pushing women and children all the time, and NGOs say we are still not doing enough for women and children. (Respondent #15, Personal Interview, August 2002, Geneva)

Some individuals in the gender units of these organizations, most of whom are drawn from the women’s movement and are aligned with both networks, often justified the use of such essentialisms and specifically advocated against a focus on men as victims:

I recognize our discourse is a bit outdated. But it’s very difficult because as soon as you stop talking about women, women are forgotten. Men want to see what will they gain out of this gender business, so you have to be strategic. (Respondent #18, Personal Interview, August 2002, Geneva)

If you have a situation in which women are already reasonably empowered and men are already reasonably prepared to cooperate, yes in that case you can get them together; in other places where there is complete oppression of women ¡ think if you involve men there would be a danger that they hijack the process again and you’ve lost what level of achievement you’ve reached. (Respondent #21, Personal Interview, September 2002, Geneva)

In short, the protection network is institutionally and ideationally reliant on the international women’s network in a way that constrains its ability or desire to challenge their discourses on civilian women. Protection agencies draw on women’s organizations to provide professional expertise on women’s issues, relieving them of the necessity of fully mainstreaming gender in their own programs. Data-gathering on women’s issues is often delegated to partners, such as the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children (WCRWC), and gender experts to fill the few “gender focal point” positions in major protection organizations are gleaned from within the women’s network, in lieu of a systematic mainstreaming process.* Moreover, protection agencies, who have often been accused of failing to adopt a gender-aware approach, look to the women’s network to legitimize their attempts to improve their policies. Often this is assumed to be better served by emphasizing what they are doing for “women and children” than to work systematically at a “gender-aware approach,” understood by most analysts as involving an awareness of gender as it affects both men and women (Anderson, Howarth and Overholt 1992; Benjamin and Fancy 1998, 10; Morris 1998, 3).*

* - Barbara Harrell-Bond told Doreen Indra in a 1998 interview: “No one believes that those outside feminist circles who talk about gender studies are actually including men or considering the dynamics of relationships between men and women” (Indra 1999, 56).

This results in both networks failing to address civilian men as victims in armed conflict. For the women’s movement, men’s victimization of one another is seen as simply beyond their mandate, except as this affects women. On the other hand, the mandate of the civilian protection network, which owes its attention to civilians per se, very much includes civilian men. Yet these advocates avoid the issue because they are invested in a discourse that associates civilians, innocence and vulnerability with everyone but the able-bodied adult male. Thus, while many interviewees readily — and often without prompting — rattled off a list of ways in which men and boys could be particularly vulnerable in armed conflict, few saw a politically realistic way to broach this problem at the level of official discourse...

The humanitarian community is driven by the demands of donor agencies within Western governments who are often beholden to ill-informed constituencies themselves reliant on essentialist discourses to make sense of their world (Aguire 2001; Ignatieff 1998). As a senior representative of World Vision once said, “You can’t confuse the public with complex issues” (quoted in Girardet 1993, 46). Despite calls from within the network for higher standards of accuracy (Caversazio 2001), in a context where the media and donor governments favor attention to certain groups or programs, and in which protection organizations are resource-hungry, there is little incentive to alter public discourse if it means foregoing money for programs (Respondent #34, Personal Interview, August 2002, Geneva).

It is unclear whether this frame distortion is actually required to mobilize support, or to what extent it affects civilian protection itself. However, many network actors apparently believe the trade-off is a rational one. They subscribe to the prescription Braumann outlined in 1993 in his essay “When Suffering Makes a Good Story.” Braumann emphasized a principled balance between the need to “exploit in the best interests of the victim the potential offered by the popular media” and “demonstrate that what they arc doing is founded on principles more solidly based, and hence more demanding, than the appeals to emotions which are so tempting to exploit” (Braumann 1993, 158). Network actors have deliberately distorted their frame for strategic reasons, but they believe the benefits in international attention and resource mobilization outweigh the distortion. They believe they have struck that balance: “We describe in all our objectives particular attention given to women and children. But that doesn’t mean we do not give attention to civilian men on the ground, it is whether we emphasize them or not” (Respondent #19, Personal Interview, August 2002, Geneva.

However, while more systematic evaluative research is warranted, available data does not support this optimistic view. A key point made at the ICRC’s recent workshops on “Strengthening Protection in War” is that organizations’ choices regarding the categories of people assisted will be influenced by the media and donors’ proclivities, with a number of side effects, including the possibility that some victims will “fall through the cracks” (Caversazio 2001, 66). While a recent report from the inter-Agency Standing Committee points out that draft-age men may face particular vulnerahilitics, specific programs to address these problems arc still lacking (TASC 2002, 175). The ICRC has collected information on “Women and War” but not on “Men and War.” Though it is well known that belligerents perceive adult men as combatants, ICRC delegates who disseminate humanitarian law “do not put gender first in our dialogues with the authorities” (Respondent #1, 2002). An official at the US Office for Disaster Assistance in 2002 was unaware of a single assistance program targeting civilian men and boys as such (Respondent #4, 2002). As I describe in the next chapter, ideas are not simply symbolic tools: once repeatedly invoked they become part of the way organizations think, and can influence actor practices despite their own best intentions"

--- 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender Norms and the Protection of Civilians / R. Charli Carpenter

In summary, men are evil.

Those interested in challenging "stereotypes" are only interested in doing so when it will help the group they are presuming to champion.

I actually stumbled across this while trying to locate an account by a journalist I'd read.

He often went to the Third World to find stories of children suffering, and he said when it was a boy suffering he asked if there was a girl suffering from a similar plight, since he found people responded more favorably to female than male suffering (even if both were children).

I still haven't found it, nor have I managed to find studies showing that people show more sympathy for women than for men, even if the two are suffering from the exact same condition.

The above is very damning, though (even more so, since it documents real-life examples of the phenomenon).

Addendum: This is an outgrowth of the same mentality that gives us the "White Ribbon Campaign", which asks men to stop violence against women.

The fact is that narrow-minded crowing about oppression does crowd out other concerns and other groups.

Alternatively, another way to look at it is to compare it to selective enforcement of the law based on race.
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