This post is cross-posted at the Polity Blog, in promotion of my recently published Gender, War, and Conflict (Polity Press, 2014).
It was a coincidence that Gender, War, and Conflict was formally published on the eve of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, held in London. The Global Summit, as its webpage described, was meant to shatter the culture of impunity towards wartime rape, take practical steps toward decreasing it, provide support to survivors, and change attitudes of apathy.
This ambitious summit was attended by public figures like Hilary Rodham Clinton and Angelina Jolie, as well as by scholars of wartime sexual violence like my colleagues Amelia Hoover Green and Marsha Henry, among others. While I sat this one out at home in Florida, I followed its progress on Twitter and read news coverage as the summit looked to “write the last chapter in the history of wartime rape.”
Scholars writing from the Summit expressed a combination of hope – given the amount of high-profile political capital being devoted to the cause – and despair – given the long, complicated, and important history of social science research into wartime sexual violence that was largely ignored at the Summit. The biggest complaint I have seen and read is that the Summit’s policy-world and advocate speakers have a commitment to the social cause of ending wartime rape without a matching commitment to knowing and understanding the history of wartime rape, the conditions of possibility of the crime, the significations of rape in conflict, and the gendered contexts in which wartime rape is committed.
In other words, the advocates at the Summit understood that war rape is a terrible crime in which women are disproportionately victimized. But there is more to it, and scholars have been trying to communicate that in order to improve policy analysis, and, hopefully, policy solutions. While the summit is over and the media has moved on to its next target, I think that this point is still a very important one. Continue reading
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict began in London this week. I wish I could believe that a summit attended by Angelina Jolie would end wartime rape. I wish I could believe that a conference attended by political leaders that wield power beyond the silver screen would end wartime rape. But more, I wish we could just end rape. We ‘know’ that rape is endemic in ‘peace’-time societies, such as India, South Africa, and Peru. We refuse to ‘know’ that it is a problem in the US. Laura’s post on Monday was an angry, rightfully so, response to George Will’s inane, ignorant, and, ultimately, violent comment—but he is not alone. I could make something of Rajiv Sinha, the former director of the Indian Central Bureau of investigation, who stated that those who are raped should just enjoy it. But I hate to let anyone continue to think that peacetime rape is a ‘brown’ person problem. It is an everyone and everywhere problem. I am angry, no, furious, and frankly exhausted by academics, pundits, and politicians who construct rape within post-coloniality. This allows for the West and in particular the US to construct itself within an exceptional frame, denying that any problem with violence against women exists within its boundaries.
It was not so long ago that Clayton Williams ruined his chances to be Texas governor by making a comment strikingly similar to Sinha’s. During his 1990 campaign against Democrat Ann Richards, Williams invited a group of reporters to his ranch for the weekend. Sadly it was cold and foggy. But no matter: Williams informed the reporters, like bad weather, “if [rape] is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” I shouldn’t need to state that the formidable Richards was elected instead. (As a Texan, I feel I can write that this is the last time Texas chose a governor wisely. But I digress.) There continues to be a pervasive minimization of rape and thus a diminishment of victims of sexual violence within the US.
Before 6am this morning, I was wandering (read: running) through Orlando Airport to catch my flight to WIIS-Canada when I stopped (read: slowed down a little, I mean, I was really late) to read a billboard ad that called women “the world’s largest untapped resource.” I didn’t get a picture, or figure out who made the billboard at the time (read: real late), but I’ve been stewing about it all day, so I figured I would stew a little on RelationsInternational.
It was about six hours before I was able to research this and see where if came from: CARE.org. More on that soon. While I assumed it was well-intended, it still made me very angry: was I a keg in need of tapping? Or perhaps an oil reserve? Who has the right to decide to ‘tap’ me? Where is my agency? Isn’t there a contradiction between declaring oneself ‘powerful’ and calling, in passive voice, the same person an ‘untapped resource?’ This picture isn’t the poster that I saw, but it is similar – and, though I knew it was probably well-intended, I walked around most of the day feeling like, in addition to being an on-face ridiculous characterization, there is something violating about this ad campaign. Things just got more complicated when I saw where it came from. CARE is a leading humanitarian organization with an impressive record overall, little negative press, and some decent gender analysis on their website. So, here’s the summary: the characterization is inaccurate; I feel guilty for being mad; and I’m (still) fighting mad. I’ll explain all three …