I was shocked to find out that in 2008 the UN Security Council declared rape as a weapon of war. The history of war is filled with women as victims and survivors during wartime as well as in the post-war period. But it’s better late than never for violence against women in times of war to be recognized. It is a stepping stone for the international community to acknowledge that in order to end rape as a weapon of war, women must become “…full participants in their nation’s national security sector and post-war negotiations and full participants in international peace-keeping missions.”
As analyzed by Mary-Wynne Ashford in The Impact of War on Women, the health effects of war are endured well after the war is over. Recognizing the many factors that contribute to making women vulnerable in wartime, Ashford argues that in regions where women do not have “basic rights of autonomy” they are most vulnerable during times of conflict. Making them more dependent on men for security, institutionalized patriarchy diminishes the autonomy of women’s economic, political and social roles in society.
The health disparities faced by women are also extensive. Ashford raises attention to the spreading of HIV/Aids as a result of systematic rape in many war torn countries. In the Rwandan Genocide, which is projected that between 200,000 and 500,000 women were raped, there was evidence that “weaponization of HIV” was used as a tactic by combatants. In some cases it was found that women were specifically taken to HIV positive soldiers to be raped. The horrific sexual exploitation of women is an act of exercising power over the “enemy”. In a highly patriarchal society, where women are treated as commodities, socially handicapped from being active citizens, these limitations placed on women are worsened. Unable to travel to health clinic and lacking sufficient medical supplies and care, are just some of the hostile effects of war on women.
Addressing systematic gender based violence towards women, non-profit organizations like MADRE aid women internationally by building health clinics, educating and “equipping women with tools to prevent sexual assault in war and in the aftermath of disasters.” Ensuring that rape and sexual violence should not be an expected occurrence in war zones, transnational organizations, women peace movements such as the one in Liberia led by Leymah Gbowee, and human rights activists have contributed to combating the long trend of sexual violence against women in times of war.