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.
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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.
Image from ilga.org
In the isolated Alaskan villages where roads, reliable electricity and communication are undependable, “one in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape”. The New York Times article “For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape” provides insight on how Native American women are disproportionately susceptible to rape and other forms of sexual assault throughout all the reservations. The rate of sexual assault among Native American women is more than twice the national average. The stats become more alarming in rural villages where sexual assault has become a norm among the young Native American women.
The Violation Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, allocated federal funds to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. The recent reauthorization of VAWA raised controversy as many House Representatives believe that the new provisions still does not protect Native American women, the LGBT community as well as immigrant women. “Among those who commit crime of rape and domestic violence on reservations, 88 percent are non-Native offenders and under current law these abusers cannot be arrested or prosecuted on tribal lands,” stated in feministcampus.org.
What has been excluded from the VAWA is the ability for tribal courts to prosecute non-native Americans who are suspected of sexually harassing their Native American spouses and partners. Although this act is being reauthorized for the third time, there has been no proper and effective legislation to prevent or prosecute these cases of sexual assault that are disproportionately affecting Native women. Disagreement among American politicians plays a critical role in why legislation to protect Native American women, immigrant women and the LGBT community has been stagnant. The U.S senate fears that by empowering the tribal courts to prosecute and investigate sexual assault cases, that it would expand the tribal courts authority. In order to subordinate the tribal Native Americans, the U.S government is willing to allow native women to feel less safe and more susceptible to sexual abuse.
The hindrances that Native American villagers face in terms of preventative measures and treatment for sexually abused women are countless. They include shortages of supplies in Native American hospitals such as a shortage of sexual assault kits, lack of birth control and lack of trained staff who can prepare rape examinations which is needed for documentation in rape court cases. There is hope that with the current fight to reauthorize VAWA that the funds directed towards protecting women who are sexually abused can reach all victims equally.