WIIS-Canada Blog/Blogue de FESI-Canada

This section features reflections on emerging trends and issues, research findings and programs written by our members. Posts are published in the language of choice of the authors, French or English  / Cette section présente des réflexions sur des tendances et des sujets d’avant-garde, des résultats et des programmes de recherche, écrites par nos membres. Les publications sont faites dans la langue choisie par les auteur(e)s, français ou anglais.

Blogging for the 16 Days Canada Campaign 2017/Blogue pour la Campagne canadienne des 16 jours de 2017

By: Kirsten Van Houten, Ph.D. Candidate, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa

The disproportionate impact of the ongoing crises on women and the role of gender and other inequalities as a root cause of conflicKivut necessitate the inclusion of strong female voices in peace processes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Yet, both formal and informal structural barriers continue to limit the participation of women in peacebuilding processes. This post explores how two local civil society organizations are challenging these barriers through education in South Kivu.

On December 6, 2017 Rebecca Boyce’s blog post, written for the 16Days campaign on the Women, Peace and Security Network website. highlighted how women in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo have increasingly mobilized to confront ongoing sexual and gender based violence and to remember lives lost. National legislation exists in the DRC that formally recognizes equality between women and men, that prohibits sexual and gender-based violence and ensures the participation of women in peacebuilding processes. Despite the increase of women’s mobilization around these issues across the country, as highlighted in Boyce’s post, sgbv continues and women’s voices are often marginalized and absent from formalized peacebuilding processes. In order to ensure that legally guaranteed gender equality and protection against violence are formally and informally integrated into the transition towards peace.

During my doctoral fieldwork in South Kivu I had the opportunity to observe how local civil society organizations were integrating women into their peacebuilding efforts. Women’s roles within each of these organizations were limited due to structural and social barriers. The contributions of female staff members were often limited to projects and programming focussed on delivering assistance to or engaging other women, which only represented a small portion of the organizations’ activities. As a result the voices and needs were not being integrated in to other peacebuilding endeavours. Further,there were generally fewer women in the staff of these organizations than men and they were often subjected to informal comments about their gender and their inferiority to men.

Some of the barriers related to the successful integration of these women into the organizations’ strategies was directly linked to the perceived or actual educational status of women. One of the organization’s noted that when they were hiring for the position of a videographer, that they had been eager to hire a woman but their funder had required someone with a University degree fill the position. As a result of this requirement, only men applied to the position. It was also apparent across the three organizations that some men were either unaware of the existence of formal legal guarantees of gender equality or showed an unwillingness to accept the laws and adopt the approach in their professional lives. More than one male participant in my research directly expressed their belief in the natural inferiority of women to me during my fieldwork.

Interestingly, two of the three organizations were implementing programs that specifically addressed these dynamics. The first project was offered by an organization with a focus on dialogue and reconciliation. The organization had established literacy circles in many of the communities that they worked in which were mostly attended by women. Historically girls’ enrollment in schools has been much lower across the DRC because of gender inequality which is reflected in the high levels of participation in literacy circles. Through the evaluation of these initiatives the project’s manager discovered that the inability to read and write acted as a barrier to the participation of these women in public spaces and public discussion. Historically community leaders had used the lack of education as a justification to exclude women from dialogue including around peacebuilding. As a result, the project manager decided to integrate public speaking and presentation skills into the literacy circles in order to facilitate the participation of women in public forums at the community level.

A second project that sought to address these challenges was run by a human rights and justice organization. It was oriented towards educating both men and women about the gender equality guaranteed under Congolese laws on topics including inheritance, education and sexual and gender-based violence. The provision of these courses sought to challenge the legitimacy of formal barriers to the participation of women in public life and pubic forums.

These projects create the opportunity for an increased participation in women in community-level peacebuilding and reconciliation processes by educating the population about legal guarantees of gender equality and by providing women with the skills that they need to participate in public forums. While recent achievements such as the participation of women’s groups in the peace talks in the Kasai region, women bust continue to be empowered to consistently and fully participate in these processes.

Public education about women’s rights and gender equality and the reinforcement of women’s literacy and public speaking skills can create the foundation to support the engagement of women in peacebuilding processes, including within local civil society organizations.

By: Carolyn Washington

The 2000 landmark adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security has done much to call attention to the sexual and gender based violence that disproportionately effects women during conflict.  However, male rape victims have been somewhat invisible.

In the war in the former Yugoslavia, some 3,000 men and boys were raped in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995.  A 2009 study by Lara Stemple found that 76% of male political prisoners in El Salvador in the 1980’s reported being raped or sexually tortured.  According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 40% of women and 23% of men in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo were subjected to sexual violence. And male rape has been documented in the abuses committed by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

As Joshua Goldstein put it in his 2003 book How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa,: “Rape is a crime of domination and war has everything to do with domination.”  The feminization of the enemy is “symbolic domination.”  Thus, men are feminized through sexual violence.  “As a symbolic form of rape, armed violence genders the victor as male and the vanquished as female.”

Why are male rape victims invisible? 

     James Asbrand, a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) psychologist explains, “the rape of a male soldier has a particular symbolism.”  In a hyper-masculinized culture, the worst thing that one man can do to another is to rape him and force him into a “feminine role.”  And according to Betty Reardon in her book Sexism and the War System, (1985) Rape is “the ultimate metaphor for the war system”.    Several factors account for why in spite of the documentation of widespread sexual violence perpetrated against men, they remain invisible victims.

    Male-on-male sexual contact as taboo.   Many societies consider sexual contact between two males as evidence of homosexuality, regardless of whether there is coercion or force.  In Uganda, male rape victims choose not to report sexual violence because they fear being labeled as gay.   This makes it difficult for men to report sexual violence and receive treatment.  Men who disclose their victimization face the risk of violating the honor of their family and community.

     Gender roles within social hierarchies.  Men are expected to employ violence, while women are the recipients of such violence.  Therefore, women are the victims and men are the perpetrators.  In conflict situations, rape against men reverses this phenomenon, placing men in the receiving and therefore, victim’s role.  As a victim, he is no longer a man.  Wives have often left their husbands upon discovering that they have been violated.  “So now how am I going to live with him? As what? Is this still a husband? Is it a wife? If he can be raped, who is protecting me?”  Another gendered difference is that violations against men are normally masked as torture, as opposed to sexual violence.

Lack of a legal framework.  Sexual violence against males is not recognized in some countries, particularly where prohibitions against homosexuality exist.  Even when legal remedies are in place, prosecutors and juries are not always willing to view male sexual violence seriously.  Sentencing patterns at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) show that perpetrators of sexual violence against men receive shorter sentences than those who commit violence against women.

The Way Ahead 

In spite of extensive documentation, such as those cited above, it wasn’t until 2013 when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2106, that it even acknowledged that men and boys also suffer from sexual violence in conflict.  Callum Watson notes that what is required is an international effort much like the Women, Peace and Security agenda, to focus on the specific needs of male victims.

To correct the problem of the lack of attention to male sexual violence in international policy, some UN agencies have already begun to implement programs.  For example, in 2012 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees offered guidance in a publication entitled Working with Men and Boys Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Forced Displacement.  However, such efforts have not been institutionalized as part of an overall agenda.  An important question is-how can both domestic and international policies be more inclusive in addressing the needs of male victims of sexual violence?

And finally, in the protection of both male and female victims of sexual violence, Carine Mardorossian provides another solution in her article Toward a New Feminist Theory of Rape.  She argues that as opposed to gendering rape, a more productive approach is one which interrogates the structural relations between masculinity and femininity.

Each year, Women in International Security (WIIS)-Canada spearheads the Canadian national campaign for the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. Between November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and December 10, the International Day of Human Rights, there are activities taking place all over the world, and WIIS-Canada coordinates the campaign to support activities across Canada.

So why blog? Well, the campaign is aimed primarily at awareness raising. We want to get the word out, as far and wide as possible, by sharing the research and views of those who are engaged with these issues. By pubishing these blog posts we simply aim to have as many people as possible read about some key issues of gender-based violence, and the work being done to prevent or end it.

Feel free to share and re-post these blog posts on your social media, to help spread the word about the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, and to get as many people as possible thinking about these issues.