From Interstate - Journal of International Affairs VOL. 2015/2016 NO. 1
Why are Gender Relations Important to Include in the Study of Politics and Society?
Women in War
Throughout history and still throughout much of the world, the only time that women are relied upon in terms of economics and the maintenance of the public sphere is during wartime. War plays a fundamental role in the study of politics; for Clausewitz, war was merely ‘the continuation of politics by other means’.23 However within all aspects of the concept, the importance of gender relations cannot be understated, from the agreement of peace to the strategy of victory.
The conception of the private woman and public man has conceded predestined roles for the two socially accepted genders. Stereotypically, wars revolve around men; the gender starts, fights, and ends them. Women therefore act as support, stabilising society in the absence of men. These gender-based roles within warfare have had numerous repercussions for refugees, for the process of peace, and on the manner in which the individual is affected by war.
Gender relations are inherent in the notion of the refugee; a man must face pressure from his society, which coerces him to fight in its war, whereas a woman must protect her children. There are three stages for a refugee, and gender relations play a role in each of them. The first being the evacuation of the war zone, which is where ‘man’ faces difficulty, for violence is directed at this gender in the public role it possesses. Instead the woman must retain her private role and protect her children. Women and children are often, in this scenario, described as a single entity – ‘women-and-children’ – portraying the woman, like the children, as an apolitical victim of war, with no other role to play.24
This role encourages her to escape the warzone, whilst the man must stay and fight. The second and third stages involve the transition from the war zone to either a refugee camp or by way of immigration to a safer nation. Gender relations are again relevant, for in the first instance it is not believed to be ‘right’ for a woman to be travelling alone without a child and it can therefore be more difficult for a woman to find asylum. ‘Women with children are more likely to be granted asylum in France as they are seen as fulfilling their motherly duties’.25 During this stage it is also certainly easier for a man due to the stereotyped vision of the ‘beneficial-for-society’ public gender.26
Gender relations also influence the manner in which the individual is affected by conflict. Gender roles in war stereotypically prescribe physical violence and possibly death to a man during conflict, whilst a woman may face sexual violence. During the Rwandan genocide 75% of women experienced some form of sexual violence.27 The term ‘comfort women’ is used to refer women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II.28
Sexual violence is an institutionalised aspect of war and due to gender stereotypes, is an aspect that society expects only to affect women, just as society expects physical combat to only affect men. Both these assumptions are obviously false. Not only do these assumptions of gender relations in war mean that those affected in a manner unexpected are hardly recognised, but it also means that those affected cannot feel confident enough to tell of it. Throughout the world men have been directly affected by sexual violence in war – ‘a study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped’. It is also noticeable from the same study that of 4,076 NGOs that have addressed wartime sexual violence only 3% of them mentioned the experience of men.29
Finally in terms of war, gender relations are also relevant in the process of peace. In October 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “the only way to...reduce the number of conflicts around the world, to build sustainable peace – is to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peace-making, peacekeeping, and peace building.”30 The needs and wishes of all genders must be recognised in the process of peace and not merely that which represents men. It is noticeable however that the UN itself has never appointed a woman as Chief or Lead Mediator in the peace talks it has sponsored.
The lack of representation of women in these roles can unfortunately be considered as the sole reason that it was not until June 2008 that the UN recognised sexual violence as a tactic of war.31 This has had a negative side effect in that much of the aid received by a nation in the aftermath of a war is used for ‘disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs’, whilst those aspects of the community which played no role in combat are ignored. This leads directly to gender preferences purely out of the roles enforced by society.32
It is clear that gender relations play a vibrant role in each aspect of political and societal study discussed in this essay. From the preservation of feminised poverty, to the gendered hierarchy prevalent in religion, gender relations can be seen everywhere in politics. This essay has deconstructed the study of politics and society, finding the importance of gender relations in the debate over what is the public sphere, as well as recognising the importance of an analysis of education and exhibiting the gender education gap that appears in society. Finally this essay dissected the processes of war and it has shown the effects that unequal gender relations have had in the processes of war, and therefore the importance of its consideration. It is only by recognising the importance of gender relations that there can be any hope of equality.
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