When Rape Of Women In War Zones Is Used As A Weapon To Truly Destroy A Population

Rape is treated as a weapon, a military strategy to humiliate and demoralise the men of the conquered community, the ‘perceived enemy’, because when “your women” are conquered the “war is won”.

Trigger Warning: This deals with graphic descriptions of rape and other sexual violence, and may be triggering for survivors.

Throughout history around the world there exist no period that have been free from war. It is hard to imagine a society that did not witness any armed conflicts. The stench of blood, the deafening sound of gunshots, bombs, missiles, the screams of people fleeing the battleground conjures up a chilling picture of war in our mind. Undeniably war spares none, but it discriminately ravages women.

When war breaks out in a nation and the enemy soldiers proceeds swiftly in the conquered territory, fear among women diffuses like an epidemic for they know since ages they have been ravished and assaulted as a mark of victory by men. The horrific repercussions of armed conflicts and war on women and girls is hard to visualize. While the 20th century had witnessed two deadliest wars for years and countless deaths, the 21st century or the age of technological modernity embraced manifold civil wars, armed conflicts, ethnic violence, welting us with the truth that we are just technologically advancing but morally degrading.

Rape and sexual exploitation of women in war and conflict zones

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe” writes American journalist and feminist activist Susan Brownmiller in her groundbreaking book ‘Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.’ Since ancient times, rape was an accepted act of violence in a war-torn area. Tortured, exploited and discarded, the women who make through the atrocities of war carry with them a lifetime of trauma and an excruciating pain.

“They came with their black flags, they killed our men and raped our girls”, recalls Ekhlas in a trembling voice while speaking to BBC. She is among the countless Yazidi girls abducted and sexually exploited by the Islamic State when they invaded the province of Sinjar, Iraq. Perpetrated and organised by men since history, yet it is predominantly women and girls who bear the ghastly consequence of war. Rape is treated as a weapon, a military strategy to humiliate and demoralise the men of the conquered community, the ‘perceived enemy’, because when “your women” are conquered the “war is won”. It is the shortest way to wipe out an ethnicity. It’s barbarity still echoing in the central African country of Rwanda that witnessed in 1994 genocidal rape of 250,000 women of Tutsi ethnic minority during a three-month period. Equally monstrous and even more ghoulish was the “Rape of Nanjing” in 1937 when China’s capital city of Nanjing fell to the Imperial Japanese army. This intentional femicide, torture, exploitation, abduction acts as a testimony to men’s aggressive mentality where in the name of victory they treat women as “spoils of war” or “war-trophies”.

The war isn’t just declared on a land but on women’s bodies that are turned into battlefields. “Whether someone was 9 or 20 years old did not make any difference to them. They also do it to seven years old girls”, the Yazidi girls who escaped their Islamic State enslavers narrate to The Atlantic in a quavering voice their harrowing experience of abduction and sexual exploitation. War exposed its brutality on women in 1971 during Bangladesh Liberation War where mass rapes of around 400,00 Bengali women were committed by Pakistani military. It showed its mercilessness when Japanese troops before and during the World War II enslaved, abducted over 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Indonesian and Dutch women and girls from the conquered territories and turned them into ‘comfort women’. The inconceivable physical atrocities included apart from brutal rape, slicing off breasts and cutting off sexual organs. As if the worst hasn’t been done, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2002 reported how male aid workers of NGOs and UN peacekeepers commit equal level of sexual violence on women in war and conflict zones in exchange for food and other necessary resources.

Living with the emotional and physical wounds

“In the name of victory and the power of the gun, war provides men with a tacit license to rape”, writes Brownmiller and she isn’t wrong, because the diabolical treatment of women and girls during armed conflicts is revealed in their silent mourning, unheard pleas for justice wishing with a glimmer of hope, with pain buried deep inside that someday the world will recognize their sacrifice and the perpetrators will be brought to justice. The emotional wounds do not wane over time, it destroys the morale of these women gradually. Hit with unfathomable ramifications, women and girls in war-affected zones continue to suffer psychosocially. At most cases, the sexually violated women are ostracized from their own community and because of this looming fear of getting socially shunned, these women do not report rape or the atrocities they go through. They suffer from extreme health impact particularly reproductive health complications, getting infected with HIV/AIDS virus and other sexually transmitted diseases. The lack of medical help aggravates their condition which leads to high rate of female mortality.

Gripped by perpetual psychological trauma, endless health issues, shortage of food, water, basic sanitary facilities, constant shaming and shunning, these women either attempt to end their lives by suicide or are victims of forced suicide or ‘honor killing’. While war benefits none, but it’s the women who become the targets of gender-specific violence like getting kidnapped, trafficked, sold to slavery and prostitution. It is indeed strangely bewildering how the plight of these women is overlooked and obliterated in the post-war society and the trajectories of their sufferings do not get any space in the pages of history which solely focus on recording great battles and its military leaders.

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About the Author

Durba Chakraborty

Cocooning and writing sporadically on things that I read, see, think and feel. Arenas that particularly intrigue me include gender studies, subtleties of history and international policy issues. I write particularly from a gynocentric point read more...

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