A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
Chapter seven: The Terror facing women and girls in war: Contextualizing Sexual Violence in Conflict
Conceptualizing Gender within a conflict environment The Young People and Conflict research study that has been carried out in Angola, Uganda and Burundi is an illustration of why gender is an important discourse for conflict resolution and peace building. Conflicts are gendered. The roles men and women play, the experiences they undergo and the threats they get exposed to in conflict are differentiated by the identity, prescriptions and expectations that society automatically attaches to the male or female body (Cockburn, C 1998). Further, women and men have differentiated access to resources (including power and decision-making) during conflicts, this has been recognized by the international community and highlighted in the Platform for Action while entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict and terrorism, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society as well as their sex (Beijing, 1995 para 135). Therefore understanding the gendered elements of a conflict is an important dimension of understanding the overall conflict. Furthermore, the conflicts we have seen and continue to see in Africa and the world over have turned communities into war zones (see Nhongo-Simbanegavi 2000) and thus the consequences of violence are increasingly experienced at the level of civilian populations with human bodies especially female bodies becoming the ‘battle grounds’ of these wars (see IRIN News Report 2004: Our Bodies their Battle Grounds). Thus conflict is not just about the warring parties, but about the communities, families and the women and men affected by it as well.
In many violent conflict situations security is considered a men’s affair and is exclusively defined in military terms. For a long time women and girls’ accounts and experiences were ignored and missing in the field of conflict resolution and peace building. The very act of absenting women and girls makes gender simultaneously absent and present, as Reimann (2002) points out, most conflict resolution scholars or practitioners do not make their gender blindness explicit, they base their work on particular understandings of gender relations, thus gender is already albeit implicitly inherent in theory and practice. This glaring marginalisation of women in conflict resolution is what resulted in the Burundi and Uganda components of the research seeking to hear young women’s experiences from their own standpoint. Young people have also been a marginalised group. Most times their experiences are not considered and where they are, they are narrated by adults. This research brings out their voices and more so, the views of young women and girls who most
times get marginalised in the broader gender discourse.
Oral testimony was the best method to gather the primary data from the young girls, this method allowed them to use their own words and understandings of the