How Does Civil Society Understand Conflict-Related Sexual Violence? Perspectives from women activists in Colombia

from Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Published on 06 Dec 2019 View Original

By Anne-Kathrin Kreft (University of Gothenburg)

How do women mobilize against conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV)? How do such women activists understand the nature and causes of this violence, and what can we learn from these insights? This policy brief explores patterns of women’s civil society mobilization around CRSV in Colombia, looking particularly at these women’s perceptions of CRSV. It reveals that civil society activists link CRSV first and foremost to gender inequality and patriarchal norms in society. In contrast to the globally dominant understanding of CRSV as a weapon of war that stems purely from conflict dynamics and war strategy, these activists understand sexual violence in the private sphere and that perpetrated in war as on a continuum, entrenched in patriarchal norms and gender inequalities.

Brief Points

  • Sexual violence perpetrated by paramilitary forces, rebel groups, and government armies is widespread in conflicts throughout the world, including in the armed conflict that has plagued Colombia since the 1960s.

  • Women mobilize in civil society against conflict-related sexual violence. Activists in Colombia perceive it to be a highly gendered violence that poses a threat to women as a social collective.

  • These activists regard sexual violence as an extreme expression of gender inequality, anchored in patriarchal norms.

  • Conflict further exacerbates the prevalence of sexual violence and amplifies the patriarchal norms in which the violence is rooted.

  • The strategic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war must be understood through the lens of the gendered hierarchies in societies.

  • Confronting sexual violence solely as a result of war – i.e. only prosecuting it as a war crime – is insufficient.