Conflict-related sexual violence and international peace operations

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Steinkogler, Cordula
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Global Campus
Within the United Nations peace and security work, as well as in academic research, advocacy and policy initiatives concerned with peace and security, gender is mainly conceptualized as synonymous with women while sexual violence is largely conflated with gender-based violence and thus regarded as an issue that exclusively affects women as victims and men as perpetrators. This however led to the exclusion of male victims of conflict-related sexual violence from academic research, advocacy and policy initiatives, as well as UN initiatives on gender, peace and security. This thesis seeks to explore ways to conceptualize and address conflict-related sexual violence in a comprehensive and inclusive way within the UN peace and security agenda and particularly in peace operations. By the means of a critical analysis of academic literature and policy developments the thesis discusses the dominant conceptual and operational frameworks that have been developed to address conflict-related sexual violence and suggests a re-conceptualisation of gender and gender-based violence in order to better accommodate the empirical reality of male victims and female perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. The dominant explanatory and policy frameworks developed by scholars and adopted by the UN to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict are largely based on a narrow approach and fail to adequately address the complex dynamics of conflict-related sexual violence. Conflict-related sexual violence is conceptualized on the basis of a strict male perpetrator/female victim dualism that regards the perpetrator/victim relationship as a male/female relationship and thereby links it to sex rather than gender. This precludes an effective gender analysis of sexual violence in armed conflict and does not permit to include male victims and female perpetrators into a discussion on the root causes of conflict-related sexual violence. The dominant conceptualization of conflict-related sexual violence furthermore relies on an essentialist representation of men and women, portraying women as vulnerable victims of sexual violence and men as aggressive perpetrators. Through the perpetuation of these associations, existing gender stereotypes, identities and power relations that make sexual violence an effective tool of humiliation and intimidation in times of armed conflict are reinforced rather than challenged. Thus this thesis argues that a more inclusive and comprehensive gender approach to conflict-related sexual violence should be adopted that addresses the various root causes and underlying dynamics by challenging traditional gender stereotypes and identities promoted by dominant gender discourses. Strategies to enhance the ability of UN peace operations to protect civilians from conflict-related sexual violence will hardly be effective as long as gender stereotypes and ideologies that lie at the roots of sexual violence in armed conflict are reproduced rather than deconstructed in UN discourse on peace and security as well as in the discourses of member states and particularly their military institutions.
European Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation, EIUC
Second semester University: National University of Ireland, Galway
peace, gender, sexual abuse, armed conflict