Sexual Violence as a peacetime-wartime continuum: Part 1
That gender-based and sexual violence is a weapon of war, and a painfully common occurrence in nearly every war front is a fact. What is obscure, and perhaps little considered in the strategies developed to tackle sexual violence, is that it is as rooted in peacetime as it is in wartime. Gender violence is ubiquitous and exists as a phenomenon in a “continuum” of sorts between peacetime and wartime.
In both peacetime and wartime, the occurrence of gender-violence is a representation of the dominance and aggression that men assert over women, and of the fact that the bodies of women are focal points for aggressive discrimination based on sex. The only difference between both situations lies in the proportion. In peacetime, there are scattered or episodic instances of violence take place. The bodies are “individual”, in that the cases are separate incidents and rape is not pursued as a policy of dominance. In wartime, the scale and proportion extend beyond this limit, where bodies become ‘social bodies’, with the number of events taking place tolling much higher – both, as a matter of policy of dominance, and by any and every person.
Wartime gender discrimination and violence is proof of a prevalent undercurrent of socio-cultural dynamics that speak of gender discrimination in peacetime. This is precisely the reason for the “effectiveness” of gender violence in war in breaking a nation’s social order. If there were no prevalent concepts in peacetime of honor, shame, sexuality, the sacredness of virginity and modesty, gender violence cannot function so effectively in war. The surrounding element of cultural salience in peacetime surrounding a woman’s honor is a reflection of the connotations that sexuality has in peacetime.
The dynamics of male dominance stem from the notions surrounding the protection of female honor, which in turn, is inherent in many traditional cultures. Most countries that have remained thriving hotbeds of impunity with gender-violence in wartime are those that are peppered with a sanctimonious perception of women as sex objects in peacetime. By “sex objects”, the connotation intends to convey that women are representatives of the code of honor of their families and the code of honor of their blood and lineage. This, in turn, leads to the augmented sanctity attached to the virginity, chastity, honor, and virtue of a woman. Women themselves are brought up with the preconditioning that their honor and shame are non-negotiable elements for their acceptance in society. A woman is deemed the representation of the honor of the three-tiered hierarchy that commands her life: her husband, her family, and the community or province she represents.
Given the importance of and emphasis upon a woman’s chastity, monogamy, and fertility in peacetime, it is understandable why women become the critical targets of enemy combatants in a state of war. An act of violence against women is a means for combatants to show their control over the “sexual property” in a conflict.
Sexual violence in peacetime is often construed as crimes against the individual – while in war the very same offenses gain greater magnitude. The continued subsistence of a culture of silence in peacetime is a springboard for the unhindered occurrence of violence against women in war. In effect, therefore, bodies don’t turn battlegrounds when peace changes to war, but remain battlegrounds through peace and war. The lack of peace at home and at the grass-root snowballs into the lack of peace in the nation, and the lack of peace across the world.
About the Author:
Kirthi Jayakumar is an activist, artist, entrepreneur, and writer from Chennai, India. She founded and runs the Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative that works for gender equality through storytelling, advocacy, and digital interventions. She also founded and runs fynePRINT, a feminist e-publishing imprint. She is a member of the Youth Working Group for Gender Equality under the UNIANYD.
Kirthi is an author and released her debut novel in 2017, titled The Doodler of Dimashq. Her second book, The Dove’s Lament, made it to the final shortlist for the Muse India Young Writers’ Literary Award.
Kirthi coded an app for survivors of gender-based violence called Saahas, which works as a web and mobile app. She taught herself to code and created a web app, a mobile app, and a Facebook ChatBot to support survivors of gender-based violence across 196 countries, and to assist bystander intervention.
In 2016, Kirthi was invited to Michelle Obama’s United State of Women Summit at the White House in Washington DC, as a nominated changemaker. In 2017, she was one of the youth activists invited to attend President Obama’s Town Hall at New Delhi.
Kirthi has spoken at TEDx Chennai, addressing Peace Education as a means to end Bullying. She has also spoken at FICCI FLO, as one of the youngest speakers to address the members. She was also a speaker at the Economic Times Women’s Summit 2018. Kirthi has also had the distinction of addressing the UNV Partnerships Forum on her work as an epoch-making online volunteer with the United Nations.
Kirthi is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women NGO, from President Barack Obama. She is the two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (2012, 2013). She received the 2016 Orange Flower Award from Women’s Web, the 2016 World Pulse Impact Leader Award and the 2017 Empowerment Leader Award from the Dais Foundation. Her work has been published in The Guardian and the TIME Magazine. She was recognized by EuropeAid on the “200 Women in the World of Development Wall of Fame in 2016.” She received the Digital Women Award for Social Impact in 2017, from SheThePeople, the Person of the Year (Social Entrepreneur) 2017 from The Brew Magazine. Kirthi is a recipient of the Yuva Samman from MOP Vaishnav College, in January 2018. The Red Elephant Foundation received the FICCI FLO Outstanding NGO of the Year Award 2018, and the UN Online Volunteering Award 2017. Kirthi was also among the six women featured on Facebook India on International Women’s Day in 2018.