Saturday, February 8, 2020
Leigh Goodmark has recently published The More the Context Changes, The More Things Stay the Same in Human Rights Quarterly (Feb 2020). Read the article here. It begins:
The mainstream anti-violence movement in the United States regularly addresses gender-based violence in a variety of contexts: intimate partner violence, acquaintance rape, stranger rape, campus sexual assault, domestic and international sex trafficking, even sexual assault in the armed forces. Rarely, however, are conversations about gender-based violence situated in the context of armed conflict. The United States has been perpetually at war since 2001, but, because that conflict has not occurred on US soil, the gender-based violence related to that conflict has largely been shielded from public scrutiny. The US anti-violence movement has not been terribly involved in interrogating violence connected with conflict around the world, even when the United States is a central actor in that conflict; however, The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Conflict, edited by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Naomi Cahn, Dina Francesca Haynes, and Nahla Valji and published by Oxford University Press in 2018,1 reveals that many of the conversations that US anti-violence advocates are having about gender-based violence are also taking place in the context of conflict. As a result, The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Conflict provides important insights on many of the issues confronting anti-violence advocates in the domestic context.
The agency and victimization binary, for example, has long been a subject of scrutiny for gender-based violence scholars. While early advocacy on behalf of battered women stressed their helplessness and victimization,2 scholars soon began to challenge the notion that people subjected to abuse were immobile in the face of abuse and incapable of taking active steps to protect themselves.3 A view of women subjected to abuse as meek, weak, and passive was hard to square with the extremely active step some women took of killing their partners to escape violence and also complicated the help-seeking of women who fought back against their abusers.4
The early conceptions of women in conflict settings were similarly onedimensional. As Jo Butterfield and Elizabeth Hieneman observe in their chapter on the gendered relationship between citizenship and conflict, "women entered the framework of international humanitarian law as objects of protection, not as subjects of the law."5 An emerging focus on the use of sexual violence in conflict exacerbated the victimization narrative6 and put international bodies "on a trajectory in tension with feminist challenges to the politics of victimhood as denying agency."7 This notion of women as needing protection reinforced already existing gender binaries that prevented women's full political and social participation.8