Militarism & women

< a publication to explain the reasons behind the Fiesta

DURING THE WEST African Women's workshop on Women During and in the Aftermath of Civil War held in Dakar, Senegal between 11 & 13 December 1998, over and over again, women spoke of the indiscriminate violence in their experiences of wars. They spoke of how wars bring violence to their communities, of how their societies become militarised in civil war and of how the militarisation lingers on afterwards; of the multi-faceted effects of war; of how violence makes life extremely difficult and dangerous for everyone, especially with the diffusion of cheap small arms, and of how often violence is experienced differently by women and men. Ominously, they spoke of how violence against women does not necessarily stop when peace treaties are signed to end the conflict; in fact, violence escalates.

The participants outlined a typology of both explicit and implicit violence to which women are subjected during and after armed conflicts.


  • systematic rape - as a way to dishonour and humiliate, not just women but the entire community of the perceived enemy group, which includes anybody and everybody from a different ethnic or religious background;
  • forced pregnancy - to leave the enemy's marker;
  • shooting women through the vagina - to render them infertile in order to ensure the final solution by ending the enemy's ability to reproduce;
  • cutting open pregnant women and killing the foetus to achieve the same objective;
  • forcing children to witness their mothers' rape in order psychologically to destroy them for life;
  • gang rape, to ensure the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, as weapons of mass destruction against the enemy;
  • physical, psychological and mental torture, which includes the mutilation of women's limbs; sexual slavery; and forced labour by cooking and washing for the military.


  • the systematic destruction of the basic needs of life including homes, food crops, food stores, water boreholes, irrigation systems, bridges, schools and health centres;
  • the abandonment of women who are left to fend for themselves and their children as their husbands are either killed or indefinitely imprisoned without charges;
  • harassment and intimidation of women by the police, military and militias;
  • exposure and vulnerability to opportunistic violence and death in the hands of bandits, rapists, thieves and other criminal elements who are let loose as a result of armed conflict;
  • dispossession of women by civilian, military or militia looters;
  • discrimination by social and government institutions (denial of access to opportunities and services controlled by government or militias);
  • forced prostitution to earn a living as legitimate economic activities are either destroyed or controlled by corrupt civilian/military government or militias;
  • silence and/or complicity by government or militia leaders in crimes against women;
  • denial of abortion and medical services in pregnancies resulting from systematic rape; and the rejection by their society of women victims of systematic rape along with their children conceived in rape;
  • the imprisonment of women of all ages, who are perceived to belong to the enemy group.