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Securitising sexual violence: Transitions from war to peace



This chapter addresses how the recent and ongoing securitization of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) intersects with and connects to societal responses to post-conflict sexual violence. We argue that there are three interrelated modes of recognition that form part of the CRSV securitization process: hyper-visibility, the construction of a hierarchy of harms, and criminalization. Looking at securitization through these modes of recognition, we discuss how the rape-security nexus at the level of global security politics may impact on women’s security in post-conflict societies in unintended ways. In doing so, we engage with the ongoing scholarly debate about the relevance and importance of a continuum perspective on violence against women.
Accepted chapter ahead of print in anthology
Intimate Partner Violence, Risk and Security: Securing Women's Lives
Edited by Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Sandra Walklate, Jude McCulloch, and JaneMaree Maher
Routledge 2018, ISBN 9781138700352
Pp. 19-33
Chapter 1
Securitising sexual violence
Transitions from war to peace
Anette Bringedal Houge and Inger Skjelsbæk
It is awful to say [sighs] but it feels like we need another armed
conflict in order to get the attention and funding we need to be able to
work with and address sexual and gender-based violence.
(Non-government organisation [NGO] worker, Sarajevo, November
This book addresses how international and national security measures fail to
include or prioritise womens safety and security from male intimate partner
violence (IPV) within their state-centred conceptions of security (see also Ní
Aoláin, Cahn and Haynes 2014). Shifting the focus to human and gendered
security, the various contributions address security politics and measures in
relation to ordinary people in their daily lives. In this chapter, we focus
particularly on the continuities and discontinuities of sexual violence as it takes
place and is responded to in different security settings (see also Buss 2014: 16).
In stark contrast to (the lack of) global security responses to IPV as pointed out
in the previous chapter conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) has gained
extraordinary levels of attention, visibility and condemnation at the level of
global, or international, security politics during the past decade and a half. From
this outset, we ask whether and how the recent and ongoing securitisation of
CRSV intersects with and connects to post-conflict sexual violence. We do this
by drawing on feminist security perspectives, extensive research on issues to do
with CRSV, as well as insights gained from interviews with gender activists,
politicians and stakeholders in criminal, transitional and post-conflict justice
projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. More specifically, we
argue that there are three interrelated modes of recognition that form part of the
securitisation process: hyper-visibility, the construction of a hierarchy of harms
and criminalisation. Looking at securitisation through these modes of
recognition, we discuss how the rapesecurity nexus at the level of global
security politics may impact on womens security in post-conflict societies. In
doing so, we engage with the ongoing scholarly discussion about the relevance
and importance of a continuum perspective on violence against women (Meger
2016; Cohen and Wood 2016; Kirby 2013).
Feminist security studies and gendered securitisation
Applying a feminist perspective to issues to do with security includes always
asking where are the women(Enloe 1990) as well as a consistent questioning of
what is assumed to be normal (Wibben 2011: 12). As Smith (2005, quoted in
Wibben 2011: 7) has realised, looking at security from the perspective of
women alters the definition of what security is to such an extent that it is difficult
to see how any form of traditional security studies can offer an analysis. Critical
feminist security studies challenge traditional security studiesexclusive concern
with state-centred and public security, and questions how security is or should
be perceived. As does a human security perspective, feminist theories on
security focus on the lived experiences and consequences of structural,
international, national and individual in/security emphasising how gender and
in/security intersect and work on one another (Hirschauer 2014: 56). From this
outset, feminist scholars have asked whether we can in any way talk about a
secure state, if its residents do not experience security (Kaldor and Chinkin
2017). This question and the untangling of what is taken for granted in the
overall security discourse have steered feminist engagement with issues to do
with conflict, peace and security for decades (see also Wibben 2011: 7). Sexual
violence is a case in point, as its continuation after the end of conflict exemplifies
how security is a highly relative notion, which can mean different things for men
and women, collectives and individuals. Boesten and Fisher (2012) remark how,
no matter the level of conflict-related sexual violence, [s]exual violence [both]
precedes and survives conflict. Importantly, violence against women does not
necessarily abate at the end of conflict(see, for example, Manjoo and McRaith
2011: 13). From this perspective, gendered and sexual violence challenge the
very notions of conflictand peace, as sexual violence neither begins with the
outbreak of war, nor ends with the formal signing of peace agreements:
The terms pre, during, and post conflict bring with them
assumptions about breaks or changes in social and political contexts
and the everyday lives of women and men. While feminists have
sought to challenge the deemed rupture between these divisions … the
assumptions about endof conflict are difficult to unseat. In the post-
conflict period, presumptions about security… can obscure the ways
in which women continue to face violence and insecurity.
(Buss 2014: 16)
In this chapter we address the consequences of these assumptions, focusing on
the recent securitisation of CRSV and how it impacts on how we understand the
broader continuum of gendered violence that transgresses warand peace. The
term securitisationas applied here refers to a process involving a marked shift
in the framing of an issue, moving it from the status of a political non-concern, or
a concern of ordinary politics, to the realm of security politics (see Hirschauer
2014: 56). Such a shift is premised on (the construction of) a specific,
exceptional and existential threat, and marks the end of business as usual, as it
evokes the applicability and use of extraordinary measures. That is, it is a shift in
framing that expands the toolbox available to policymakers and governments to
tackle the threat the issue poses (Hirschauer 2014: 192). For CRSV, this process
of securitisation emerged with the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the
genocide in Rwanda in the early and mid-1990s. These conflicts constituted
watershed moments in global security politics as they forced ahead global
recognition of womens war experiences as a relevant and international security
concern (Hirschauer 2014: 7).
UNSCR 1325 and Bosnia as a case for understanding a
broader picture
On 31 October 2000, Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) was unanimously adopted
by the United Nations (UN) Security Council. This groundbreaking resolution
was critically important because it framed womens wartime experiences as a
concern for international peace and security. Importantly, it prominently stated
the importance of womens participation in (military and civilian) peacemaking
efforts, and reiterated the international responsibility for womens particular
protection needs during armed conflicts (Tryggestad 2009). The agency approach
so clearly articulated in UNSCR 1325 was a new kind of language, rhetoric and
ambition at the level of the UN Security Council. However, its implementation
has proved to be difficult. UNSCR 1325 asks for changes in social and political
structures, in institutional behaviours and societal attitudes. For many politicians,
military personnel and others mandated to implement it, the resolution is seen
both as too broad and too vague, making it difficult to operationalise its good
intentions. In addition, it was felt by many UN member states that the ideas and
ideals about gender equality and womens participation embedded in the text of
the resolution embodied Western, and perhaps even Northern, concepts that were
now being forced upon people and states with divergent cultural understandings
of gender and gender relations.
In contrast to the womens agency orientation, the resolutions other main
concern about womens protection needs in the context of war had been part of
UN language for at least a decade before the adoption of UNSCR 1325. The
Beijing Platform for Action stemming from the UN World Conference on
Women in 1995 is a case in point, in which two chapters are devoted to women
in armed conflict and the focus is exclusively on the special protection needs of
women. Portraying women as in need of rescue was and remains
uncontroversial. The protection of women as a particularly vulnerable group
during times of conflict was, thus, a need around which there was already cross-
cultural agreement, and also a task that was easier to conceptualise and
operationalise. Protection issues are more pragmatic often about implementing
practical, hands-on security measures that ensure that defined groups of people
are less vulnerable in given situations, such as lights in dark places in refugee
settlements, military presence in areas of tension between rival groups and safe
houses for women. It is this protection orientation that dominates the follow-up
resolutions to UNSCR 13251 which primarily focus on womens security
through protection from and prosecution of CRSV (Kirby and Shepherd 2016).
Bosnia is a particularly relevant case to examine in order to further our
understanding of the ways in which CRSV is securitised and the complexities
involved in the process. Bosnia is a country that is still in many ways
transitioning from war to peace. While the country is formally independent and
self-governed, the international presence remains strong. In particular, the role
and mandate of the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which was put in
place to oversee the civilian elements of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA),
remain strong. Moreover, the country is deeply divided. The DPA left Bosnia
with one of the most complicated government structures in the world: a state
divided into two entities (Republika Srpska and The Bosnian Federation), which
has resulted in triple (state and entity level) sets of presidencies, ministers and
legislature. The system is highly fragmented, and corruption is widespread.
Negotiating this landscape is difficult, and womens legal, social and political
status is entangled in ethnic divisions. Not least, it was the wars in the former
Yugoslavia, and particularly in Bosnia, from 1992 to 1995, that played the
biggest part in bringing CRSV, womens war experiences and security needs
onto the international agenda. As stated, the massive attention and response to
the systematic use of sexual violence in Bosnia was key to the successful
mobilisation that drove the adoption of UNSCR 1325 (Hudson and Leidl 2015:
Domestically, the politicisation of womens bodies and the targeted
victimisation of women placed gender issues explicitly at the centre of ethnicised
politics in Bosnia (Hansen 2001; Helms 2013; Mežnarić 1994; Nikolić-
Ristanović 2000; Skjelsbæk 2006). According to actors in Bosnian civil society,
the adoption of UNSCR 1325 in 2000 provided them with political leverage for
their work with womens rights and gender equality (Björkdahl and Selimović
2015). Sarajevo Open Centre argues, for instance, that the country has made
progress in terms of greater political participation by women, an increasing
number of women in the police and military forces, and efforts to combat gender-
based violence and support victims of CRSV (Mirović, Hadžić and Miftari 2015;
Veličković 2014). Others point out, however, that the adoption of UNSCR1325
does not function as an instrument for any substantial changes in gender
dynamics in domestic structures (Björkdahl and Selimović 2015).
From ‘silence’ to ‘hyper-visibility’
Prior to the conflict in Bosnia and the genocide in Rwanda, CRSV was rarely
acknowledged as anything but a by-product of war and received only scant
attention from policy, advocacy, legal and academic actors alike. That does not,
however, suggest that sexual violence did not exist. Far from it. In her study of
women in the Viking Age, Jesch (1991: 12) asserts that the Vikings would vent
their fury on women and monks by maiming, murdering, robbing, pillaging,
destroying, enslaving and raping. Jesch also notes that this behaviour was
common among the Vikingsadversaries. The situation during the Roman empire
was no different, as Nicolas Poussins painting Abduction of the Sabine
Womenindicates, and Richlins (2010: 353) overview of sexuality in the Roman
Empire reveals, where she describes how the rape of conquered men and women
happened on a wide scale and that it was considered an integral part of warfare.
The same point can be found in the work of Vigarello (2001), who traces the
history of rape in France from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.
Moreover, rape as a metaphor and metaphors of rape have been part of
historic accounts and other forms of war documentation and depiction for
centuries. For example, the attack on the Chinese city of Nanking by Japanese
soldiers in 1937, resulting in the death of up to 300,000 Chinese civilians, is
commonly referred to as the Rape of Nanking. As a direct manifestation of the
misuse of power and violence unleashed by war, rape is used as a metaphor for
the barbarism of war. However and ironically so, considering the recognition
that lies in the above use of rape as metaphor as an act in itself, rape has
historically been referred to by the use of euphemisms, such as the biblical
formulation that you may enjoy the spoil of your enemies. Considering rape
and sexual violence as part of the spoils of war, as a natural consequence of
warfare, has historically marginalised the phenomenon of CRSV as a private
womens problem. This, combined with the shame associated with rape and
sexual violence (see, for example, Ericsson 2011), has meant that victimsstories
and experiences have been kept at arms length from policy and research
analysis. As a consequence, we have, historically, known very little about the
ways in which rape is used in different wars, why this is the preferred form of
violence in certain settings, how the victims and their societies live with these
experiences after the war has ended, and what the political impact of these acts of
violence might be, both during and after conflict.
This historical silence has, however, been disrupted by the voiced
experiences of survivors from many conflict zones, beginning with Bosnia and
Rwanda, but later also Kosovo, East Timor, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the
DRC and Syria. Often enabled through public testimonies at international
criminal courts from the early 1990s onwards, victimsstories constitute what
Henry (2011) describes as counter memories of war. A massive documentation
effort, first by journalists and then on the part of international NGOs and the UN
community, was instrumental in bringing about the attention needed to move the
international community towards recognition and the establishment of these
judicial sites of counter memory. In response to journalistsclaims that rape was
being used systematically in Bosnia, several fact-finding missions focused their
efforts on sexual violence in particular. Amnesty International was one of the
first organisations to document sexual violence in an organized or systematic
way, with the deliberate detention of women for the purpose of rape and sexual
abuse identified as early as January 1993 (Amnesty International 1993). Then
followed a series of reports, from individual journalists, and various UN
Commissions (Mazowiecki 1993; Bassiouni 1994) to Human Rights Watch and
national organisations and collectives such as the Coordinative Group of
Womens Organizations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who documented sexual
violence alongside other forms of war violence estimating the number of
women raped from 20,000 to 60,000. During the 100 days of genocide in
Rwanda in 1994, half a million women were reportedly raped (Organization of
African Unity 2000).
The estimated numbers, descriptions and reports that followed led to
increasing recognition that CRSV constituted a weapon of war, a strategy used
not onlyto opportunistically abuse women and release combatantsstress from
the violent experience of warfare, but also as a deliberate tool used to threaten
communities, political/religious/ethnic groups and, not least, states (see also Buss
2009: 1456). As a consequence, sexual violence crimes were eventually
prosecuted in ways never seen before at the International Criminal Tribunal for
the former Yugoslavia, established in 1993 (Skjelsbæk 2011). This expansion
and enforcement of existing international criminal law, premised on a
reconceptualisation of CRSV as a national and international security crisis that
threatened not only women but also states, constitute a vital part of the
securitisation process.
Moreover, the massive response to the systematic use of CRSV during the
conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s was a central driving force
for the adoption of UNSCR 1325 described above. By framing sexual violence as
an international security issue, the resolution significantly bolstered the new
discourse on gendered violence globally. As a consequence of these highly
successful efforts to make womens voices heard and rape in war visible through
means of securitisation, CRSV today rivals nuclear and biological weapons,
terrorism, and arms proliferation for receiving the most attention among security
actors (Meger 2016; see also Hirschauer 2014). When CRSV finally became
part of international norm and policy agendas, it did so forcefully (Buss 2014;
Engle 2005; Henry 2014) resulting in numerous UN Security Council
Resolutions, a vast and expanding research field, a series of academic and
political conferences, prosecutorial prioritisations in national and supranational
jurisdictions, the establishment of a number of national and international
organisations dedicated to the issue and earmarked funding for efforts to counter
CRSV specifically. Accordingly, some critical feminist scholars have begun to
denote the permeating focus on CRSV as ‘a fetishizationof sexual violence in
international security (Meger 2016). These critics hold that there has been an
over-focus on CRSV at the expense of other kinds of gendered violence that
happen across the continuum of violence, and in times of peace as well as war.
While we do not necessarily agree that the term fetishisation adequately
captures the prioritisation of CRSV that we have seen, we agree that there has
been a hyper-visibility of particular forms of gendered violence in conflict. Buss
(2009) expands on this concept in her deliberation on the ad hoc international
criminal tribunals prosecutorial and rhetorical focus on sex crimes. Here,
hyper-visibility refers not only to the heightened focus that made CRSV visible
in the first place, but also to an excessive focus on and use of dark imagery,
which in practice obscure and render individual accounts of rape and sexual
violence invisible (Buss 2009: 155; see also Buss 2014). The analyses by
Buss (2009; 2014) pay attention to the limitations of re-presentation of victims
and perpetrators, causes and consequences that is produced by international
criminal justice, and the consequent erasure of nuances and complexities
Transferred to the wider process of securitisation of which prosecution
and criminalisation at these tribunals are part, the concept of hyper-visibility
helps draw attention to the conditions under which CRSV has gained notoriety
during the past few decades. First, we recognise that securitisation and the
associated hyper-visibility bring about an important and long sought-after
potential to rearrange the social and legal order, and to foster recognition of
harms in judicial and political realms where this has previously been absent. In
contrast to structural and gendered explanations and conceptions of sexual
violence, securitisation and in particular the construction of a phenomenon as a
security crisis enables a language that makes CRSV ignite in public and policy
discourse. The exceptionality and sensationalism undoubtedly serve its purposes
(Houge and Lohne 2017).
However, and in line with Busss concept of hyper-visibility, it also casts
shadows that we need to cater to, and be aware of. In Bosnia, this was acutely felt
in the immediate post-war setting where international actors were more than
willing to fund projects and initiatives linked to CRSV, but not projects and
initiatives focusing on other forms of gendered violence. Similar tendencies have
been reported by scholars in relation to other conflicts and post-conflict contexts
(see, for example, Lemaitre and Sandvik 2014; Autesserre 2012; Baaz and Stern
Beyond sensationalist representations of the individuals involved (Houge
2016; Houge and Lohne 2017), and eschewed funding priorities in the immediate
conflict context, the hyper-visibility of CRSV is contingent on the use of crisis
language and thus also a differentiation of CRSV from rape as usual. A crisis
per definition refers to a temporary state confined not only in time but also in
place. Sexual and gender-based violence as a social phenomenon and problem is
not confined in similar ways. The hyper-visibility of one form of gendered
violence that is, sexual violence committed by armed actors for war purposes
is, thus, a two-edged sword, impacting not only on the continuum of violence
within conflict but also along the temporal continuum of violence that spans
beyond. How we can understand the relative invisibility of post-conflict sexual
violence in light of the global security policy concern on CRSV is our focus in
the next section.
From weapon of war to a hierarchy of harms
When CRSV is defined as a threat to national and international security, as
argued in the section above, this conceptualisation elevates it from the
perceived lesser realm of what one gender consultant in Bosnia denotes as pink
women issues. Pink women issues are conceptualisations of in/security and
inequality that emphasise soft, gendered and structural explanations of
inequality and violence, and keep matters important to women at the margins of
[influential] politics (focus group interview, Sarajevo, November 2015). The
image of CRSV as extraordinary arguably makes the continuum of violence of
which it is part less visible, and constructs a hierarchy of gendered harms that can
be problematic (see also Buss 2014; Autesserre 2012).
For instance, when local psycho-social workers observed an increase in
domestic violence in the immediate post-conflict era in Bosnia, they were unable
to secure funding and support to address these concerns because the international
donors, on which the Bosnian population was completely dependent, prioritised
projects that dealt exclusively with CRSV (psycho-social health workers in
Bosnia, interviewed by Skjelsbæk in September 2001). As the quote opening this
chapter illustrates, several of our interviewees working with gender-based
violence in present-day Bosnia are frustrated that sexual violence in the context
of war is conceptualised as an extraordinary, immediate crisis, while all other
forms of violence against women are still seen as business as usual (focus
group interviews with NGO workers, Sarajevo, November 2015). Accordingly,
when international donors, researchers and international politicians come to
Bosnia or Republika Srpska, they come to hear about the war-specific
experiences of their interviewees. As one of our research participants pointed out,
they are not interested in the current, socio-economic hardships and political
strains that prevent us from living decent lives today(politician, Republika
Srpska, November 2015). To several of our interviewees, it is the current
economic situation, ongoing political corruption and domestic and gender-based
violence in present-day Bosnia that constitute the crisis, not the physical violence
they survived 20 years ago.
There are, of course, several aspects that make CRSV and domestic and
gendered violence generally distinct phenomena. The violence is produced in
sometimes vastly different contexts and under different forms and degrees of
pressure, and serves different more or less articulated purposes (see Cohen
and Wood 2016). The contrast between the urgency associated with CRSV, on
the one hand, and the relative invisibility of gendered violence committed by
violent intimate partners, on the other, is nurtured by disparities such as unknown
and combatant perpetrators in the case of CRSV, and known and civilian
perpetrators in the case of IPV, as well as the distinction between what is
considered to be public, political violence and what constitutes private,
apolitical violence (see also Cohen and Wood 2016). For local psychologists, this
distinction is a substantial one, which frames the trauma of violence in very
different ways, as one interviewee explained:
I think that the stigma for women raped during the peace period would
be much stronger than towards the women raped during the war.
During the war, we thought about our survival, and we thought about
ourselves as a group against the enemy. But, in the peace, it is
something else. We are not all equal. We have individual issues and
lives. And the attitude towards individuals is different. This makes a
woman [who experiences rape in the post-conflict setting] alone in her
(Referenced also in Skjelsbæk 2011: 104)
Here, the psychologist points out that post-conflict gendered violence, which
they call domestic violence or civil trauma, is understood very differently from
war rape. It is more difficult to evoke an empowering survivor identity for
victims in the post-war setting, because the perpetratorvictim relationship does
not run along the ethnic or political lines that signify the national security
discourse. In the post-war setting, rape is a form of violence in which the
relationship between the individual men and women involved is brought into
question. Relatively similar acts of violence are thus treated radically differently
(socially, politically and legally) depending on the degree to which they are
politicised and as we know from sexual violence research generally
depending also on the prior relationship between perpetrators and victims (see,
for example, Selinger and Freccero 2015). Yet, interestingly, research has also
shown that oftentimes the most common form of sexual violence committed
during conflicts is not the violence committed by armed combatants, but the
violence perpetrated by intimate partners (Cohen and Wood 2016). The strains
and trauma of war experiences may contribute to levels of insecurity and
violence at home that are greater than those produced by war itself, as our
interviewees in Bosnia over many years have pointed to (see also Buss 2014: 5).
Paralleling the distinction between public and private terrorism elaborated
on in the former chapter, IPV arguably poses a greater (human) security threat in
terms of numbers of victims worldwide than does CRSV yet soldiers and
political, armed conflict make a better security crisis argument than do family
relations. Despite the differences between CRSV and post-conflict violence,
these forms of violence remain connected importantly, including via the ways
societal responses to one form of violence are influenced by how we understand
and address the other.
From impunity to criminal prosecution
Criminalisation is the third mode of recognition that performs a key role in the
securitisation process. As already addressed, and as others have pointed out (see
Kirby 2016), the recent securitisation of CRSV has been decisively oriented
towards criminalisation and criminal prosecution, including an array of
extraordinary, specific legal measures never deployed before through
international law(Hirschauer 2014: 192). The ad hoc international criminal
tribunals established by the UN in the early 1990s have successfully prosecuted
sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and as constitutive parts
of genocide. The urgency of the threat posed by CRSV as now framed made the
pleas for prosecution effective where they previously had not been. The case law
and practice of these ad hoc tribunals in turn directed the inclusion of such
crimes into the statute of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) at the
turn of the millennium (de Brouwer 2005). Feminist NGOs, academics, lawyers
and politicians alike have celebrated these developments as important, victorious
steps in organised efforts to make womens war experiences a matter of
international security politics. Indeed, international and national criminal law has
become the preferred measure through which the international community
responds to CRSV. From being considered part of the inevitable spoils of war,
CRSV has become a favoured cause fitcampaign material. This is illustrated
also in the series of UN Security Council resolutions on women, peace and
security that followed the adoption of UNSCR 1325, as emphasis has
increasingly become centred on CRSV and the role and importance of criminal
law in combating such violence (Kirby and Shepherd 2016). The securitisation of
CRSV has thus made a complex phenomenon communicable, frameable and
through criminal law, seemingly solvable (Houge and Lohne 2017).2
The turn to criminal law is not new to feminist campaigning that seeks to
prevent violence against women. In public debates about rape and domestic
violence in both peaceful and post-conflict societies we can see a parallel reliance
on and call for criminal prosecution as the means through which victims can and
should be recognised, and causes addressed both through retribution and
deterrence. Often, legal impunity in itself is seen as a root cause of the violence,
as Haglund and Richards argue: The climate of impunity in many [societies
emerging from civil conflict] results in unprecedented levels of violence against
women, making legal implementation and law enforcement particularly difficult
We concur with the need to hold perpetrators accountable, and
appreciate laws symbolic, communicative and persuasive potential, as norm
provider and moral disciplinarian through its public condemnation of violent acts
as crimes (Ní Aoláin, Haynes and Cahn 2011). We have also observed directly
that criminal prosecution and ensuing convictions can indeed be an empowering
experience for victims who are seen, heard and believed by legal authorities
although this is far from a consistent or universal experience for victims who
testify in criminal courts be they national or international (see, for example,
Henry 2011). We are sceptical, however, of representations of criminal law as
both cause (through its absence) and solution (through its enforcement). Criminal
law is a valuable tool but it is also just one tool among many. Critical feminist
scholars argue that the individualisation of responsibility that follows from
criminal prosecution detaches the phenomenon from the structural and gendered
inequalities and the continuum of violence that make it possible. As summarised
by Ní Aoláin (2016: 275):
Feminist legal and political scholars have neatly pinpointed the
problems associated with [the WPS agenda of the UNSC], including
the weight of international attention laid on sexual harms to women in
war without due consideration to the conditions and inequalities that
produce such harms in the first place.
With the over-focus on criminal law and its individualisation of guilt comes a
shift of attention away from the necessary long-term, less slogan-friendly,
structural, societal, socioeconomic changes that are required to prevent gendered
harms in all forms both before, during and after armed conflict.
Conclusion: sexual violence as rupture and continuum
[T]he purpose of doing research in Feminist Security Studies is to raise
problems, not to solve them, states Sjoberg (2011: 602). In this chapter, we have
highlighted some of the connections between a forceful and dominant
securitisation of CRSV and the ways in which sexual violence can be perceived
and addressed in transitioning societies after conflict. We hold the process of
securitising CRSV to be intimately connected to three modes of recognition that
we have denoted as hyper-visibility, the production of a hierarchy of harms, and
the uncritical prioritisation of criminalisation. The emphasis on these three modes
of recognition arguably constitutes a valuable entry point to better understand the
implications of continuities and discontinuities of continuum perspectives and
differentiation when addressing and responding to sexual violence in post-
conflict contexts. The approach has been useful to begin to address what
Hirschauer (2014: 188) refers to as the securities, insecurities and silences
created by the securitization of [conflict-related] rape and its ethical impasses.
However, we suggest that the focus on visibility/invisibility, a hierarchy of harms
and criminalisation processes may also be relevant to study the securitisation of
violence in other forms and contexts.
Feminist security studies seek to find a balance between pointing out the
lack of recognition or inclusion of women in securitisation processes, on the one
hand, and on the other, critique of the costs of securitisation, and asking whether
the overall security orientation is at all emancipatory (see Kirby 2016; Nunes
2012). When sexual violence becomes political capital, it tends to raise attention
and increase funding for preventive efforts. However, as several research
participants working on gender-based violence in post-conflict Sarajevo pointed
out, it also changes peoples motivation for working with these issues and the
framing of the problem. Securitisation discourse may elevate the political
interest, but it also leads to simpler answers, shorter-term commitments and
detachment from broader structural inequalities (focus group interview,
November 2015).
Pointing to the often high prevalence of violence against women in post-
conflict societies, we emphasise the need for a gendered approach not only to
global or national security, but also to human security in the aftermath of war. As
put by Ní Aoláin, Cahn and Haynes (2014: 210), [s]ocieties that are not safe for
women are not safe(see also Enloe 2004). Importantly, securitisation is not the
equivalent of experienced security. Kirby (2016) points to this important
difference between securitisation rhetorics and security in practice. The
successful securitisation of CRSV, and the resultant elevated status it attains as
an important issue at the tables of hard politics and international criminal justice,
does not infer that women in conflict or, importantly, post-conflict experience a
safer world.
The authors would like to thank research assistant Elin Martine Doeland for her
invaluable help during the fieldwork and for transcribing the interviews
referenced in this paper.
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Full-text available
This collection of papers debates how methodological choices affect what we can know about wartime sexual violence, and how this knowledge might influence policy making. These questions are examined from different disciplinary perspectives and cases by reflecting on methodology in terms of epistemology, ontology, and axiology. Considering not only the surge in global policy initiatives and media attention on sexual violence in conflict, but likewise, the continued interests from researchers globally, it is essential to revisit debates around methodologies and the effects this has on those who are the subject of the research and interventions. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Licence. Further details regarding permitted usage can be found at http:// Print and ebook editions of this work are available to purchase from Zed Books (
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Whilst sexual violence has been an offence associated both with war- and peacetime throughout history, its rise to the tables where international peace and security are negotiated, represents a significant shift. This article continues the scholarly conversation about conflict-related sexual violence and its emergence as a “hot topic” on academic, political, and activist agendas. Specifically, we ask how and why criminal law constitutes the ultimately meaningful response to such violence. Building on frame analysis, we address how the fight against conflict-related sexual violence has become the fight against impunity. We examine what imageries of victims and perpetrators, causes and consequences key actors within interstate diplomacy and human rights advocacy evoke to drive this development. We argue that these narratives shape the political discourse on conflict-related sexual violence, which may in turn influence the perceived political maneuverability in the face of such harms.
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Recent international relations scholarship tends to view sexual violence, especially rape, as an exceptional—if not aberrant—phenomenon in war and armed conflict. Indeed, it often treats it as the sole form of gender-based violence capable of threatening international peace and security. I challenge the isolation of this particular form of gender violence in the study and governance of international security. I argue that the securitization of sexual violence produced its “fetishization” in international advocacy, policy, and scholarship. The stages of securitization operate as a process of fetishization by first, decontextualizing and homogenizing this violence; second, objectifying this violence; and third, affecting inter-unit relations through the “selling back” of sexual violence to actors involved in conflict. As such, my argument helps specify why securitization fails to adequately address an issue like sexual violence and often results in further retrenchment of disparate power relations.
The climate of impunity in many post-civil conflict societies results in unprecedented levels of violence against women, making legal implementation and law enforcement particularly difficult. We argue that the presence of strong legal provisions mediates the negative influence of the post-civil conflict environment on violence against women. Specifically, we examine the role of strong legal protections on the enforcement of sexual violence legislation in post-civil conflict countries. To examine our hypothesis, we utilize an original dataset measuring the strength and enforcement of domestic legal statutes addressing violence against women for the years 2007–2010 in post-civil conflict countries. We find elements of civil conflict as well as domestic and international legal regimes to be reliably associated with the enforcement of violence against women laws and rape prevalence in post-civil conflict states.
This book uniquely applies securitization theory to the mass sexual violence atrocities committed during the Bosnia war and the Rwandan genocide. Examining the inherent links between rape, war and global security, Hirschauer analyses the complexities of conflict related sexual violence.
The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has developed at the United Nations over the course of the past 15 years, and there have been critical engagements with it for nearly as long. In this article, we first take stock of the operationalization of the WPS agenda, reviewing its implementation across a number of sectors. In the second section, we expose the tensions that have marked the WPS agenda from the start. With others, we argue that there has been a narrowing of the agenda's original scope, reducing it to the traditional politics of security rather than reimagining what security means. We highlight this reduction primarily through an analysis of the tension between the ‘participation’ and ‘protection’ pillars of the agenda. Further, we argue that the WPS agenda faces a current challenge in terms of the actors entrusted with it. Although in some ways involving civil society, the consolidations and implementation of WPS principles at the national and international levels have become increasingly state-centric. Third, we imagine some possible futures of the agenda, from a trajectory characterized by increasing marginalization or even irrelevance, to new avenues like the emergent, albeit tentative, ‘Men, Peace and Security’ agenda. We close with an argument for a revival of the WPS agenda beyond a fixation on states, beyond a narrow heteronormative or essentialist focus on the ‘Women’ of the WPS resolutions, and moving towards the radical reimagining of security as peace that inspired the original architects of these important resolutions.
Recognizing the critique of sexual essentialism in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, this article moves beyond this familiar narrative to address the narrowness of conflict frames that have to date been engaged by the WPS agenda. The events of 11 September 2001 brought new urgency and vibrancy to state action in the realm of counterterrorism. This momentum was illustrated both by the response of national legal systems and by more concerted efforts to achieve multilateral and multilevel counterterrorism cooperation on the international level. Notably, terrorism and counterterrorism have long been of only marginal interest to mainstream feminist legal theorists. Until recently concerted analytical feminist scrutiny has been missing in the assessment of terrorism, radicalism and counterterrorism discourses. This article addresses the lack of attention to terrorism, counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives in the WPS mandate and its consequences for mainstreaming gender interests in foundational aspects of peace and security practice. Recent normative augmentations including UNSCR 2242 and the amplified mandate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee to include gender considerations are assessed. The article argues that these moves to include gender come late, and on the terms set by security-minded states. The late attention to gender in counterterrorism leaves little capacity to produce an inclusive and reimagined feminist agenda addressing the causes conducive to the production of terrorism and the costs to women of counterterrorism strategies. This pessimistic assessment warns of the pitfalls of exclusion and inclusion in the new security regimes that have been fashioned post 9/11 by states.