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Ending Wartime Rape Means Ending War and Patriarchy
by Judith Avory Faucette
August 17, 2011
The international legal system treats rape in wartime as a serious crime, especially when it is used in a systematic way as a weapon of war. But what the law says about rape is only a tiny, tiny part of the picture, and that picture is a bleak one, indeed. In my view, activists who want to fight wartime rape must recognize that war, as a whole, is untenable. In turn, the best way to fight both war itself and the rape that inevitably occurs in a world with war is to directly challenge patriarchy.
I don't believe that it's possible to eradicate wartime rape without massive action on all levels -- legal, cultural, political and social. The roots of wartime rape are not easy to discover and hack away. They are deep, systemic and woven into the very fabric of most national cultures. These roots not only create a climate where wartime rape is possible, but they also feed into other structures. It is, therefore, impossible to address wartime rape without looking at what's wrong with two of these big, interconnected structures -- war and patriarchy.
International courts have already recognized that rape can potentially serve as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. There are certainly legal problems that legal scholars and activists could address in terms of sentencing, use of witnesses and definitions of rape, but these are tiny steps. More importantly, the rule of law requires resources to ensure that those in a society will follow the law, and it requires that violations be punished. This is impossible in the case of wartime rape because the culture of violence and patriarchy is too deeply entrenched in cultures throughout the world. International law alone can't provide a solution because there are too many perpetrators to punish and the system itself is too tightly linked with the violence and patriarchy that are the root causes of wartime rape.
Those who want to address wartime rape also have to recognize that patriarchy runs deep and hurts everyone, regardless of gender. Patriarchy isn't just about gender roles or about women. It's about cultures built on the values of dominance, aggression, violence and oppression. It's about the self-destructive nature of these cultures and their outwardly destructive nature -- a nature that manifests in war, imperialism and conquest of cultures that are not patriarchal. There is no such thing as a patriarchy without rape. Rape is a natural tool of a system that is based on dominance, violence and conquest at all costs.
What are the tools that we can deploy against war and patriarchy?
I think that education is probably the most effective. Unfortunately, many of those in power are heavily invested in war and patriarchy, and those are the individuals who write curricula raising the youth of a society in their own image. But there are examples of positive change through local and grassroots efforts and partnerships -- for example, Teachers Without Borders partnered with local groups in Mexico, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) this year to offer peace education workshops. Similar efforts in U.S. communities provide an alternative to the lessons learned in public school. For example, in my own city of Baltimore, Maryland, a a free school project provides regular courses on peace and combating gender violence. Activists need to make a coordinated effort to support grassroots projects and spread education that is based on gender equality, non-violent communication and human rights.
Activism is also a tool. There are some great organizations fighting for peace and an end to patriarchy – Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Women for Women International, Code Pink, Madre, and INCITE! are just a few. So many groups that focus on a particular segment of society, a particular country, or a particular aspect of peace activism or anti-patriarchy work could benefit from greater networking and collaboration. Activists can pursue many angles to combat war and patriarchy, such as electing better candidates, supporting non-violent governmental change, aiding survivors of sexual violence and empowering women and minorities through resource provision and political support. Even if a political structure seems incredibly resistant to change, grassroots action can slowly change a society through its impact on collective understandings related to war and patriarchy.
Media is a third tool for change that I find particularly promising in this interconnected world. Don't count out the online activists -- if Twitter can start a revolution, as seems to have happened with the "Arab Spring," then there is great potential for independent journalists working online to spread new ideas. Creative ad campaigns, radical spokespeople and social action through social media are all areas with great potential for changing attitudes and evoking concrete change over time.
So how can we combat rape in wartime? I am a pacifist because I do not believe that it is possible to have a "just" war. I do not believe that violence is ever justified. This is a radical perspective, certainly, but I hold it because moderate solutions are not enough to cut at the deep roots that allow wartime rape -- as well as patriarchy and war as a whole -- to survive. In a society where war is acceptable, rape is a weapon and patriarchy is the norm that keeps the whole house standing. I believe that activists, using the tools outlined above, must fight all three of these things in order to achieve a more perfect future. We may never fully succeed, but the steps that we take in this direction can bring about gradual, positive change.
Judith Avory Faucette is a radical queer feminist activist, writer, and legal scholar. Avory writes at Radically Queer, Gender Across Borders and Girl w/ Pen, and is the author of a chapter on the legal treatment of systematic mass rape in wartime in an upcoming anthology from Kumarian Press.
Also see "Peace is a Human Right: Give Us Women Who Get It" by Cora Weiss in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
See "A Feminist Looks at Masculine Rage and the Haditha Massacre" by Kathleen Barry in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.