Dashiki Dialogues: Future of women in war

2013-06-11 10:00

I found myself wondering about the future rights of women and how they will be treated during times of war.

The changing nature of war, feminism and the march of time will have interesting implications for the status of women and how they are treated.

This may also include children during times of armed conflict.

I keenly watched international news reports that Syrian government forces and Hezbollah guerrillas have taken control of the strategic town of Qusair this week.

The news clips showed images of women of different ages waving flags in celebration of this milestone in the civil war.

One of the elderly women, wearing a ­maroon blouse with a dark floral headscarf, was shown shooting an AK-47 rifle in the air.

It is this idea of women in civilian attire wielding automatic rifles that made me ask myself: Are we at the end of that international law that grants special protection to women and children as we know it?

This question must be seen in the context of the achievements of feminist movements advocating for equal access to jobs in the military, including front-line deployment, hence making the fairer sex an equal player in war.

That said, it’s important to highlight that war has historically been framed as a depraved, bloody activity waged by barbarous men bent on the acquisition of power.

We should also acknowledge the indisputable fact of the disproportionate impact wars and conflicts have on women and children.

This is due, in part, to the gendered nature of armed conflict and the structure of fighting armies.

Women and children have often found themselves unarmed and defenceless.

This has made them susceptible to all sorts of abuses at the hands of warlords and their goons.

There are many examples of this in modern history.

We remember that dark day when an American platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley killed between 200 and 500 unarmed civilians at My Lai, a village in Vietnam.

Many of these were women and children.

It’s reported that at least 100?000 women are believed to have been raped in Berlin, with an estimated 10?000 women dying in the aftermath during the Allied occupation of German territories at the height of World War 2.

As I write this, more women are being victimised in the protracted conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There have been harrowing reports of hundreds of women and children being raped in Minova, on the shores of Lake Kivu, by soldiers from the Congolese national army.

This gendered conception of war has even moved our lady of verse here in Joburg, Myesha Jenkins, to write: Men must stop ­going to war, even the boys.

It’s a bloodied dashiki that dresses our dialogue, but let’s have it.

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