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‘Women and Children First’: Gender, Norms, and Humanitarian Evacuation in the Balkans 1991–95


Of all noncombatants in the former Yugoslavia, adult civilian men were most likely to be massacred by enemy forces. Why, therefore, did international agencies mandated with the “protection of civilians” evacuate women and children, but not military-age men, from besieged areas? This article reviews the operational dilemmas faced by protection workers in the former Yugoslavia when negotiating access to civilian populations. I argue that a social constructivist approach incorporating gender analysis is required to explain both the civilian protection community's discourse and its operational behavior. First, gender beliefs constitute the discursive strategies on which civilian protection advocacy is based. Second, gender norms operate in practice to constrain the options available to protection workers in assisting civilians. These two causal pathways converged in the former Yugoslavia to produce effects disastrous to civilians, particularly adult men and male adolescents.

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