Skip to main content

Women, Peace, and Security and the DRC: Time to Rethink Wartime Sexual Violence as Gender-Based Violence?

  • Sahla Aroussi (a1)

During armed conflicts, women experience extensive gender harm of a physical, sexual, legal, economic, social, cultural, and political nature. Recently, however, we have witnessed unprecedented attention in international law and policy-making arenas to the specific issue of sexual violence as a strategy of warfare. This has been particularly obvious in the agenda on women, peace, and security. Since 2008, the United Nations agenda has increasingly and repeatedly focused on sexual violence in armed conflicts in several Security Council resolutions, calling on and pressuring member states and international agencies to address this issue using militaristic and legalistic strategies. In this article, looking particularly at the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I argue that the prioritization of sexual harm over other forms of gender harm has had a detrimental impact on women living in aid-dependent societies, and the international obsession with sexual harm has delivered neither justice nor security for victims in the DRC. The article concludes that in order to effectively address sexual violence, we have to rethink sexual harm as gender harm and start listening and responding to women's actual needs and priorities on the ground.

Hide All
Al-Ali Nadje. 2005. “Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation.” Third World Quarterly 26 (4/5): 739–58.
Aroussi Sahla. 2011. “‘Women, Peace and Security’: Addressing Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 13 (4): 576–93.
Aroussi Sahla. 2015. Women, Peace, and Security: Repositioning Gender in Peace Agreements. Antwerp: Intersentia.
Autesserre Séverine. 2010. The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Autesserre Séverine. 2012. “Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and Their Unintended Consequences.” African Affairs 111 (443): 202–22.
Ba Assane. 2011. “Working against All Odds to Improve Maternal Health in the DRC.” United Nations Population Fund, September 19. (accessed June 26, 2016).
Ba Oumar, O'Regan Christopher, Nachega Jean, Cooper Curtis, Anema Aranka, Rachlis Beth, and Mills Edward J.. 2008. “HIV/ AIDS in African Militaries: An Ecological Analysis.” Medicine, Conflict and Survival 24 (2): 88100.
Baaz Maria Eriksson, and Stern Maria. 2013. Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War? Perceptions, Prescriptions, Problems in the Congo and Beyond. New York: Zed Books.
Bartels Susan, Kelly Jocelyn, Scott Jennifer, Leaning Jennifer, Mukwege Denis, Joyce Nina, and VanRooyen Michael. 2013. “Militarized Sexual Violence in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 28 (2): 340–58.
BBC News. 2010. “UN Official Calls DR Congo ‘Rape Capital of the World.’” April 28. (accessed June 26, 2016).
Cockburn Cynthia. 2004. “The Continuum of Violence.” In Sites of Violence: Gender and Conflict Zones, eds. Giles Wenona and Hyndman Jennifer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2444.
Cohen Dara Kay, and Nordås Ragnhild. 2014. “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: Introducing the SVAC Dataset, 1989–2009.” Journal of Peace Research 51 (3): 418–28.
DeLargy Pamela. 2013. “Sexual Violence and Women's Health in War.” In Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures, ed. Cohn Carol. Cambridge: Polity Press, 5479.
Enloe Cynthia. 2010. Nimo's War, Emma's War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Fraser Nancy. 2010. Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. New York: Columbia University Press.
Giles Wenona. 2013. “Women Forced to Flee.” In Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures, ed. Cohn Carol. Cambridge: Polity Press, 80101.
Gready Paul. 2010. The Era of Transitional Justice: The Aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and Beyond. London: Routledge.
Grewal Kiran. 2010. “Rape in Conflict, Rape in Peace: Questioning the Revolutionary Potential of International Criminal Justice for Women's Human Rights.” Australian Feminist Law Journal 33 (1): 5779.
Halley Janet. 2008. “Rape at Rome: Feminist Interventions in the Criminalization of Sex Related Violence in Positive International Criminal Law.” Michigan Journal of International Law 30 (1): 1123.
Jeffrey Alex, and Jakala Michaelina. 2015Using Courts to build States: The Competing Spaces of Citizenship in Transitional Justice Programmes.” Political Geography 47: 4352.
Kelly Jocelyn, Kabanga Justin, Cragin Will, Alcayna-Stevens Lys, Haider Sadia, and VanRooyen Michael J.. 2012. “‘If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't’: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” Global Public Health 7 (3): 285–98.
Kidman Rachel, Palermo Tia, and Bertrand Jane. 2015. “Intimate Partner Violence, Modern Contraceptive Use and Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Social Science & Medicine 133: 210.
Lemarchand René. 2010. “Reflections on the Crisis in Eastern Congo.” Brown Journal of World Affairs 16 (1): 119–32.
McEvoy Kieran, and McGregor Lorna. 2008. “Transitional Justice from Below: An Agenda for Research, Policy and Praxis.” In Transitional Justice from Below: Grassroots Activism and the Struggle for Change, eds. McEvoy Kieran and McGregor Lorna. Oxford: Hart, 113.
Meger Sara. 2010. “Rape of the Congo: Understanding Sexual Violence in the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 28 (2): 119–35.
Mertus Julie. 2003. “Improving the Status of Women in the Wake of War: Overcoming Structural Obstacles.” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 41 (3): 541–55.
Mouthaan Solange. 2011. “The Prosecution of Gender Based Crimes at the ICC: Challenges and Opportunities.” International Criminal Law Review 11 (4): 775802.
Ní Aoláin Fionnuala. 2011. “Women, Vulnerability and Humanitarian Emergencies.” Michigan Journal of Gender and Law 18 (1): 122.
Ní Aoláin Fionnuala. 2012. “Advancing Feminist Positioning in the Field of Transitional Justice.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 6 (2): 205–28.
Ní Aoláin Fionnuala, Haynes Dina Francesca, and Cahn Naomi. 2011. On the Frontlines: Gender, War, and the Post-Conflict Process. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ní Aoláin Fionnuala, Haynes Dina Francesca, and Cahn Naomi. 2012. “Women in the Post Conflict Process: Reviewing the Impact of Recent UN Actions in Achieving Gender Centrality.” Santa Clara Law Review 11: 189217.
Nkansah Lydia A. 2014. “Justice in the Special Court for Sierra Leone versus Local Perception of Justice: A Contradiction or Harmonious.” African Journal of International and Contemporary Law 22 (1): 103–19.
Notar Susan A. 2006. “Peacekeepers as Perpetrators: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 14 (2): 413–29.
Otto Dianne. 2009. “The Exile of Inclusion: Reflections on Gender Issues in International Law over the Last Decade.” Melbourne Journal of International Law 10 (1): 1126.
Pankhurst Donna. 2007. “Post-War Backlash Violence against Women: What Can Masculinity Explain?” In Gendered Peace: Women's Struggles for Post-War Justice and Reconciliation, ed. Pankhurst Donna. New York: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 293320.
Peterman Amber, Palermo Tia, and Bredenkamp Caryn. 2011. “Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” American Journal of Public Health 101 (1): 1060–67.
Spivak Gayatri C. 1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Nelson Cary and Grossberg Larry. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 271313.
Spivak Gayatri C. 1994. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader, eds. Williams Patrick and Chrisman Laura. New York: Wheatsheaf, 66111.
Stearns Jason. 2012. From CNDP to M23: The Evolution of an Armed Movement in Eastern Congo. London: Rift Valley Institute.
Supervie Virginie, Halima Yasmin, and Blower Sally. 2010. “Assessing the Impact of Mass Rape on the Incidence of HIV in Conflict-Affected Countries.” AIDS 24 (18): 2841–47.
Titeca Kristof, and Kimanuka Célestin. 2012. Walking in the Dark: Informal Cross-Border Trade in the Great Lakes Region. London: International Alert.
Tlapek Sarah M. 2015. “Women's Status and Intimate Partner Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 30 (14): 2526–40.
Transparency International. 2014. “Corruption by Country.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
True Jacquie. 2012. The Political Economy of Violence against Women. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 2014. “Human Development Report.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2014. “Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Syrian Refugees in Jordan.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2015. “Country Operations Profile the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). 2014. “Progress and Obstacles in the Fight against Impunity for Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
United Nations Secretary General. 2014. “Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
United Nations Secretary General. 2015. “Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
Vandeginste Stef, and Sriram Chandra Lekha. 2011. “Power-Sharing and Transitional Justice: A Clash of Paradigms?Global Governance 17 (4): 489505.
Weinstein Henry M. 2014. “Victims, Transitional Justice and Social Reconstruction Who Is Setting the Agenda?” In Justice for Victims: Perspectives on Rights, Transition and Reconciliation, eds. Vanfraechem Inge, Pemberton Antony, and Ndahinda Felix Mukwiza. New York: Routledge, 161–95.
World Health Organization (WHO). 2012. “Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Principles and Interventions.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
World Health Organization (WHO). 2014. “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2013 Estimates by WHO.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
World Health Organization (WHO). 2015. “Statistical Profile: Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (accessed June 26, 2016).
Zongwe Dunia P. 2013. “Taking Leaves Out of the International Criminal Court Statute: The Direct Application of International Criminal Law by Military Courts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Israel Law Review 46 (2): 249–69.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Politics & Gender
  • ISSN: 1743-923X
  • EISSN: 1743-9248
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-gender
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 35
Total number of PDF views: 215 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 886 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.