'There is a War Going on You Know': Addressing the Complexity of Violence Against Women in Conflicted and Post Conflict Societies

Transitional Justice Review, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Art. 2, 2013

42 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2014

See all articles by Monica McWilliams

Monica McWilliams

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School; The Queens University of Belfast

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 1, 2013


Despite a growing awareness of the universality of intimate partnerviolence and its recognition as a human rights violation, much less is known about the dynamics, as well as the specific forms and regulation of this violence in conflict and post conflict settings. While substantial legal consideration has been given to sexual violence occurring during armed conflict, specifically to rape, arguably a concentration on high-profile extraordinary violence has diverted attention from the regular violence that women routinely experience in conflict and post-conflict societies. Our knowledge gap limits what we understand generally about the multidimensional complexities ofintimate violence in conflict settings. It also obscures the relationship between various categories of gender-based violence and the ways in which certain forms and practices of violence reinforce and sustain others. The importance of deeper investigation and theorization is underscored by the pervasiveness of armed conflict in multiple jurisdictions, with attendant loss of life and physical injuries, institutional and environmental destruction, massive refugee flows, and the tendency of conflict to be persistent, cyclical and intergenerational. Deeper understanding of intimate partner and domestic violence, and its connection to conflict-related sexual violence, is also central to advancing sustained legal accountability for gender-based violence in a manner that might transform continual impunity for a wide range of gender-based harms.

What is known about intimate partner violence in conflict settings is fragmented. At its core, this article contends that there are unexplored connections between the general phenomenon of intimate violence and the forms of gendered violence that emerge in time of armed conflict. We assert that conflict related forms ofviolation are frequently seen as a distinct concern from ‘regular’ intimate violence and subsequently, theoretical and practical links with human security and human rights are ignored. This article provides a more holistic analysis of the phenomena, showing the connections between different types of intimate partner violence and how these are conceptualised and problematized. We make greater theoretical and practical linkages between conflict and non-conflict intimate violence, teasing out connections between both. We argue that it is fundamentally contradictory to address one form of violence without the other. From such connections follow a number of practical consequences, not least in terms of the modalities of legal accountability, whether domestic, hybrid or international criminal law processes. We particularly identify the challenges to enabling legal interventions and protection for women from intimate violence in situations of on-going hostilities. The impact of cultural and political factors on the lives of those experiencing abusive relationships is also contextualized with primary data gathered in conflict and postconflict Northern Ireland, encompassing violence emanating from both state and non-state actors.

The article claims that women, having experienced the compounded vulnerabilities of public and private violence, in conflicted and peaceful societies, seek a different understanding of security; one that includes the social and relational aspects of security framed in the context of their holistic human rights. Transitions from conflict (and the peace processes that accompany them) provide unique opportunities for social transformation, facilitating a move away from institutional and patriarchal responses to more contextualised approaches reflecting the lived experiences of women. While much of the accountability action lies in the sphere of narrowly defined conflict-related sexual violence, our analysis makes the strong claim that only by addressing a wider domain of gender-based violence will peace building and transitional justice processes deliver transformative change to women’s lives in rifted societies. Moreover our analysis underscores the limitations of criminal law models as the primary means to cohesively address the causes conducive to the production of gender-based violence in conflicted societies. Part I of this article addresses the range and forms of violence experienced by women in conflicted societies and charts the connections between what falls within the public ‘armed conflict’ sphere and what is deemed to be captured by the private sphere. Part II, explores the conceptual and practical connections between conflict-related vulnerabilities and those experienced by women as a routine part of their ordinary lives. A broad framing of gendered security is undertaken in order to broaden hegemonic conversations about the intersection of women’s human rights protections and post-conflict accountability that focus only on sexual harms to the female body, particularly in the aftermath of conflict. Part III, moves to concrete analysis drawing on a wide-ranging empirical study undertaken in Northern Ireland. Here, we illustrate the cleavages in post-conflict conversations that prioritize accountability for certain kinds of ‘public’ harms whilst minimizing the visibility of others. We underscore that a symbiotic relationship exists between the actors and modalities of armed conflict and the experiences and challenges women face in reporting intimate violence in the context of war.

Keywords: intimate personal violence, rape, war, policing domestic violence

JEL Classification: J79

Suggested Citation

McWilliams, Monica and Ni Aolain, Fionnuala D., 'There is a War Going on You Know': Addressing the Complexity of Violence Against Women in Conflicted and Post Conflict Societies (September 1, 2013). Transitional Justice Review, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Art. 2, 2013, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2489961

Monica McWilliams (Contact Author)

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute ( email )

Belfast, Northern Ireland BT370QB
00442890368597 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://ssrn.com/author=2101330

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-2318 (Phone)
612-625-2011 (Fax)

The Queens University of Belfast ( email )

University Square
Belfast, County Down
Northern Ireland

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