In-depth: Our Bodies - Their Battle Ground: Gender-based Violence in Conflict Zones
AFRICA: Laurel Patterson, UNDP, Programme Officer for Great Lakes Small Arms Reduction Programme
The mix of men with weapons around civilians frequently leads to sexual violence
NAIROBI, 1 September 2004 (IRIN) - In recent years, researchers have repeatedly ranked Africa's Great Lakes Region as one of the most violent areas for civilians. One of the primary reasons for the dangerous living conditions there is the massive availability of illicit small arms and light weapons. In this interview with IRIN, Ms Patterson shows how gender-based violence is directly linked to the proliferation of small arms in the Great Lakes area.
QUESTION: What is the link between small arms reduction and gender-based violence?
ANSWER: Basically the increase in availability of small arms during war means that women are more likely to be raped and less likely to be able to escape. I've been trying to make the link between sexual violence and small arms so I've been looking at rape cases and documenting how small arms are implicated in the rape. Often women would say: 'I was held for 5 days and because they had guns I couldn't escape'. You find that guns are held at their heads, in their mouths…so they say: 'what could I do?' We're looking at how the proliferation of arms can lead to an increase of rape both during war and after.
So you often have cases where a conflict ends and soldiers go back to their families… with their weapons and they can perpetuate crimes…because these DDR processes never seem to collect all the arms. They give in their old weapons, keep their new ones, go back home, get frustrated, can't find work so they use their small arms to dominate, […] and rape in many cases.
Q: Do you have any statistics on this situation?
A: It's difficult to get accurate small arms data and difficult to get accurate sexual violence data, so finding accurate data linking the two is almost impossible unless research is specifically undertaken on a large and long-term scale to look at this.
Q: What about identifying solutions?
A: During the demobilization process we're looking at various training processes to help ex-combatants learn different sets of skills. We're also hoping they are getting information on women's rights and human rights generally. On the reintegration front, which is the hardest to get funding for, we want to prepare the community for these ex-combatants - what to expect. Then sitting with them and really doing proper reintegration work …so when they go back they are less likely to get involved in domestic violence and abuse, which is now a common event.
But looking at what to do in war, we're looking at how to halt the proliferation of small arms…and try to raise awareness of the dangers of small arms. And on the gender side, we're trying to de-stigmatize rape. If you're shot dead with a gun everyone feels sorry for you but if you're raped with a gun it's your fault!
Q: How do you de-stigmatize?
A: They're finding that women who are raped in front of family members are more likely to report cases. However there is also some evidence that they are also therefore less likely to be stigmatized and more likely to have family support, but I'm not sure how often this is the case, and may have been isolated to research in DRC.
The question, 'where are the small arms?' in all of these discussions of sexual violence is being left out. Where are these small arms coming from after conflict? The whole trafficking dimension… People are looking at the trafficking dimension in some detail, however, linking trafficking of arms and increased instances of sexual violence.
Q: What are the main issues of reintegration of ex-combatants?
A: There's training, and courses like how to manage their finances after war. But what's important there is to have the whole family involved, not just the men. What often happens is that people are not properly disarmed or demilitarized. So that they often stay in their old units. They haven't changed their mindset at all. That's the situation in a lot of these countries. There are not a lot of alternatives to the army so men go back to arms…or they loot or go into organized crime. What you also find is that women are not consulted enough before the men return to their communities. Women are totally unprepared. They don't know what to expect. They're worried. So people are unprepared and reconciliation is not properly done because it's a long-term process.
My feeling is that if they don't do some of these long-term reintegration programmes with the whole community, it's not going to work. And I don't think enough attention has been paid to this area because people think other things are more important.
Q: What research are you currently working on?
A: In Burundi we are conducting a short-term assessment (8 weeks).What we're hoping to understand is how women were affected by the war and how they participated in the war. Because a lot of women did participate in Burundi. They acted as scouts and they sometimes did traffic in small arms. And they may continue to keep arms in their homes. I'd like to speak to these women and ask them what they would do at the community level, then try to design programmes that would allow them to be involved in the whole demobilization process.
For those interested in prototype statements on the link between women, gender-based violence and small arms, check the IANSA Women's Statement on the Illicit Trade of Small Arms and Light Weapons Women's Caucus, United Nations Conference on Small Arms, 2001 at www.peacewomen.org
The UNDP small arms website is located at www.undp.org