“Systematic sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence are often deployed as weapons in war.”
Almost a month ago, Kashmir lost its special status as a state. For the weeks that have followed, there have been countless articles about the instability in Kashmir, with a significant increase in discourse around sexual violence in conflict zones like the valley.
Even outside the context of Kashmir, more and more researchers are looking into wartime sexual assault and the literature on the subject continues to grow tenfold every day. For my Olson Scholar’s research topic, I am interested in investigating the topic through my own perspective. However, the biggest problem that I perceive I will face is truly narrowing down my topic due to the fact that there is no dearth of different dimensions on this issue.
The two most commonly discussed are perhaps the idea of rape as a weapon of war and the ethicality of wartime crimes of sexual violence. However, something that I have particularly noticed as a personal point of curiosity is the public health impact of wartime sexual assault on populations.
The underlying reason under perceiving wartime sexual assault as a public health issue is that violence, in and of itself, is a public health issue. In their 2016 researchpaper, Leana S Wen and Kathleen Goodwin posit that violence is an epidemiological problem for two main reasons: firstly, it “directly impacts the well-being of communities everywhere,” and secondly, the effect of violence on a community could mean increased “toll of the trauma of living in high-crime areas” on vulnerable populations. Since wartime sexual assault arguably falls under these two categories, it is important to discuss the nature and the implications of sexual violence on a population both during and following periods of conflict, especially when taking into considerations effects like increases in STIs and unwanted pregnancies. The public health implications of this go beyond the physical – the impact on mental health is significant and can be extremely damaging to vulnerable citizenries.
However, as aforementioned, narrowing down on a specific area of investigation will undoubtedly pose a problem. As a student of the social sciences, I am filled with questions about the different nuances of the topic. For example, despite the efforts of the international organisations to mitigate the issue of wartime through statements and conventions like the International Committee of the Red Cross’ 1992 aide-mémoire to the Geneva Convention, why has there often been little to no impact on the numbers of sexual assault in times of war? What role do local and regional governments play in both instigating use of sexual violence but also in the pacification of the same? Additionally, does political insecurity inherently lead to power complexes and grandiose behaviour in its military factions?
There are many questions to be asked and answered in the context of this issue, which makes the research of the same both stimulating and Sisyphean. However, in the same vein, I look forward to researching the topic and establishing a better understanding of the same.
“‘Kashmir Women Are The Biggest Victims Of This Inhumane Siege'”. Al Jazeera, Last modified 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/women-biggest-victims-inhumane-siege-190820122327902.html.
Wen, Leana S., and Kathleen E. Goodwin. “Violence Is A Public Health Issue”. Journal Of Public Health Management And Practice22, no. 6 (2016): 503-505. doi:10.1097/phh.0000000000000501.
Sellers, Patricia V. “The Prosecution Of Sexual Violence In Conflict: The Importance Of Human Rights As Means Of Interpretation.”, 2007. https://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/docs/Paper_Prosecution_of_Sexual_Violence.pdf.