Women, Conflict and International Values

The start of the 20th century led to the emergence of a new mindset. It is one that put forward a set of universal principles above the traditional customs of individual countries. It believes in utilitarianism and equality beyond the blurry lines dividing each nation. Yet it is also one that was created and sanctioned by an unequal society. A predominant constitutional tool to ensure this parity amongst countries on an international level is the United Nations (UN) Charter. It is a set of rights and obligations to achieve the objective mentioned above. However, the creation of the charter was disparate in broadly two parameters- there was a power difference amongst nations, and men heavily dominated it. The Charter was steeped in the personal interests of countries with a strong political standing. Moreover, it was signed by only four women. Out of the 50 countries which originally participated, only 30 of them gave voting rights to women.[1] In the present day, the condition of women is gradually alleviating in all aspects. However, women who belong to regions which are in a perpetual state of conflict suffer a different fate. They are subjected to great tyranny and oppression in the hands of man. Their voices are constantly suppressed, and their human rights are greatly violated.

This article aims to assess the condition of women in conflict zones and how foreign values, which are deeply leveraged by western ideologies, come to play in it. Given the vast and heterogeneous character of each nation, it is incongruent to form a conclusion that will apply to all. Thus, this paper attempts to form a generalised analysis of the more predominant trends. Given this, it can be safely noted that social groups within and outside nations, which focus starkly on preserving the hierarchical power for men have often done so by ensuring a relative subordination of women.[2] Consequently, the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women proclaimed that “Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”[3]

Cultural practices have often created a distinction between men and women by assigning men to the public sphere and women to a more private one. An interesting way in which this is achieved is by drawing a parallel between the homeland and women. This is where patriarchy and nationalism intersect. A hyper-masculine desire is constructed wherein there is a desire to possess, control and protect both the nation and the woman. Thus, just like the land, a woman’s body and status then become the focus for the expression of domination and demarcation. Therefore, the conflicts are marked on her body as well. Gender-based violence plays out to be an important component for the assertion of nationalism. In violating a woman’s right through rape, torture and murder, the assailant not only aims to humiliate and assert dominance over the woman but also the men and the land. This violation of women’s right can be exemplified through the treatment of women in Kashmir, FATA or Yemen. Therefore, sexual violence against women isn’t just a tragic side effect of war; rather, it is the fundamental aspect of nation-building.[4]It is widespread, multifaceted, and a systematic weapon of warfare.

In regards to the aforementioned issue, there are specific value-based laws which provide provision for the protection of women. These laws took form under the Geneva Convention of 1949, International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) and Law of Armed Conflicts (LOAC), and the United Nations Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. Feminists argue that these laws encompass a gendered hierarchy, with women at the lower end. This can be exemplified through the absence of a Women’s Convention. The existing provisions protect women involved in internal conflicts only in terms of their relationships, i.e., mother, pregnancy rather than protecting them as individuals in their own right. Thus, the law provides significantly less protection for these women. In the present day, the most predominant strife is internal conflicts, yet there are minimal efforts by Western countries, which formed these laws, to exacerbate women from such horrors. Furthermore, these laws are highly patriarchal as they aim to ‘protect’ women, rather than prohibit the action altogether. Moreover, they consider sexual violence to result in a loss of ‘honour’. This again is a constructed concept, as discerned by men, and has little to do with a woman’s perception.[5] This notion creates a stereotype of the relative weakness and dishonour of women. Feminists also argue that some aspects of the law are archaic and a reflection of some very conventional ideals and values as cultural practices have created a distinction between men and women by assigning men to the public sphere and women to a more private one.[6] Therefore, empirically speaking the law on armed conflict is more of law for traditional armed conflicts within Western nations.

There have been efforts by international bodies to make the law universal in all aspects; however, these have mostly failed. This is because the law itself is deeply structured through a euro-centric value and point of view. Although it is tough to implement a perfect law in an imperfect world, the only way to attain parity is by reforming laws through new treaties or other international standards on women and armed conflict. Another way in which this can be achieved is by a written reinterpretation of existing provisions with an updated perspective on gender.[7] In conclusion, it can be agreed that societal changes in recent years have resulted in women’s increasing role in important leadership positions. The views and values of women in political and societal outlook differ from that of man. However, there is yet to be considerable growth in this to attain a material change in the world outlook. In the end, we should continuously strive to evolve laws with changing values and deepen their impact in places where they are much needed.



[1] Women and the UN Charter, Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies), available at https://www.soas.ac.uk/cisd/research/women-in-diplomacy/women-in-the-un-charter/#:~:text=Out%20of%20850%20delegates%2C%20only,was%20a%20hard%20fought%20battle.

[2] Martha Minow, “About Women, about Culture: About Them, About Us,” Daedalus, Vol. 129, No. 4, 2000, pg. 125-45, available at www.jstor.org/stable/20027667

[3] Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights), December 20, 1993, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/violenceagainstwomen.aspx

[4] Murthy, Laxmi, Varma, Mitu, Garrisoned Minds: Women and Armed Conflict in South Asia, Speaking Tiger: New Delhi, 2016

[5] Judith Gardam, “Women and the Law of Armed Conflict: Why the Silence?” The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1, January 1997, pg. 55-80, available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/760514?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

[6] Ibid.

[7] Karima Bennoune, “Do We Need New International Law to Protect Women in Armed Conflict,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 38, Issue 2, 2007, available at https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1338&context=jil

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