Working Group on Gender and War

"War is a boy’s game." Military groups and armed struggles are shaped and structured by specific notions of masculinity. Conversely, masculinity and hence gender relations are permeated with the "metaphor of war" and soldierly values. The ideals of soldierly masculinity expressed in this context can be understood only in relation to corresponding notions of femininity. Men are generally granted exclusive entitlement to use violence, while women are seen as weak and vulnerable, and dependent on male protection. The effectualness of such views goes far beyond specific gender constellations―masculine strength is attributed to the stronger person who uses violence, whether male or female, while the person who suffers from violence is identified with the subject-position of a woman.     

The Working Group on War and Gender was founded to explore questions regarding the effect of such manifest notions on historical and current war and crisis scenarios, as well as questions about continuity and changes in gender roles and dynamics in pre-war, war, post-war, and interwar periods. In the 1990s, the working group addressed the role of women as actors in the Nazi system. This discussion was expanded to include the issue of the positioning of women in war and the military system. A gender-oriented perspective on acts of war made the aspect of sexual violence visible. This has now become one of the main topics which the working group deals with.  

In the Working Group on War and Gender, women researchers from various disciplines meet regularly for workshop discussions to examine how notions of gender are manifested in militant conflicts and how they can be described. A key issue is to what extent gender constructions foster or mitigate structures and acts of violence in war and post-war periods. We hold that in war, practices related to gender do not occur without prerequisites that emerge in times of peace. Moreover, they write themselves into the experience and behavior potential of a society, passing from one generation to the next.

In addition, the Working Group on War and Gender is involved with the "Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict" (SVAC) International Research Group. Following on preparatory work at an international conference in 2001 on "Women’s Bodies as Battlefields: Sexual Violence against Women in Wartime" and a workshop in 2008 on "The Pervasiveness of Sexual Violence in Wartime", an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers on this topic was established. It engages in comparative discussions of empirical projects on different cases of sexual violence in armed conflict in order to enhance our understanding of the diversity of motivations, the logic of combat, and the inherent dynamics of these occurrences.     

The widespread assumption that sexual violence in armed conflict involves acts of more or less inevitable collateral damage or (exceptional) cases of unrestrained violence in war has significantly contributed to marginalizing this type of violence for much of the public.

More recent empirical findings allow more precise questions about: 1) the specific behavior of individual actors (whether male or female) in culturally and historically shaped conflict situations; 2) the role of the military as an institution compared to other "total institutions"; 3) the discussion of violent acts in civil society (media, the politics of memory, victim/perpetrator attributions); and 4) how these issues are dealt with in national and international legal practice.

More information on this collaborative project and topics currently under discussion can be found on the SVAC website.

(Last modified December 2012)