Gender and new wars.

Author:Chinkin, Christine

War plays an important role in the construction of gender, or the social roles of men and women. This article analyzes the gendered experience of what Kaldor calls "new wars." It shows that new wars are largely fought by men in the name of a political identity that usually has a significant gender dimension. They use tactics that involve deliberate attacks on civilians, including systematic rape as a weapon of war, and are financed by predatory economic activities that tend to affect women more than men. The article describes the ways in which laws relating to gendered violence have been strengthened since the 1990s, arguing that implementation has been very weak. The article concludes that the construction of masculinity in new wars, in contrast to the heroic warrior of "old wars," is much more contradictory and insecure. On the one hand, extreme gender differences can only be secured through continued violence; on the other hand, the very contradictory and insecure character of masculinity offers a potential for alternatives. By looking at new wars through a gender lens, it is possible to identify policy options that might be more likely to contribute to a sustained peace. These include support for civil society, which tends to involve a preponderance of women, implementation of law at local and international levels, and greater participation of women in all aspects of peacemaking, including peacekeeping and law enforcement.


War is a predominantly male activity. It is fought largely by men, and statistics suggest that young men of military age are most likely to be killed in war, whether as combatants or as civilians. (1) This cannot be explained in terms of the biological differences between men and women. Women are capable of being effective soldiers; they can and do join fighting forces, and women get killed in battle as well as in attacks on civilians. Instead, the significance of the predominance of men engaging in warfare lies in the way that gender is constructed in war.

In referring to gender, we mean "a set of cultural institutions and practices that constitute the norms and standards of masculinity and femininity." (2) Although individual men and women may not necessarily conform to these stereotypes, masculinity is largely associated with physical strength, action, hardness, and aggression, in contrast to the association between femininity and passivity, empathy, caring, and emotion. In many spheres of life, such as those pertaining to political and military leadership, traits associated with masculinity are valued. (3) But in according greater value to the traits of masculinity, the traits of femininity are correspondingly undervalued, which may lead to discrimination and even gender-based violence against those associated with feminine traits.

Many scholars have remarked that war enhances and extols the value of traits associated with masculinity. (4) Indeed, as Steans has noted, "militarists use the myth of war's manliness to define soldierly behaviour and to reward soldiers." (5) Soldiers are deemed "heroes," and this gives rise to the dichotomy between the images of the "protector" (male) and the "protected" (female). Such images are used to legitimize recourse to conflict, thus raising public acceptance of the violence of conflict and of the necessity of subjecting primarily young men to injury and death. These images also disguise both the multiple active roles women play, and the actuality of gender-based violence during conflict. The terms "protected" and "victim" used to describe women imply weakness and subordination, which, in turn, perpetuate women's lack of empowerment in peacetime situations and mask the reality of women's experience of violence and insecurity.

Our argument is that there are specific differences in the way gender is constructed in different types of wars. In particular, we suggest that "new wars," as described by Kaldor, can be interpreted as a mechanism for rolling back any gains women may have made in recent decades. (6) If war is critical for the construction of gender difference, then greater gender equality, especially among international peacebuilding agencies, may offer a way to achieve sustainable peace. By investigating the distinctive gendered nature of new wars, it should be possible to identify new approaches and policies aimed at transforming violent situations. (7) In doing so, we pay particular attention to the specifics of gendered violence, which occurs in all wars but takes different forms. An implication of our analysis suggests that the kind of masculinity constructed in new wars is deeply contradictory or ambiguous, and consequently, new possibilities for change may come out of this ambiguity.

In the first section, we outline the different ways that men and women experience new wars in contrast to "old wars," and draw some conclusions about the construction of gender relations. The second section briefly describes the evolution of international law that deals with gender relations in war, drawing upon Chinkin's work on feminist approaches to international law. (8) Lastly, the concluding section discusses the implications of a gendered analysis for alternative approaches aimed at reducing violence in general.


Men and women tend to experience war differently, particularly in the ways men and women are susceptible to and experience violence as a result of their sex or gender. (9) These experiences also vary according to different types of war.

Many terms have been used to conceptualize contemporary conflict: wars among the people, wars of the third kind, hybrid wars, privatized wars, or postmodern wars. (10) For the purpose of this article, the term used is "new wars." The term "new wars" is used to distinguish contemporary political violence from the predominant "old war" conception that tends to underlie both scholarly analysis and policymaking. The concept of "old wars" is drawn from the experience of twentieth century wars in Europe. "New wars" are not necessarily empirically new, although it would be odd if there were not some new characteristics. Rather, they are different from the stylized conception of old wars; the point of developing an analysis of new wars is to draw attention to the problem

of retained "old war" thinking on the part of scholars, policymakers, and legal advisers. Indeed, "old wars" may only exist insofar as they are an idealized conception of war that is contrasted with the analysis of new wars. For example, the international legal regime pertaining to conflict, otherwise known as international humanitarian law or the "laws of war," is based on a perception of old wars.

By and large, new wars refer to conflicts currently taking place in different parts of the world. The generalizations that we make about new wars do not necessarily apply in all types of contemporary violence. Various forms of international military intervention, including the use of force for counter-terror operations, for example, are outside the scope of this article. Nevertheless, we do touch on some of these forms, as "old war" thinking on the part of those engaged in military activities often ends up exacerbating "new war" tendencies, as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan."

New wars have a different logic from old wars, stemming from differences in the type of actors, the goals, the tactics, and the forms of finance. In particular, old wars tend to be extreme in the sense of maximizing and totalizing violence, while new wars tend to be persistent and more difficult to end. In what follows, we outline those differences, drawing out the specific ways in which they affect the differing experiences of men and women, and what this means for the construction of gender relations.


Old wars were fought by uniformed regular armed forces, who were subject to national military codes. In contrast, the participants of new wars are networks of state and non-state actors. They include remnants of regular armed forces, paramilitary groups, warlords, jihadists, mercenaries, private security contractors, and criminal groups. For example, in Syria today, the anti-government forces include brigades formed from defecting regular soldiers, civilians, jihadists drawn from all over the world, the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, Kurdish brigades, and gangs whose numbers have been augmented by criminals released from jail by the Assad regime. (12) Collaborating with regular forces on the government side is the militia Shabiha, as well as non-state groups from abroad, most notably Hezbollah.

As in old wars, the fighters are predominantly male, with media reports depicting the leaders of such networks in ways that exemplify the construction of the physical and representational aspects of wartime masculinity. Kaldor has previously described how the Serbian paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as "Arkan," epitomized this concept of masculinity during the Bosnian War. A notorious figure in the criminal underworld, he led the fan club of Belgrade's Red Star soccer team, from which he recruited members of his paramilitary group known as the "Tigers." According to the United Nations Commission of Experts established by the United Nations Security Council to investigate war crimes in the Bosnian War, the Tigers' hair was "cut short, and they wore black woollen caps, black gloves cut off mid-finger, and black badges on the upper arm." (13) Similarly, the Commission reported that members of a Croatian group called the "Wolves" wore "crew-cuts, black jump-suits, sunglasses and sometimes masks." (14) As befits the tendency to hunt in "packs," the various paramilitary groups called themselves names such as "Tigers," "Wolves," or "White Eagles." (15)

In both old and new wars there are, of course, examples of female participation. For instance, reportedly 8 percent of the Soviet armed forces were...

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