The victimization of girls in armed conflict has garnered increased attention, yet recent scholarship shows that postconflict measures fail to meet girls' unique needs. This article examines gendered discourses employed in programming designed to assist girls following Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, drawing on fieldwork conducted as part of a continuing program of study on peacebuilding in Sierra Leone. Specifically, the article presents a case study examining discourse relating to war-affected girls in one Freetown-based NGO, Connecting for Peace, which delivered programming to boys and girls affected by the war. KEYWORDS: postconflict, transnational governance, therapeutic intervention, war-affected girls, Sierra Leone
In recent years the victimization of girls in armed conflict has garnered increased attention, (1) yet recent scholarship on war-affected girls shows that postconflict measures fail to meet girls' unique needs. (2) This article examines gendered discourses employed in programming designed to assist girls following Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, drawing on components of fieldwork conducted in June 2005 and in March-April 2007 as part of a continuing program of study on peacebuilding in Sierra Leone. Specifically, this article presents a case study examining discourse relating to war-affected girls in one Freetown-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), Connecting for Peace (CFP), (3) which delivered programming to boys and girls affected by the war. The value in focusing on one NGO lies in a capacity to access the richness of discourse relating to war-affected girls. However, this article also positions CFP within a broader NGO context.
CFP's discourse on girls suggests that the organization is an institutional site of what Ferguson and Gupta (4) term "transnational governmentality." Rather than conceptualizing power as domination and coercion, governmentality refers to power that is "characterised by an increasing reliance on pastoral care and techniques of normalisation and consensus." (5) Power "works through systems of knowledge and discursive practices to provide the meanings, norms, values and identities that not only constrain actors, but also constitute them." (6) Thus not only is a population governed, but corresponding "self-regulation, techniques for the disciplining and care of the self," (7) imply a responsibilization of the subject (8) where responsibilization refers to the process of "shifting the responsibility for social risks such as illness, unemployment, poverty, and so on, and for life in society into the domain for which the individual is responsible and transforming it into a problem of "self-care." (9) The transnationatization or internationalization of governmentality refers to the "modes of government that are being set up on a global scale," (10) and is also termed "global liberal governance" or simply "global governance" among International Relations scholars of development and aid.
This article argues through an analysis of CFP's discourse that CFP's programming for war-affected girls is centrally focused on reforming girls' character, and thus responsibilizes girls through what I term "transformative strategies," such as sensitization, empowerment, "conscientising" (sic), and shaming. According to CFP's formulation, girls' laziness, dependence, and vanity led to their victimization both during and after the war; thus, their characters must be reformed to avert further victimization. At the same time, rescuing and reforming girls becomes a metonym for "civilization"; that is, the (ultra-)victimized girl-child has emerged as a chief signifier of the pathology of the global South and a justification for intervention, as in the regulatory work of NGOs. Inversely, the rescued girl-child becomes a symbol of successful development toward membership in the global moral community and an indicator of progress. While CFP provides a rich discursive case study, CFP's discourse must be situated within broader therapeutic practices employed by other NGOs as part and parcel of what Vanessa Pupavac terms "therapeutic governance." (11) Absent in the discourse employed by the NGOs in this study is a critique of ongoing material inequalities experienced by girls and women.
Girls' Experiences of War in Sierra Leone
Sexual violence against women and girls has pervaded armed conflict historically, (12) and operates as a weapon of war. (13) Witness to Truth, the final report of Sierra Leone's postconflict Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), found that "women and girls became particular targets of malice and violence during the conflict." (14) Armed groups deliberately targeted girls and young women to abduct into domestic and sexual slavery and to use as combatants. Captives were often branded with the initials of armed groups with the aim of permanent disfigurement and to prevent their escape. Women and girls were, furthermore, subject to torture, forced drugging, and enforced sterilization. (15)
At least 215,000, and perhaps as many as 275,000, women and girls were subject to various forms of sexual violence during the war in Sierra Leone. (16) So rife with sexual violence was this war that civil defense militias, for instance, were twice as likely to perpetrate rape as all other types of violation combined. (17) Sexual violence was, however, not only at the hands of armed groups. Women and girls also were also sexually exploited by humanitarian workers in refugee camps both in Sierra Leone and in other countries. Girls "as young as 12 were forced to pay for aid with sex to secure assistance for their families." (18) For many women and especially girls, the result of the war's systematic sexual violence has "ranged from trauma, unwanted pregnancies and abortions, the contraction of deadly diseases, physical and internal injuries, to miscarriages," (19) in addition to medical complications such as "Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVW), Recto Vaginal Fistula (RVF), incontinence and prolapsed uterus, among others." (20) Such medical complications were often caused by atrocities such as "having objects such as sticks, bayonets, pepper and burning coals inserted into their vaginas by depraved perpetrators." (21)
Such medical complications also have personal and social consequences:
Husbands or partners are rejecting [girls] because of the oozing. When you suffer from multiple rapes they rupture, or something happens within them, or they are torn and nobody gave them the medical support to stitch them up or remove the womb. Or some of them are suffering from the excess oozing and what not and they have not gotten any medical support for that. Some of them needed operations that never worked. (22) Girls and women, moreover, bear social and psychological wounds of war. As a result of social rejection, large numbers of girls have chosen to stay with their captors. (23) Infanticide can result when girl soldiers feel that they cannot return to their communities with "rebel" children (24) conceived during war:
I was in the bush; I can't go back with a baby. It's extra load, extra baggage for me, how can I take care of the baby and myself? What will I explain to my father? What will I explain to my friends? What will I tell the baby? Where's the father? The father was a rebel who used to kill people, amputate arms ... That was some of the reasons that the [girls] drowned [their] babies. (25) Although women and girls share many experiences of victimization based on gender, girls' experiences are also shaped by their young age. (26) Not only does it appear that most "wives" were girls, not women, (27) it was also "girls in the age group from ten to 18 years [who] were most likely to be the victims of rape," (28) and girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 25 who were most targeted for sexual slavery. (29)
The TRC's data (for victims whose ages are documented) indicates that 25 percent of all rape victims were 13 years of age or younger; 25 percent of sexual slaves were 12 years of age or younger; and 50 percent of all sexual slaves were 15 years of age or younger. (30) The prevalent sexual violence against girls might be explained by male fear of contracting HIV/AIDS and the belief that girls are less likely to be infected, or that sex with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS. (31) McKay and Mazurana estimate that almost all girls abducted into fighting forces were also raped (32) or forced to become "bush wives" through their forcible "marriage" to boys or men within their armed groups.
At the close of the war, girls continued to face disadvantage and marginalization: While 30 percent of Sierra Leone's estimated 48,000 child soldiers were thought to be girls, (33) only 513 girls are recorded as having gone through the formal Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program. (34) DDR programs typically provide cash, training, and formal opportunities to reintegrate into civilian society. The absence of girls in DDR results from various factors: Girls were assumed to be "camp followers" instead of combatants; girls, fearing stigmatization, did not come forward; commanders often prevented girls from benefiting from the DDR's "cash for weapons" scheme by taking away their weapons (if they even carried arms). Moreover, the DDR program was insensitive to the different roles that girls occupy in armed groups, their needs as mothers and their complicated relationship to their captors. (35) Such problems with Sierra Leone's DDR replicate the gendering of previous DDR programs; Graca Machel, (36) for example, reports that in Mozambique the DDR package given to girls included men's clothing. However, the recognition that girls were deeply victimized during the war and that they were neglected in programming like the DDR must be read alongside postconflict reconstruction strategies that have focused attention on girls.
Ferguson and Gupta...