In International Relations discourse, some believe that military intervention in a troubled area is justified if the benefits outweigh the costs. Some of these costs typically include aggressive actions taken by the hostile state (decreasing the region’s security), environmental damage, and loss of life. But according to an article by Samantha T. Godec entitled Between Rhetoric and Reality: Exploring the Impact of Military Humanitarian Intervention Upon Sexual Violence – Post-conflict sex Trafficking in Kosovo (2010), the impact on women is often not calculated into this equation, making many of them vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The inaction of the international community during the Rwanda massacre still haunts us, creating a lens through which we approach the conflicts of our time. The plight of women in conflict zones is being used as a moral imperative to launch a military intervention missions, as seen in this interview with Laura Bush. It is all part of the ‘hero narrative,’ where the white male is not only the hero of the ‘poor non-white female’ but also an enemy (quite conveniently) of the oppressor state.
Godec argues that military intervention in Kosovo 1999 has increased the trafficking of women into the area for the following reasons:
- The sudden presence of military personnel created an increase in demand for sexual services in an area with previously negligible demands.
- The post intervention militarization sustained this demand and fostered an environment in which organized criminal networks can reap great profits.
- Disruption of the economy and society saw a rise in the number of vulnerable women and girls, due to lack of job opportunities.
- The failure of UNMIK (interim administration in Kosovo) to address the trafficking problem created a culture of complacency which has allowed the industry to prevail.
Though the “peace-makers” are supposed to fight on behalf of those who are vulnerable, their very presence often creates an environment where men can violate women without consequences. The militarization of a society often increases impunity for gender-based violence.
In the Kosovo case, trafficking increased dramatically when the intervention began. Godec’s case study confirms what I wrote in my previous post about international peacekeepers needing accountability. But what about places like the Congo, where women are being systematically raped as a war strategy? Does that condone military intervention?
Godec acknowledges that women usually have to choose between two evils: an oppressive regime or foreign military intervention. The price of conflict disproportionately falls on them either way.
My biggest concern is that countries are using ‘save the women’ rhetoric to justify military ventures. If women’s rights were a real priority, international military personnel and peacekeepers would be held accountable for their actions, and gender-based strategies would receive more attention.
What could such strategies look like? Can they co-exist with military intervention, or does the presence of a foreign military inherently undermine women’s rights?
Would love to hear your thoughts.