Is War Gendered?

When I think of war, I instinctively imagine the Marine commercials that play on the television featuring seemingly badass young American male soldiers jumping out of camo helicopters and wading in swamps at night in tactical gear.  I think of men being drafted and fighting while women stay home.  But this image is painfully inaccurate, as it overlooks the very real and often forgotten victims of war: women.   Pamela DeLargy’s “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War” provides insight to the historically untold facts of being a woman during wartime, unsettlingly connecting to an article I read Saturday about three Syrian women who fled to Turkey after abandoning their positions in ISIS.  Both DeLargy’s chapter on the treatment of women during and after conflicts as well as Azadeh Moaveni’s “ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape” illustrate how war is and has been gendered throughout time.

DeLargy’s and Moaveni’s articles differ in key ways, as DeLargy’s focuses on the way sexual violence is used as a tactic of war while Moaveni’s delves into the lives of women who are considered to be the property of the Islamic State’s soldiers.  Both papers, however, exemplify the notion that the war-time experiences of men and women are inherently different.  One of the women interviewed by Moaveni, named Dua, recounted the lack of control she had over her body despite being a member of the female moral brigade in ISIS.  After marrying an ISIS soldier, her new husband insisted she take birth control because, “his commanders had advised fighters to avoid getting their wives pregnant. New fathers would be less inclined to volunteer to carry out suicide missions” (Moaveni).  The enforcement of birth control on women by an organization lessens the basic right of reproduction and exemplifies how differently women experience war than men.

A women’s role changes during war, made clear by the beginning of DeLargy’s assertions that lack of reproductive care, basic security, menstruation supplies, as well as sexual exploitation all create an inherently gendered occurrence.  This is seen in the three “ISIS Women” featured in the New York Times article.  Each of them initially married a soldier to keep their families safe, an evidently female role of war in which a woman gives up her right to choose a partner for the sake of her family.  One of the young women, Dua, recalled the day after her first husband died when she realized “the Organization had made her a widow and wanted to do so again and again, turning her into a perpetual temporary distraction for suicidal fighters. There was no choice left, no dignity, just the service demanded by the Islamic State’s need to feed men to its front lines.”  Because of Dua’s gender, she was handed from husband to husband, unable to live alone and unable to create a family.

It is not the men who are drafted or volunteer to fight in violence who face the greatest risk during war.  As DeLargy finishes her paper, “in almost every part of the world, women are at a greater risk than men for both biological and social reasons, which remains true in wars as well” (13).  War is gendered and it is the women who shoulder the brunt of it.

Azadeh Moaveni, “ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape,” New York Times, November 21, 2015.

Delargy, Pamela. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Women and Wars. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013. Print.


Is War Gendered?

In order to come to a conclusion on whether or not war is gendered, it is first very important to define the term “gendered”. American Heritage Dictionary defines this term as “having or making gender-based distinctions”. The question then becomes, does war have gender-based distinctions? In light of DeLargy’s essay on sexual violence and women’s health during war, I would answer yes. In her argument it is clear that, in the case of sexual assault and its repercussions on the victim’s health during war, both men and women tend to have very different experiences due to their sex and gender.

DeLargy notes many different reasons behind rape during war, but two really stick out as possible reasons behind why women are raped by men, simply because of their gender and sex: humiliation and ethnic cleansing. While men and young boys are also raped during war, it is the war strategies of humiliation and ethnic cleansing that are uniquely used on women simply because of their gender and sex.

First, the strategy of humiliation is used by men to humiliate other men. In a patriarchal society, DeLargy explains, a man’s gendered role is to protect his woman and children. By raping a man’s wife, the perpetrator is humiliating the husband by stripping away his power and masculinity. A man raping a woman’s husband would not have this same effect, as socially her gender designates her to being “owned” by her husband. Therefore, because of her society’s view on her gender role, only she can be used as a tool to humiliate her husband by being the victim of sexual violence.

Second, the strategy of physically carrying out “ethnic cleansing” only relates to women, as the other sex is not capable of giving birth. DeLargy sites the example of sexual violence during the Balkans War, where Serbs kept Bosnian women in “rape camps”, forcing them to give birth and therefore “diluting bloodlines and destroying Bosnian ethnic identity”. DeLargy explains that this act achieved both humiliation and ethnic destruction. This aspect of war solely relates to women, as men biologically would not be able to give birth and thus would not add to the destruction of his ethnic identity.

The strategy of humiliation relies on a woman’s gender, as it is the social construct that allows for humiliation of the husband. Ethnic cleansing relies on both a woman’s gender and sex, as the strategy both humiliates the husband due to social structures and relies on the woman’s physical biology (or, sex) to be carried out. Both of these strategies rely on both the man and woman’s gender roles to be effective during war, therefore indicating that war is gendered.



  • DeLargy, Pamela. 2013. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Chapter in Women and Wars: Contested Histories, Uncertain Futures. Polity.

Is War Gendered?

Although war affects all citizens, regardless of gender or age, it is inherently gendered and particularly harsh for women. I completely stand by Pamela Delargy’s assertion that conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), particularly against women, is difficult to attribute to one cause, as it is largely dependent on the specific conflict involved. Treatment of and prevention for potential victims of CSRV also proves challenging, not only because the foundations of CRSV can be so muddled, but also because of cultural restraints and the risk of doing more harm than good to those affected.

A variety of reasons for the level and prevalence of sexual violence toward women exist. Some argue that rape is simply in the biological nature of the male, and that aggression toward females is only repressed because of societal taboos (Delargy). Relatedly, the patriarchal societies in which many victims live perpetuate a culture of women as property, or as lesser beings than men. Both of the aforementioned justifications fail to completely explain why CRSV is used as a war strategy however. Soldiers may rape the enemies’ women for multiple reasons related to strategic conflict, some of which are to demoralize the community, dilute the bloodlines, and ensure that the enemy leaves the territory and does not return. (Delargy).

While obviously all efforts to help survivors of CRSV are well intentioned, many have consequences in the affected communities. Punishment of rapists can lead to retaliation, or make it more likely for them to kill their victims to avoid punishment (Delargy). In some societies, it is unfavorable for a woman to even admit to having been raped for fear of disownment by her family. This makes it hard for victims to seek necessary medical and psychological help. Delargy points to support from the community as a usually positive mitigation for survivors, something that the UN Security Council is trying to increase in Syria (UN News Centre). Sexual violence has been used as a war tactic for the past five years in Syria, and efforts to help female victims heal and reintegrate into societies have been set to increase in light of a recent meeting of the Council.

Delargy, Pamela. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Women and Wars. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013. Print.

“‘Status Quo Simply Cannot Continue in Syria’ – UN Humanitarian Chief.” UN News Centre. UN, 16 Nov. 2015. Web.

Is War Gendered?

War is inherently gendered, as it constructs hegemonic gender ideals and has varying consequences for persons of different genders. DeLargy outlines a series of theories regarding the use of sexual violence in war. Through these, we can see how war is gendered, even beyond the use of sexual violence.

First, gender is socially constructed, and so new masculinities and femininities are developed during conflict. DeLargy writes about Militarization theory, which holds that war constructs militarized hyper-masculinities that, in essence, exaggerate traditional norms of masculinity. In this way, “wounding and killing is considered not only acceptable, but also sometimes admirable” (DeLargy 61). Violence is a key trope of manliness in these circumstances, as is male dominance over females. Working in tandem to this is the construction of militarized femininities; also an exaggeration of traditional femininity, these hold that women are weak, vulnerable, and in direct contradiction to manliness. In that it constructs and comments upon gender norms at all makes war inherently gendered.

Beyond this construction, DeLargy points out the many different consequences there are for women and men in wartime. In part because of hyper-masculinities, sexual violence is used by men as a strategy in war. This disproportionately affects women in healthcare consequences, causing STIs, HIV, unwanted pregnancies, fistulas, and various psychological disorders (DeLargy 65-67). Furthermore, the “level of stigma attached to rape inhibits its survivors from telling anyone that the rape occurred” and so they are not seeking or retrieving treatment for these problems (DeLargy 68).

Stigmatization is a ruthless outcome of sexual violence in many conflict zones, especially in Uganda. The victims of these crimes are not only ostracized from their communities, but re-victimized. According to an article by the news source, AllAfrica, “stigma and hardship have passed from mother to child, and sometimes even to grandchildren, in an intergenerational cycle of denial of rights and dignity, vulnerability, abuse, and marginalization” in Uganda (AllAfrica 2). This establishes long-term gendered consequences of gendered violence. Thus, through the construction of gender and the disproportionate affects of violence on women, war is gendered.


DeLargy, Pamela. “Sexual Violence and Women’s Health in War.” Women and Wars. Ed. Carol Cohn. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013. 54-79. Print.

“Uganda: Mothers and Children Born From Wartime Sexual Violence Need Redress.” N.p., 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

To what extent does the case of Boko Haram confirm Fearon and Laitin’s argument? Please explain. (Cayla B)

Nigeria contains two major ethnic groups: Christians, who are located in the south and Muslims, who are located in the north. Over the years, tension within these groups have had a large impact on the economic, political and social aspects of Nigeria. Boko Haram is an Islamist Extremist group based in Northern Nigeria. The group’s name literally translated to “People committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teachings and jihad (O’Neill, 774). It originally began as a peaceful group. However, as time has went on, frustrations with the government and the economy, have sparked animosity. This anger has primarily been projected upon the Christian community. Boko Haram has increased its fight against the state, by staging attacks against government-run organizations such as schools and police headquarters. Boko members have destroyed “an estimated 1,100 schools this year”(Jazeera). As well as performed “scores of attacks on schools and universities in an insurgency that has killed at least 17,000 people since 2009” (Jazeera).

In “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War”, James Fearon and David Laitin discuss different causes that seem to spark Civil War. They do not believe that “Ethnic and Religious Composition” have a large effect on whether or not there will be a Civil War. Fearon and Laitin consider other elements of a country’s composition as having a stronger influence on Civil War. Some of these aspects include: economic growth and an administratively competent government. Fearon and Laitin argue that “government and non-government organizations should develop programs that improve legal accountability within developing world militaries and police, and make aid to governments (Fearon, 88).”

Fearon and Laitin’s argument includes several possible explanations for the breakout of Civil War. They argue that there are multiple reasons for Civil War and some of the main reasons include a country’s economic and political situation. Boko Haram’s actions, which they claim to base off of their religious beliefs, affect economic, political and social facets of Nigeria.  Although Boko Haram identifies as a religious group, they make a much larger external impact. Therefore, Boko Haram does confirm the case of Fearon and Laitin’s argument that there are many aspects within a country that are responsible for contributing to a Civil War outbreak.


Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.


Jazeera, Al. 2015. “Boko Haram destroyed more than 1,000 schools this year, UN says”


O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 5th Edition. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.



I propose that the case of Boko Haram confirms Fearon and Laitin’s argument that political conflict can not be explained by merely pointing to ethnic/religious conflicts due to a number of more significant factors. State weakness, instability, and chronic poverty are better predictors of civil conflict than indicators of ethnic or religious diversity. The civil wars and insurgencies of the 20th century were the end results of decolonization that left fragile states with limited administrative control (Fearon 88). Indeed, this was true in the case of Nigeria where regional differences between the north and the south under colonial law resulted in a highly decentralized state (O’Neil 734). Since Nigeria’s independence, the country has witnessed a number of regime changes that have contributed to the country’s instability.

According to Fearon, countries “deriving at least one-third of export revenues from fossil fuels is estimated to more than double a country’s odds [of civil war]” (Fearon 85). This follows in the case of Nigeria because crude Petroleum oils make up over 79% of Nigeria’s exports (The Atlas of Economic Complexity). “Unfortunately much of the oil that is produced within Nigeria is stolen by militias like Boko. “Corrupt national and local politicians steal or squander the lion’s share of revenues from the oil that is not stolen” (O’Neil 776). Insufficient government control of natural resources and corruption have greatly contributed to the political conflict. This proves that Boko Haram is as financially motivated as it is politically motivated. Not only this, the fact that Boko controls much of the economy (local fishing and rice industries) near Lake Chad makes joining the militant group attractive to young men.

Dependence on the military has also been constant throughout the Nigeria’s history. “This avenue has been particularly important for the ethnic Muslims of northern Nigeria, who have been educationally and economically disadvantaged compared with southern Nigerians” (O’Neil 753). Regional inequalities in wealth as well as chronic national poverty have contributed to the high level of political conflict in Nigeria. “Per capita income (measured as thousands of 1985 U.S. dollars and lagged one year) is strongly significantin both a statistical and a substantive sense: $1,000 less in per capita income is associated with 41% greater annual odds of civil war onset, on average” (Fearon 83). Nigeria’s GDP per Capita ranks 179th in the world at just $2,800, which helps explain why there is such a high level of civil conflict.

To sum it up, the case of Boko Haram follows Fearon and Laitin’s logic. Ethnic/religious differences do contribute to some of the countries problems but Fearon understands that there are other factors at work here. Nigeria’s weak central government marked by its inability to control oil production could be the most significant reason for the rise of political conflict. Multiple regime changes have left the state in an unstable condition that have laid the foundations for internal conflict. Lastly chronic poverty has pushes young men, especially in the north, to join Boko for financial reasons.


Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.

O’Neil, Patrick S. Cases in Comparative Politics. 5th ed. W W Norton and Company, Inc, 2015. Print. (727-777)

Center for International Development; Harvard University; The Atlas of Economic Complexity

How the Case of Boko Haram Confirms Fearon and Laitin

The case of Boko Haram directly mirrors many of the factors James Fearon and David Laitin outline about their theories about civil war and conditions for insurgencies. By Fearon and Laitin’s standards, Boko Haram is certainly a “small, lightly armed band practicing guerrilla warfare from rural base areas” (Fearon and Laitin 1). They outline conditions that today we can see in Nigeria that foster the development of Boko Haram. Poverty, a large population, and instability all contribute to Boko Haram’s rise as a radical terrorist group. Boko Haram reins its influence on the Northern states of Nigeria, where the terrain is familiar to them and they have targeted both civilians and the army. They have been able to target the military and government structures because of the lack of stability in those institutions. As Fearon and Laitin contend, “insurgents are better able to survive and prosper if the government and military they oppose are relatively weak—badly financed, organizationally inept, corrupt, politically divided and poorly informed about the goings-on at the local level” (Fearon and Laitin 4). This is the case in Nigeria, where the population is the largest on the continent, and the country falls victim to the so-called “resource curse,” where it has a wealth of oil but lack of civilian profit. These factors have led to government corruption and misrule, leaving gaps in security for Boko Haram to attack. Not to mention civilian unrest and mistrust of the government allows for easier recruiting for the radical group.

A main point that Fearon and Laitin assert in their analysis of insurgencies is that we cannot attribute ethic differences as the sole reason why groups like Boko Haram arise and survive. Boko Haram is an extremist group so radical it often attacks other Muslims, “and even mosques” (O’Neil 774). As Farouk Chothia states, Boko Haram “regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president” (Chothia). These facts show that religious labels give no indication to the “sides” in this ongoing conflict. The complexities of the different sects of religions cannot be a simplistic explanation for the rise of groups like Boko Haram. Fearon, Laitin, and O’Neil will all admit ethic tensions surely play a role in these conflicts, though “grievances and ethic differences are too common to help distinguish the countries and years that see civil wars” (Fearon and Laitin 6). Fearon and Laitin will assert that political ideals, economic factors, terrain, funding practices, and environment all add complexities to these conflicts that cannot be overlooked.

Overall, Fearon and Laitin give insights that are reflected in countries like Nigeria that are unfortunate recipes for domestic conflict. Poverty, population size, and instability are probable indicators of conditions that foster insurgencies, whereas ethnic and religious differences are too simplistic a reason to supplement a civil war.


Works Cited:

Chothia, Farouk. “Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists? – BBC News.” BBC News. BBC News4, 4 May 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.

O’Neil, Patrick S. Cases in Comparative Politics. 5th ed. W W Norton and Company, Inc, 2015. Print.


To what extent does the case of Boko Haram confirm Fearon and Laitin’s argument?

The case of Boko Haram confirms Fearon’s argument that ethnic/religious divisions do not entirely account for civil conflict because of other economic and governmental factors which favor the organization’s insurgency. These conducive factors are the economic variables promoting the insurgency’s financial backing and the compulsion of youth populations. However, Fearon does not dismiss ethnic and religious tensions entirely. Nigeria embodies a nation where a majority of the territory has developed asymmetrically in terms of political involvement, economic prosperity, and access to education (Lamble). This geographic disparity between north and south has also been exacerbated by muslim/christian differences. However following Fearon’s research, the religious divide in Nigeria only motivates Boko, but does not act as the only explanation for their prominence (Fearon 87).

When looking at the root causes of civil conflict, Fearon found that measures of “objective grievance fare worse as predictors than economic variables” (Fearon 87). For Boko, the financing of their operations takes significant financial backing. Boko’s location near Lake Chad allows the organization to control the local fishing, rice, and pepper businesses along the Yobe river (Lamble). In this case, economic opportunity has allowed the “viability for insurgency” (Fearon 87). Boko is not present in areas where there is only desert (Lamble).

Even though Mohammed Yousef’s original motivation revolved around Islamic fundamentalism and associating Nigerian misrule with western influences, in order to gain more supporters the organization has co-opted youths by providing economic assistance (Lable). This movement to recruit young members confirms Fearon’s reason for insurgency by understanding lower per capita incomes and local knowledge (Fearon 90). Boko can easily recruit adolescent men when the “economic alternatives are worse” and the government remains unable to increase the economic growth of the northern region (Fearon 90). Since conflict has halted agriculture production and few job opportunities remain, many parents force their sons to join Boko out of economic necessity (Lable). Otherwise, northern citizens must face displacement and migration towards the southern region (Lable).

These rationales for Boko’s insurgency tie back to the Nigerian government’s insufficient legal and economic accountability for the northern region. According to Fearon, “weak central governments render insurgency more feasible and attractive due to weak local policing or inept and corrupt counterinsurgency practices” (Fearon 87). Hopefully Buhari’s strong hand and personal incentives to protect his northern homeland will quell Boko’s presence and spur more balanced development between the north and south.


Lamble, Lucy. Counting the Cost of the Boko Haram Crisis – Podcast. The Guardian: Global Development.

Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.


Explanation for Political Violence

O’Neill defines political violence as “politically motivated violence outside of state control” (O’Neill 210). He provides three different explanations for political violence: institutional, ideational, and individual. Institutional emphasizes the impact of concrete organizations and trends that give rise to political violence. O’Neill argues that institutions “contain values or norms that implicitly or explicitly encourage political violence, or that they constrain human activity, thus provoking political violence” (O’Neill 211). The people are inherently upset with the current political system because they are being oppressed. As a result, they turn to revolutions, that are commonly violent, and terrorism in order to change the political system to their favor. Ideational, however, focuses more on the rationale behind the political violence, questioning why it takes place. O’Neill argues that ideas may in fact be institutionalized, such as a political organization or religion (O’Neill 211). He goes further and states, “Political violence is more likely to be associated with attitudes that are radical or reactionary, since each attitude views the current institutional order as bankrupt and beyond reform” (O’Neill). Here, O’Neill states that ideational and institutional can be linked in explaining political violence due to the fact that the people’s attitudes are caused by the institution at hand. I agree with the notion that institutional is the best explanation for political violence because the institution is “the root source for violence, a necessary condition for violent actions to take place, and a presumption that changes in the institutional structure would eliminate the motivation for this violence” (O’Neill). If the institution itself is abolished, then there will be no political violence as a result. The institution is the foundation of all political violence that occurs in society.

For Jamaica, political violence is part of their history. Since 1940, there have been moments of political violence with the presence of Group 69. The goal of Group 69 was the “cleansing of Western Kingston of JLP supporters and, in particular, Alexander Bustamante.” Bustamante was a key member of parliament in the region but was forced to flee due to the acts of violence against him, specifically from Group 69. Ralph Brown, the former mayor of Kingston, stated that the Group 69 were “defenders of the party” and wanted to end the oppression that was occurring in Jamaica. For 40 years, there was a violent war between the political parties (People’s National Party and Jamaica Labour Party) and terrorist groups, such as Group 69, for power. The Group assassinated various politicians for their reasoning. Their objective was to restore strength to Jamaica and reduce the presence of corruption in Jamaican politics. Recently, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar fired 26 members of government in an effort to prevent future periods of political violence. Jack Welch, CEO of GE, said, “Willingness to change is strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”

Institutional is the best explanation for political violence due to the fact that it is the “root source for violence” (O’Neill 211). In the case of Jamaica, the people were not satisfied with the standards of society and took up arms to change the system for the better.

O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 5th Edition. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.

Explanations for Political Violence

O’Neil describes three possible explanations for political violence: Institutional, Ideational and Individual explanations.  Of these three explanations, the one that I find the most compelling is the institutional approach.

The institutional approach is based on “political institutions, such as states and regimes; economic institutions, such as capitalism or societal institutions, such as culture and religion.” (O’Neil pg. 211)  It is not that the other arguments of individual or ideational explanations are not valid, but rather that they are not the direct cause but rather the indirect reactions of an existing institution.  People’s violence and actions may be motivated by ideas or personal beliefs but are only able to realize that it is unfavorable to them when the institution has been in place.  People’s ideologies or individual beliefs being suppressed and their consequent actions only come to life if their is a political institution in place to suppress them in the first place.  O’Neil describes institutional explanations as being “a root source for violence, a necessary condition for violent action to take place, and a presumption that changes in the institutional structure would eliminate the motivation for this violence.” (O’Niel pg. 211)  People facing religious persecution are most likely facing this discrimination as a result of a regime that is suppressing their individual beliefs.  Therefore, they believe that the destruction of this institution will bring them change.  Individual beliefs may be a cause of what allows them to have the motivation to act but the ultimate goal is the elimination of an unsatisfactory institution.

When analyzing the causes of the Arab spring, O’Neil describes “civil society in much of the region is weak and fragmented, a result of states repression and low levels of development.”(O’Neil pg. 220)  The motivation behind the Arab spring was a push for democracy which is an institutional change.  The regime that was existent was not supportive of the ideals of the people.  Fortunately for Tunisia, the regime lacked the military force necessary to counter the actions of the people but people living under military rule in Egypt still vie for democracy.

As a more recent “Arab spring” occurs in Egypt, young citizens of the country are calling for a democratic rule.  Bassem Yousef, a satirical comedian believes that democracy is still living in the hearts of the people.  Sissi, the current president has become too powerful and continues to commit human rights violations.  Yousef states that “as the repressive nature of the Sissi regime has become more clear, Youssef appears to be championing the same young, pro-democracy advocates who helped launch the 2011 uprisings in various countries in the Arab world.” It is clear that it is the change in political institutions that have caused the Arab spring and the more recent uprising in Egypt.

O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 5th Edition. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.