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.