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.