Sexual Misconduct and International Aid Workers: An Afghanistan Case Study1

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper seeks to add to existing study of gender and conflict by examining the complexities of interactions between international workers and local populations in spaces mired in war or post-war conflicts. Feminist scholarship on gender, war, and political violence/security provides the theoretical and empirically informed framework for this examination. I argue that in order to discuss Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA), it is necessary to first consider context with respect to location, gender, belief, and praxis. "Universal" conceptions of sexual conduct, misconduct, and SEA may be in opposition to acceptable practices within a particular site and situation. This includes addressing temporally specific conditions and the lack of legal parameters or enforcement during times of heightened conflict. Thus, both local populations' and international workers' obedience to international or national/local laws remains flexible rather than fixed. Consequently, civilian populations reside in a state of vulnerability to various forms of misconduct and abuse, including SEA. This study suggests additional research on the tensions and divisions between supposed universal rights and the beliefs or practices positioned in contrast to these standards.

Introduction

Several scholars have analyzed the discursive framing of genderbased rights at international scale (Chinkin, 2003; Hampton, 2004; Neuwirth, 2002; Sheppard, 2008) and the lived experiences of gender-based violence and other human rights violations (Enloe 2000; Giles & Hyndman, 2004; Hawthorne & Winter, 2001; Jacobs, Jacobson, Marchbank, 2000; Rile, Mohanty, Pratt 2008; Truong, Wieringa, Chhachi, 2006). In order to add to these important studies on gender and conflict, this paper focuses on gender-based violence and sexual conduct, misconduct, harassment, and abuse in Afghanistan. This paper emphasizes the interactions between international workers (military, aid/development, non-government, logistics, security, and government) and local Afghans. This examination is based on both secondary3 and primary-source data.

Feminist scholarship on gender, war, and political violence/security provides the theoretical and empirically informed framework for this examination. I argue that in order to discuss Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA), it is necessary to also consider context with respect to location, gender, belief, and praxis. "Universal" conceptions of sexual conduct, misconduct, and SEA may be in opposition to acceptable practices within a particular site and situation. Conflict zones (such as Afghanistan) attract an influx of international workers from a number of organizations such as; state controlled military, private military or security companies, government and non-government aid or development agencies, and contractors, and logistics corporations.

In the midst of political violence, the laws of the host country generally exist in a state of emergency or exception as several hallmarks of war and its aftermath include continued conflict, a rise in criminality, and the inability of the existing government or outside forces to effectively maintain or enforce the rule of law. Thus, both local populations' and international workers' obedience to international or national/local laws remain flexible rather than fixed. Consequently, civilian populations reside in a state of vulnerability to various forms of misconduct and abuse.

Sexual conduct remains a complex and difficult area for evaluation and analysis. Acts that constitute sexual misconduct in one context may be identified as acceptable or understandable forms of sexual conduct based on a different set of values or perspectives. Correspondingly, we must also consider and question whose definition of sexual misconduct or abuse is constituted or considered valid in a particular site and situation. Within spaces of weak governance, in the cases of "failed states," or sites of conflict, these definitions are further complicated by gender politics and political constructions of scale. …