Between Global Fears and Local Bodies: Toward a Transnational Feminist Analysis of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

By Dewey, Susan; St. Germain, Tonia | Journal of International Women's Studies, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

Between Global Fears and Local Bodies: Toward a Transnational Feminist Analysis of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence


Dewey, Susan, St. Germain, Tonia, Journal of International Women's Studies


Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) knows no borders. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have witnessed historically unprecedented levels of violence against non-combatants as well as a concomitant rise in international and local efforts to assist survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Yet the diversity of cultural contexts in which SGBV occurs challenges us to ask a timely question: what might a transnational feminist analysis of conflict-related sexual violence look like? This is particularly salient because feminist scholar-activists increasingly help shape policy designed to both address sexual violence as a weapon or by-product of war and services to assist its survivors. This article addresses the rise of global and local initiatives and institutions that rely upon the relatively recent emergence of concretized "best practices" recommended as global solutions to what are inevitably local problems. This article demonstrates how such global solutions are recommended for what are inevitably local problems and exemplifies how best practices are couched in human rights discourses that are presumed universal.ly relevant despite their almost exclusive origination and dissemination by individuals in a privileged position vis-a-vis the intended beneficiaries of such discourse's practice. After analyzing the ethical concerns raised by this reality, this article proposes using non-hegemonic feminist models to develop new strategies for respecting both cultural diversity and the humanitarian responsibility to protect individuals from conflict-related sexual violence.

Keywords: International law, rape, sexual violence

Introduction

Conflict-related sexual violence permeates human cultural consciousness even in the earliest accounts of war: in the Odyssey, the kidnap of Helen proves a pivotal moment in the sacking of Troy, while the Hindu epic Ramayana revolves around the rescue of the goddess Sita from behind enemy lines by her husband. The implication of rape serves as a powerful subtext in both tales, and is featured in myriad variations throughout the world. Yet despite this centrality of women and sexual violence in war narratives both ancient and contemporary, it is only relatively recently that states have begun to regard conflict-related sexual violence as an offense against individual women rather than the family honor of her male relatives.

This article addresses the rise of initiatives and institutions reliant upon the relatively recent emergence of concretized "best practices" recommended as global solutions to what are inevitably local problems. These are often couched in human rights discourses that draw considerable power from their presumed universal relevance despite the near-exclusive origination in and dissemination by organizations staffed by those who are relatively privileged vis-a-vis the intended beneficiaries of such discourse's practice. Part I raises ethical concerns about this practice, then proposes the implementation of non-hegemonic feminist models to develop new strategies for respecting both cultural diversity and the humanitarian responsibility to protect individuals from SGBV. Feminist scholarship, jurisprudence, and activism made significant contributions to the shape of international criminal practice in this area during the 1990s special courts and criminal tribunals, particularly in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and the particularities of the definitions of justice employed dramatically impact international legal discourse and practice today. Yet feminist scholars continue to debate the nature of the North American and Western European rape law reform movement's influence of on the Rome Statute (UN General Assembly, 1998), the authorizing law used to prosecute SBGV-related crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Part I explores the process by which solutions developed by the rape law reform movement spread through statutory law and case law to emerge as global solutions to conflict-related SGBV in myriad cultural contexts.

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