Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Variability in the Behavior of Women in Violent Inter-Group Conflict

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Variability in the Behavior of Women in Violent Inter-Group Conflict

Article excerpt

Males, especially young males, are the fuel of violent inter-group competition. While vulnerable to being targeted for abuse as a result of their gender, women in environments characterized by lethal conflict may also invest in the collective pursuit of dominance over an adversary. This behavior can be manifested as active aggression or indirectly by means of coercion or manipulation of in-group males. Using cross-cultural examples of past as well as contemporary behavior, this essay examines this variation and posits fundamental interpretations of how risk is evaluated.

Key Words: Gender; Genocidal behavior; Violent conflict; Aggression.

Following the now infamous Rwandan genocide in 1994 many Hutu, including gangs of Interahamwe killers, fled across the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, former Zaire), where they settled in large temporary camps. From these camps they carried out attacks and smallscale raids on Tutsi individuals and families, as well as on those Hutu who had cooperated with the Rwandan Patriotic Army. These insurgencies were especially prevalent in the northwestern portion of Rwanda bordering the DRC. During interviews with African Rights (1998, pp. 137-138) a 24-year-old Tutsi woman described the December 18, 1997 attack on the village of Gatagarta, Mutata:

"We were attacked by the local people as well as the infiltrators. Even the women and children participated in the attacks. The women especially used massues and hoes. Whilst the men are fighting, the women come into the houses and kill the children and other women." The potential for looting in these attacks served as an immediate incentive to participate (Orth 2004, pp. 240).

Recent reports of atrocities in the Darfur region of western Sudan, especially in 2003-2005, recount the role of Hakkama (women) in the extremely violent raids of the Janjaweed or Arab raiders. Testimony collected by Amnesty International (2004) documents the activities of Hakkama acting as cheerleaders for men during village raids and gang rapes of black African women. There is, however, no evidence to indicate that these women were directly involved in killings or other atrocities (Mohamed 2004; Rubin 2006; Vasagar & MacAskill 2004) .

Both Alavarez (2001) and Waller (2002) have emphasized that participation in collective violence and genocidal activity is not behavior easily characterized by socio-economic class, psychological make-up, occupation, or gender. In nation-states the institutional context, by way of bureaucratic manipulation of the populace, can enable the social justification for neighbors to turn on, if not dehumanize, those with whom they may have had reciprocal social and economic relationships. Henry Huttenbach (1999, p. 481), in a discussion of the role of women during the Holocaust, wrote: The lesson is an obvious one that women are like men. They face the same choices and temptations. Women and men in the grip of racist hatred, once given the opportunity, will commit genocide under the right circumstances" (cf. Jones 2004, p. 27). And Dudai (2006, p. 706), in a recent discussion of genocidal behavior, has called for "a deeper understanding of how gender roles and identities ... contribute to processes of becoming perpetrators'' in such violent contexts.

Women, in general, are quite capable of acting violently in between-group conflicts but their goals can differ from those of men. Women, who are usually more risk-averse than males, are often predisposed not to act physically in an environment of socially sanctioned violence. It is rarely, however, in the interest of women and their offspring to remain a passive bystander. Males may willingly enter into potentially lethal intra-sexual conflict but with the expectation that such endeavors will be, in some manner, profitable. In polygynous societies fewer males reproduce than females, but those socioeconomically successful males may sire more offspring than the most reproductively successful females. …

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