The Atlantic: “Gloria Steinem on Rape in War, Its Causes, and How to Stop It”
February 8, 2012
Lauren Wolfe for The Atlantic
What the world can do about sexual violence in conflict
It doesn't matter where you look; sexualized violence is intrinsic to conflict. Qaddafi's soldiers committed rape in the last days of Libya's regime. The Egyptian military has been sexually violating female journalists and protesters in that revolution. Across the Democratic Republic of Congo, hundreds of thousands of women are suffering the fallout of the sexualized violence that has torn apart their bodies, their families, and their communities.
A new project from the Women's Media Center, initiated by one of its founders, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, has begun documenting this tool of war and genocide. From the Holocaust through today, Women Under Siege is illuminating the causes as well as the cures of sexualized violence by uncovering patterns and making links between them.
As the director of Women Under Siege, as well as a journalist myself, I interviewed Steinem about sexualized violence in conflict and what needs to be done to understand and stop it.
What are some of the reasons rape is so prevalent in war?
First, it's important to note that rape and war didn't always go together. For instance, European colonists wrote astonished letters home about how "even these savages" -- by which they meant the residents of this continent they were invading -- didn't rape, not even their women prisoners. But those were wars of self-defense. If you're going to get groups of men to risk their humanity, health, and lives in wars of offense, the traditional way is not to pay them a lot, but to addict them to the "cult of masculinity." You have to convince them they're not "real men" unless they kill and conquer. And, at its most basic, "masculine" means not being "feminine." On a continuum, it means controlling women, conquering women, raping women, even with objects: bottles and broom handles in "peacetime" here, and gun barrels and knives in Bosnia or Congo. There's a reason why it's a truism that rape is not sex, it's violence.