A war within a war: Sexual violence as a weapon of war

  • IASbaba
  • April 6, 2022
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(ORF: Expert Speak)

March: A war within a war: Sexual violence as a weapon of war – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/sexual-violence-as-a-weapon-of-war/ 


  • GS-1: Women

A war within a war: Sexual violence as a weapon of war

Context: In any war, women and girls are the most vulnerable. The breakdown of institutions and social networks make women and girls extremely vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. Sexual violence has also been used as a weapon in conflicts to humiliate, subjugate, and terrorise populations through history. 

  • For instance, anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000 Bengali women were systematically sexually assaulted during the Bangladeshi Liberation Movement. 
  • More than 60,000 women were sexually assaulted during the civil war in Sierra Leone between 1991-2002, about 40,000 in Liberia during the 14-year civil war between 1989-2003, nearly 60,000 in former Yugoslavia during 1992-95, anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 during the Rwandan genocide, and over 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998.

How does it perpetuate?

Multiple forms of sexual violence—including rape, sexual slavery, gang rape, sexual mutilation, and torture—have been perpetrated against women and girls in wars. Victims include children and pregnant women, many of whom are also held captive as sexual slaves for weeks. 

  • According to a report by Amnesty International, most survivors of sexual violence experience severe health issues, including mental health problems, and have almost no access to medical or psychosocial services. 
  • Contrary to the provisions of international humanitarian law, medical facilities have been deliberately targeted, and are occupied by armed groups. Ambulances have been seized, and medical personnel have mostly fled out of fear. 
  • In some wars, most victims report that they were being brutalised because of their identity and the need to ‘cleanse’ them. 
  • The impacts of sexual violence during conflicts including HIV, mental health problems, and stigmatisation often persist even after the conflict has ended. For instance, in Liberia, rates of sexual violence continue to be very high many years after the conflict formally ended due to a culture of impunity and ‘hyper masculinity’ developed during the civil war years. 
  • Most post-conflict societies do not possess the capabilities of providing medical and psychological care to survivors, let alone justice.

Global silence

Unfortunately, the issue of gender-based violence in conflicts has not received adequate attention in the discourse on gender equality and sustainable development. 

  • Sexual violence in conflict zones has often been regarded as an inevitable by-product of war and the perpetrators of violence have seldom been punished. 
  • War raises some tough questions though, regarding the global goal of gender equality, SDG 5, which calls for “ending violence against women and girls in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.” 

A questions for the global community to ponder upon: Is it possible to eliminate violence against women if countries refuse to take a tough stance against sexual violence in conflict zones? 


If respect for territorial integrity of a nation and non-interference in ‘internal’ matters override the need to condemn the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, then gender equality is a distant goal. A world that has committed to the achievement of SDGs, cannot remain silent in the face of such a massive violation of women and girls and the use of sexual violence as a weapon in conflict during any war.

Can you answer the following question?

  1. Can we achieve gender equality when sexual violence is still a weapon of war? Discuss.

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