Understanding Intimate Partner Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings.

In a recent article Monica McWilliams and I take a close look at the complexity of violence against women in conflicted and post conflict societies.  Entitled “There is a War Going on You Know” and forthcoming in the Transitional Justice Review, the article draws on substantive empirical data gathered in Northern Ireland during the recent conflict.  We argue that despite the universality of intimate partner violence and its recognition as a human rights violation, much less is known about the dynamics, as well as the specific forms and regulation of this violence in conflict and post-conflict settings.  It is evident that much legal and political consideration has been given to sexual violence occurring during armed conflict, and especially to rape, but we assert that this concentration on high-profile and extraordinary violence has diverted attention from the regular violence that women routinely experience in conflicted societies.   The lack of attention to data-collection, and the failure to adequately disaggregate conflict-related sexual violence from ‘routine’ intimate violence obscures the relationship between various categories of gender-based violence and the ways in which certain forms and practices of violence reinforce and sustain others.  We conclude by arguing that deeper understanding of intimate partner and domestic violence, and its connection to conflict-related sexual violence, is also central to advancing sustained legal accountability for gender-based violence in a manner that might transform the continual impunity for a wide range of gender-based harms.

Based on our data, the following conclusions are drawn:

* Women who are the partners and family members of serving members of the police or military have a heightened risk of severe intimate violence, because of the access of ‘their’ men to legally held small arms.

* Police forces operating in situations of armed conflict consistently underplay the seriousness of intimate violence.  Reports of interviews consistently bear of the responsive refrain that “as there is a war going on”, and that as a result police resources and energy are best spent combatting terrorism.

* Non-state actors specifically paramilitary organisations,  particularly those operating in ethno-national conflicts, develop their own regulatory and administrative mechanisms to address intimate violence.  These mechanisms mirror the patriarchies and bias found in state responses.

* In ethno-national conflict settings, women victims of intimate violence are under multiple pressures not to report domestic violence as it may being unwanted police attention and military presence into their broader communities.  Women reporting domestic violence experienced a highly militerized form of community policing, often including the presence of police and army personnel, whose actions create further alienation from and stigma for them within their communities of reference.

We hope that greater empirical attention to the patterns and forms of intimate violence in conflict settings will avoid the current scholarly and policy trend to lump all forms of violence against women into one undistinguished basket.  Moreover, our hope is that greater attention to the complexity of state and non-state interactions will reveal the great convergence of patriarchal practices that cross-over other ideological and political differences in these settings.  Finally, there is a need to displace and disrupt the dominant narratives that attend only to harms of a sexual nature, specifically rape in conflict and post-conflict settings and pay much greater attention to the fullness of gender-based harms experienced by women and men in such conflict arenas.

Fionnuala Ni Aolain & Monica Mc Williams

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