Unintended Consequences Or Why Men Rape In War And Why Development Aid Can Kill

I came across a rather disturbing report recently (thanks to Wronging Rights) released by the Nordic African Institute of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Titled The Complexity of Violence: A critical analysis of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) it is a critical examination of how crimes of sexual violence in the Congo are depicted, documented and reported on. Specifically the report challenges the prioritized focus on sexual violence, as something ‘abnormal’ and different from other forms of violence, and the undue and highly publicized attention given to it by international health, aid and media organizations.

The researchers argue that (see page 13 through 15 of the report):

…sexual violence in the DRC has tended to be conceptualised as “abnormal” and fundamentally different from and outside of other forms of violence, which are presumed to be ungendered. By “ungendered”, we mean that the gendered aspects of other types of violence are not seen to be significant or relevant. Conceptualising sexual violence as somehow “abnormal” or outside other forms of violence by being gendered has ultimately contributed to dehumanising those who rape (and also ultimately those who are raped)…

…the specific, often exclusive, focus on sexual violence is problematic in that it hampers our understanding of the relationship between sexual violence and other (supposedly) “ungendered” violence. Emphasising and commenting on only the sexual violence mentioned in testimonies that also talk of other forms of violence hinders our understanding of the relationship between sexual violence and other violence. These forms of violence are, to a large extent, manifestations of the same systemic failures and mechanisms as those contributing to SGBV…

…the DRC experience shows that a singular focus on sexual violence within a very wide repertoire of human rights abuses by state security forces risks feeding into the “commercialisation of rape” or the perception of “rape as an income earning strategy”. In a context of a corrupt judiciary, rampant poverty, decreasing stigma and the almost total absence of basic health and social services, the focus on sexual violence as a particularly serious crime and the resources provided specifically for survivors of rape give rise to situations where allegations of rape become a survival strategy.

…the storyline of GBV in the DRC has been embedded in a limited understanding of gender, which conflates sex with gender and ignores the many ways in which wartime gendered violence also affects men and boys.

This is perhaps the most detailed and extensive analysis of the issue of sexual violence in time of war that i have read to date. It goes far into the historical, social, economic, institutional and other factors that may encourage and offer impunity to acts of mass rapes in a nation at war. The report challenges our presumptions about why rapes occur, what their objectives are, whether they are actually a ‘weapon of war’ as it is so commonly referred to these days.

I found it particularly interesting to read paragraphs like the following which open our eyes to ‘sanctioned’ sexuality amongst the military and violent sexuality that may occur in a conflict, and the presumptions and prejudices that both share.

As explained above, the soldiers themselves cite poverty as the main reason for rape. According to this line of reasoning, it is as “somewhat unavoidable” that a man—who in any way is “denied sex” through lack of financial or other means—will eventually rape. This reasoning is a familiar echo of myths about male heterosexuality, masculinity, soldiering, and violence reproduced in military contexts. The Congolese military celebrates certain ideals of macho heterosexual masculinity. A (male) soldier’s libido is understood as a formidable natural force, which ultimately demands sexual satisfaction from women. Similar portrayals of masculinity can be found in most other military institutions globally. For example, men’s sexual needs are often presented as the reason for the need of regular R & R… Army brothels have also frequently been used, not the least during the Second World War. The prostitution rings that notoriously surround army bases, including current UN forces worldwide such as MONUC, is another example of this phenomenon. (page 47)

But perhaps the most eye-opening pages of the report are under the section called ‘Commercialization of Rape’. As the writers point out:

The attention received by SGBV in eastern DRC is, simply put, out of proportion to the attention received by other equally grave human rights violations (mass killings of villagers, systematic torture of detainees, etc.). This is problematic, since it means that other violence does not receive adequate attention, but also because it has other consequences: it contributes to a process in which allegations of rape are perceived as, and become, a particularly effective bargaining, and ultimately quite effective income-earning, strategy. (page 51)

Resulting in a situation where:

Another problem is more specifically connected to the vast resources from international organisations earmarked for various services to rape survivors. The lack of basic health services and the lack of resources for women who have not been raped—plus the widespread poverty—have created a situation in which destitute women and girls who are not rape survivors sometimes present themselves as rape victims in order gain access to these opportunities….A similar situation arises in connection with other services provided to rape survivors, such as food aid, training/education and credit facilities. According to local organisations, such instances mostly involve women and girls who have lost their families and therefore have little to lose from the stigma of rape. However, with the increasing attention to sexual violence and combating stigma and shame, in combination with high prevalence of such violence, the stigma associated with rape has also decreased, facilitating the process of presenting oneself as a rape survivor in order to access services. (page 54)

Far from detracting from the gravity of the crimes, and the urgency and seriousness of its human, social, cultural and other consequences, this analysis sheds a light on the ways in which aid organizations, and journalists influence and create consequences on the ground. It points out that we – aid workers, photojournalists, writers, reporters etc. are not neutral observers but in fact affect, influence and possibly contort the very situations we insert ourselves in and report on.

This was also the subject of a fascinating book by Peter Uvin, a professor at Tufts University, titled Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda where as early as the introduction of the work he points out that he will show:

…the process of development, and the international aid given to promote it interacted with the forces of exclusion, inequality, pauperization, racism and oppression that laid the groundwork for the 1994 genocide. In countries…where development aid provides a large share of the financial and moral resources of government and civil society, development aid cannot help but play a crucial role in shaping the processes that lead to violence.

These, much like what is in the SIDA report, are difficult examinations, but necessary. We are too casual in our assumptions about sexual violence in Africa (or elsewhere for that matter!), and too comfortable presenting it as yet another African ‘barbarism’. The SIDA reports offers insights into socio-economic factors that explain acts of rape, while reminding us how our actions and behaviors in response to the situation affect and influence the habits,behaviors and responses of the very people we are claiming to help. This argument is extended further by Professor Uvin’s work which invites us to set aside our naive and frankly infantile ideas about the ‘purity’ and ‘chastity’ of ‘development aid’ enterprise and begin to see its connections and its unintended consequences.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

Details »

Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.


Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

Details »

Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

Details »

Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

Details »

Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

Details »

10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

Details »

%d bloggers like this: