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Last Updated: 08/18/2005
Where are the men? What about women?
Simic Olivera

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Reconciliation is a long-term process which includes the search for truth, justice, healing and forgiveness.  Although it is a broad and inclusive process and should apply to each member of a given society, the reconciliation process is automatically gendered since men and women are differently affected by war. In this regard, before we turn to reconciliation we must acknowledge how conflict has involved and affected women and men in different ways.


The following paper has three chapters. The first one explores gender roles during the process of militarization and how social construction of masculinity and femininity is used to nourish and legitimize militarism. The second chapter highlights why and how the gender roles shift once a war starts. Besides suffering, the conflict can trigger an enormous strength and agency within women that many would otherwise rarely be in a position to exercise because of the patriarchal structures of many societies. Empowerment of women and the agency they obtain during a conflict move them from the private to the public sphere, once exclusively reserved for men. It also highlights that women are not simply victims of war: they are capable and autonomous individuals who play important roles as peacemakers. However, it usually happens that after the war women loose the gains made during the war. In addition, women are also rarely present at official peace negotiating tables where they could be able to spell out their needs and concerns. Finally, the third chapter will emphasize the aftermath of conflict and question the role of men and women in peace building and reconciliation. Do women and men have the same interests and concerns in reconciliation process? If they do not, why is that?



1.1.  Gender and Militarism


Militarism is an ideology structured around creating enemies and pursuing those images of “others” as a threat to one’s own security.  The “other” is defined by making distinctions between people, countries, religions or ethnic groups – the “other”, as the lifeblood of militarism, is defined as “less then”. Once distinction is made and embraced, the other must be destroyed or she/he will destroy “us”.[1] 


It is also essential to portray the enemy as absolute and abstract in order to sharply distinguish the act of killing from the act of murder.[2] By depersonalizing the other and creating one’s nation as a potential victim, the authorities succeed in convincing the majority of people that the war is unavoidable as a defensive tactic.[3]


The very sense of “manhood” and being male is challenged and manipulated by the state in order to support the authority and public legitimacy of the military. To ensure that process of militarization is an on-going process and that males are willing to serve the army and go to combat is a burden placed on the state. Authorities have a task to “feed” the ego and social construction of men as brave and strong.  Men are also presented with the impression that the “chance of their life” to prove all socially constructed attributes attached to them is combat, in which they become warriors. 


Furthermore, the image of a soldier as a warrior who “self-sacrificially” protects women, children and others who are “in need” of protection is a very important motivator for the recruitment of military forces. The concept of “protection” is crucial to the legitimacy of force and violence. Moreover, a protector needs to have object of protection, something worth fighting for.


Therefore, men are sent into a war to protect their home and country, and told they have to protect their womenfolk from defilement by the enemy men. Women are used as objects who are in need of protection, as well as for creation of pressure and guilt in men if they have any doubt about the logic of a war. Women are seen as the sole victims and ones whose well-being is actually worth fighting and even dying for.

[1] Marshall, L., “The connection between militarism and violence against women” (26 February 2004) For more see: <>, accessed 3 March 2005

[2] Ruddick, S. “Mother’s and Men’s Wars” in Harris, A., King, Y. Rocking the Ship of State (Westview Press, San Francisco and London)  p. 79

[3] Nikolic-Ristanovic, V., “Truth, reconciliation and victims in Serbia: the process so far” (New Horizons for Victimology XI th International Symposium on Victimology Stellenbosch, South Africa 13-18 July, 2003) Draft paper

Simic Olivera holds a masters degree in Gender and Peace Building from the Univeristy for Peace.