A sentence by Karima Guenivet says: Sexual violence is less and less a consequence of war and increasingly a weapon used for political terror, for the eradication of a group, in a plan of genocide and of a desire for ethnic cleansing. I believe that this phrase can contain in an exemplary way the belief that in recent years has arisen on war rapes. It is clear that women are raped not only because they are women, but also because they are linked to an ethnic or political ideology.
Women are considered as objects to be exploited to distract the troops, wombs to be raped or mutilated to eradicate a race or to create another. For the traditional mentality of many countries of the world, the woman is a property of the man, father or husband. In wartime, women often return to being disputed as objects even in those societies that, in times of peace, seemed to have overcome this vision. In ethnic conflicts in particular, women are affected not because they are considered to be dangerous, but only because they are the enemy’s women, potential generators of future enemies. By killing them, raping them or torturing them, they aim to actually hit the men, enemies, to whom they belong. Men perceive the rape of their women as one of the greatest humiliations: it is the overwhelming proof of their impotence. For this reason women in war are often raped in the presence of male relatives, or even in front of the entire community: the symbolism of violence goes beyond every language and every culture and the message is clearly: that of total domination.
Rape has been used as a weapon not only for ethnic, but also religious reasons. A striking example is what the Algerian women have had to endure since the mid-nineties. The origins of the Algerian crisis lie in the war of liberation against the French and in the choices made after independence. Islamism, in Algeria, is a movement that uses the Islamic religion for political and power purposes with the aim of imposing an Islamic State in opposition to the modern and secular state. The status of Algerian woman is very particular. If the entire political class is willing to recognize its civil and political rights, in the private sphere it remains subordinate to the authority of the man.
The fundamentalist violence against women in Algeria began in the ’70s, targeting all the social roles that women played, they could no longer work or study. All women whose behavior was not considered to conform to “good conduct” were targeted.
Islamic fundamentalist groups began to arm themselves in the course of the years, and violence against women also crept into political discourse. An increasing number of women were taken under the eyes of their families, to suffer a fate of rape and killings.15In the Algerian case, the principle of ethnic cleansing is supplanted by the principle of religious purification. This had already been presented in India after having obtained independence from Great Britain in 1947. However, the moment of independence came at the same time as a fracture of the nation: the division of the country into two states, India and Pakistan. The British decision to split the country on the basis of religion, India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims, unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence in both nations. As always, sexual violence was extended: it is thought that over 50,000 women were raped and abducted by men of religion different from their own. These episodes constitute only a part of the violence suffered by women during the Partition.16In almost all ethnic and religious conflicts women are targeted for the intrinsic characteristic of their gender: femininity. As in the Algerian case the injuries are intended to hit the woman in her femininity. Their attackers mutilated what was most disquieting in their eyes, the breasts or the genital organs. Often they are slaughtered or beheaded and their head was exhibited in the public square, to serve as an example and to dissuade others from deviating from the “path”.
Similar events had already resurfaced in the Hindu-Muslim religious conflict. There have been countless cases of women of a specific religion who were stripped naked by men of the other religion and forced to parade along the streets. Some of the breasts were cut off and the body — the forehead or the private parts — was tattooed with the symbols of the other religion.18 How not to mention what happened in Rwanda in 1994, towards the women of Tutsi ethnic group from the Hutu militia. Women have been subjected to brutality that includes genital mutilation and which can cause death. These mutilations are part of the macabre rituals and have a role in keeping with the sociology of genocide. The Tutsi women are described by the coquettish media as educated women, so they know how to behave and are, therefore, considered spies or weapons of the FPR 19. The Tutsi woman is also attacked for her physical appearance, she is considered “the European with the black skin,” a myth has been created around this that has made her even more the object of violence, creating frustration in the Hutu population, for which they were inaccessible. As already mentioned above, after being raped women were being mutilated, which served to disfigure, tarnish and deprive them of their main attributes, then their beauty and their ability to procreate.
The most recurrent mutilations were those that left signs on parts considered “distinctive” of the woman in general and of the Tutsis in particular: their thin nose, their long fingers, their breasts and their genitals, and were performed publicly to multiply terror and degradation. The goal was clearly stated by the soldiers: to destroy their ability to reproduce forever and to verify if the Tutsis are really different from the Hutus. Through this propaganda the Hutu men have felt legitimized to rape the Tutsi women to “know what taste the Tutsi women have and know their sweetness,” and it is the frustration linked to ancient ghosts of desire for these women to emerge in times of aggression. A further characteristic that transforms women into a weapon, in Algeria as in Bosnia, is its power to give life. In the Algerian case, genetic imperialism gives way to religious imperialism, which authorizes us to believe that, by impregnating an “ungodly” woman, a good “Muslim” is born. The members of the Islamist armed groups, similarly to the Serbs, use them as “carrying mothers” of a virtuous Muslim.
Bosnian-Serb soldiers have implemented a system of systematic rape against Bosnian and Croatian Muslim women, whose final goal was death or a forced pregnancy. In fact, for the traditional mentality, it is not the woman, but the man who determines the ethnic belonging of the unborn child. Thus through the mass rapes the women of the enemy ethnic group were contaminated and their ethnicity was widespread. In Bosnia, many raped women were detained in concentration camps until their pregnancy was so advanced that abortion would be impossible.
Rape has been institutionalized to “desecrate” Muslim society and culture, and women become a fundamental element in this war strategy. It seems that the purpose was to create a sort of fifth colony, a society of Bosnian children, Muslims and Croats of a Serbian father, children who would marry the cause of their father. In this case mothers often hid the cause of their pregnancy, believing themselves that their children born of violence belonged to the rapist’s ethnic group: so, in most cases, the children were abandoned after giving birth.
The woman is targeted because she is linked to one of the conflicting groups. In Rwanda between April and July 1994, at least 250,000 Rwandan women of Tutsi ethnicity were systematically raped. What happened in Rwanda in 1994 was almost comparable to the persecution of the Jews. In fact, the intent was the physical and cultural elimination of an entire race. There are two reasons why these women are to be killed: they are considered spies and embody the entire history of social fracture in Rwanda.