The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Continuity of Violence against Women from Peacetime into Periods of Intra-state Conflict and Violence

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on December 13, 2010
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The use of gender violence as a war tactic and the impact of conflicts on the prevalence of post-conflict domestic abuse has been widely documented and researched. Responding to the phenomenon of gender violence during conflict, the UN has issued a series of Security Council Resolutions – 1325, 1820, 1882 and 1889 – on the use of sexual violence as a war tactic and on addressing the security concerns of women caught in armed conflict and in integrating them into peacebuilding processes.

However, what appears to be understudied is the role of weak domestic violence laws applicable during peacetime, in facilitating or perpetuating gender violence when conflict occurs, continuing into post-conflict periods. This is significant for the Asian region for several reasons – it is undergoing several intrastate conflicts; women make up “half of the population” in Asia-Pacific; and “violence against women is a common phenomenon in Asia” but considered a private family matter, excluded from intervention by public authorities. For example, academics including Rhonda Copelon, suggest that planned acts of rape in conflict zones to subjugate and humiliate, are linked to poorly regulated crimes of gang and marital rape during peacetime.

Although magnified in severity, the conditions inciting violence during conflict or post-conflict periods are similar to those  underpinning domestic violence during peacetime, including; structural factors such as gender inequalities due to patriarchal social hierarchies, acceptance of violence as a mode of social interaction or socio-economic inequality, but most importantly impunity. Levels of impunity related to the commission of domestic violence enables conflict zones to become environments for gender violence as social networks drastically breakdown.

All Southeast Asian states are signatories to the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and 8 out of 10 states have enacted specific regulations on domestic violence, barring Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar. The Philippines has the most comprehensive definition of domestic violence and the Vietnamese legislation is exemplary in addressing negative cultural influences such as forced child marriages. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Philippines have specific state institutions with responsibility to spread public awareness on domestic violence. Most countries provide criminal and civil remedies to domestic violence. Only Malaysia and Thailand have relevant legislation to ensure the prevalence of domestic violence is monitored.

Significantly, in concert with the international momentum, Southeast Asia marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November 2010. The United Nation’s campaign, “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women,” took off in Asia-Pacific on this day. The campaign targets youth, faith-based organisations and religious groups, men and boys and the media. Recognising that efforts by Southeast Asian states can be enhanced, Thai Prime Minister, Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva commented on the centrality of protection of women and girls from violence to gender equality and development within the region. He attributed the prevalence of violence against women to the existing the culture of impunity and observed that fundamental structural changes to existing unequal power structures, were required.

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