Women, Militarism and Conflict

Leonida Odongo
Posted October 21, 2020 from Kenya
Alaa Salaa-Sudanes Revolution icon

Africa continues to be considered the most unstable continent in the world. According to the Fragile State Index, of the 10 most unstable countries, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Guinea all present in Africa, top the list[1]. Somalia in Horn of Africa is 2nd with DRC coming second and Central African Republic (CAR) coming next.

Many governments in Africa are increasingly adopting militarism as a way of stifling dissent. The military often comes in full force immediately after elections for example in situations where there is disputed elections, to stop armed conflicts or when citizens express dissent over an issue. In fragile states, militarism becomes the order of the day because in many cases institutions responsible for ensuring law and order have broken down. Militarism has adverse impacts on women. There are countries such as DRC where rape has been used as a weapon of war. As reported by Crisis Group[2] Most of the warring parties of the conflict in eastern Congo, including the Congolese Army, Rwandan Hutu rebels, and Congolese Tutsi rebels, have used rape as a weapon of war. Moreover, rape has become ingrained in Congolese civilian society and is widely used to determine power relations.

Rape to a woman or girl and by extension men (because in war men also get raped), the impact is felt over the lifetime of the affected. There is also the inherent burden of a possible HIV infected, unwanted pregnancies as well as the psychological torture that comes with reminiscing the ordeal.

For women in the Horn of Africa, militarism comes with other pre-existing challenges of drought and food insecurity. Sadly, it is women and children who bear the brunt of the drought and militarised situations. During the twin crises of conflict and drought, malnutrition becomes the order of the day. Culture also comes into play as culture in some communities dictates that women and children eat last. During conflict situations, the care roles played by women continue. In the horn of Africa comprising of fragile states such as Somalia, women have to look for water and firewood.[3]The search for food and pasture is also a security concern for women and girls and through this they also get vulnerable to gender based violence while on transit to get water and firewood.

Militarism in fragile regions is in part as a result of military industrial complex. When there is no market for guns and other armaments, manufacturers of these goods will not have markets.Since civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, over 50,000 people have been killed—possibly as many as 383,000, according to a recent estimate—and nearly four million people have been internally displaced or fled to neighbouring countries[4]. Imagine a scenario where over 4 million people have been internally displaced or fled to neighbouring countries, how many of these can be women and children? , How many women and children are maimed and murdered, how many children are left orphaned, how many women during civil strife are left widowed or mourning their dead sons?.

In Sudan, during the street protests, in the early hours of June 3, 2019 and after five months of protest, the Sudanese security forces moved to break up a protest camp outside the army's headquarters in Khartoum using live ammunition and tear gas. Similar coordinated crackdowns occurred at sit-ins in other cities in the country.[5]During these protests, Sudanese women got killed and raped , their crime ?- protesting .Human Rights Watch further notes that women were also beaten and threatened with rape.[6]In Sudan, Alaa Salaa , a woman, came to symbolise protests in Sudan after being photographed chanting during protests against President Omal al –Bashir[7], according to Salaa, she was protesting because she wanted the world to know what was happening and what demands the people of Sudan had. This confirms the resiliency of women, even in a conflict situation, they never given up.

In Southern Africa region, conflict in Zimbabwe and Mozambique has left a lot of destruction in its wake. As noted by Human Rights Watch[8] , state security forces have been implicated in serious human rights violations as a response to suspected Islamist groups in northern province of Cabo Delgado. This has resulted into displacement of thousands, burning of houses and death of civilians. Other reported threats include threats and intimidation against activists and human rights defenders. With militarism comes arson, destruction of property, kidnappings and displacement and in the process innocent people also get killed with many getting detained. The latest depiction of rights violation as shared by Amnesty International is the killing of a naked woman by soldiers in uniform, she was beaten with a stick and then shot dead.[9]This is a complete disrespect for the right to life.

In Zimbabwe, the militarism targets human rights defenders and protesters. For example, from mid -January 2019, as noted by Human Rights Watch, security forces’ use of excessive lethal force to crush nationwide protests. During the protests, the security forces fired live ammunition, killing 17 people, and raped at least 17 women. Other examples include female human rights defenders were arrested after attending a human rights meeting[10] , some of the arrested were women.

Elections across Africa marks a time when there is heightened militarism. Many a times the military tactics are used to stifle dissent for example on outcome of elections. Elections in Africa is a highly emotive affair and it is in elections that people lose their humanity and values. Additionally, the greed for power characterised by clamour for extension of presidential terms is another recipe for violence in Africa. Many a times innocent, unarmed citizens are caught up in these violence, their crime being supporters of a specific political party. Many women and children across Africa have lost their lives during elections. For example, during Kenya’s disputed elections there was incidences of rape, beatings and loss of lives. Many women more so in informal settlements and opposition strongholds suffered and in Burundi, during the aftermath of the 3rd Term Debate[11] , many mothers and their children were killed and many had to flee to other countries as refugees.

In Saharawi, Africa’s remaining colony, which is a disputed territory and is controlled by Morocco has had a 40 year struggle on right to choose their fate[12] and women continue to women play a prominent role in Western Sahara’s independence movement. In Saharawi culture and society, women hold a prominent position both inside and outside of the home. They are not restricted to domestic duties and the confines of their homes as a social norm, but are often leaders both in the family and in the public sphere.[13] In Saharawi women continue to play a great role in the struggle for independence, this is through organizing protests, documentation and reporting cases of oppression, additionally women in Saharawi are also responsible for communication within the refugee camps. An example of violence targeting women in Saharawi occurred on 15 June 2014, in Aaiun, where police and military vehicles lined up on the streets in full riot gear. Demonstrators on Smawa Street were met with violence from the military and 26 women Saharawi women were beaten [14]. The beauty of the Saharawi struggle is that women are on the forefront; they are resilient and will not give up until they get independence.

It is also very sad to note that there exist institutions expected to protect civilians from the impacts of conflict and militarism, however, these institutions have not been able to effectively protect women. Additionally, it is quite sad to note that across African countries when one state is experiencing civil strife perpetrated by the state, leaders in neighbouring states never condemn these atrocities. The culture of silence is making many innocent citizens to lose their lives and it is often covered under the guise of non-interference with internal affairs of a country.

There is need for a re-think on the conflict and militarism situation in Africa. It is quite sad that during conflicts, it is the youth, the women and children who continue to bear the brunt. It is about time that the International Day of Peace became a reality and real peace is celebrated the world over.


Cover photo-Alaa Salaa ;Sudanese protest icon 

The East Africa -https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/rest-of-africa/sudanese-woman-...[1] https://howmuch.net/articles/economic-fragility-around-the-world

[2] https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/democratic-republic-co...

[3] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/HOA_Impacts-of...

[4] https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/civil-war-south-sudan

[5] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/sudan-death-multilateralism-19...

[6] ibid

[7] https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/rest-of-africa/sudanese-woman-...

[8] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/mozambique

[9] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/09/mozambique-video-showing-...

[10] https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/30/zimbabwe-7-detained-after-rights-mee...

[11] https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:720d5f5c-ef49-4a81-a36d-173c75008d80/d...

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/16/women-western-sahara-indep...

[13] ibid

[14] https://giwps.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Vasquez-Western-...



This story was submitted in response to Peace and Security.

Comments 6

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Jill Langhus
Oct 23
Oct 23

Hi Nana,

How are you doing? Thanks for sharing this sad, but informative post, and updating us on what's going on, so we can be more aware of it. I agree that it seems like women and children always seem to carry the majority of the brunt during conflicts.

I hope you're safe and well. XX

Leonida Odongo
Oct 23
Oct 23

Dear Jill,

I'm fine , I hope you are too.Militarism and conflict indeed has negative impacts on women .Sadly , women and children tend to suffer the most.

Have a great day.

Jill Langhus
Oct 24
Oct 24

Good to hear:-) Yes, I'm fine, too, thank you!


Hope you're having a good weekend, too, dear! XX

Nini Mappo
Oct 23
Oct 23

Hello Leonida,
Thank you for expounding on the different aspects of militarism and how they affect women and girls. I learnt so much.

Leonida Odongo
Oct 23
Oct 23

Thank you for reading Nini, glad you are able to learn from these exchanges.


Hello, Prof. Leonida,

Now, I understand why there is militarism in African countries. It's their way of maintaining order and control, but as you said, women and girls bear the brunt for most of this. Sometimes, I couldn't sleep well at night when I think about a girl who might be unsafe in a room somewhere. I can only offer a prayer thinking about the vulnerabilities of women and girls to violence all over the world. Thank you for speaking up.