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Gender, Nation, Rape: Bosnia and the Construction of Security

Hansen, L. (2000). . International Feminist Journal of Politics, 3(1), 55-75. doi:10.1080/14616740010019848


The mass rapes in Bosnia brought gendered security problems onto the international agenda to an unprecedented extent. This article examines the debate surrounding whether these rapes should be characterized as a security problem which warranted international attention and possibly intervention. This debate evolved around the question whether wartime rape should be understood as an individual risk or a collective security problem;and whether it should be defined in national or in gendered terms. The empirical part of the article analyses the three dominant representations of the Bosnian mass rapes: ‘rape as normal/Balkan warfare’ argued that rape did not constitute a collective security problem and the international community had therefore no reason or responsibility to intervene; the “rape as exceptional/Serbian warfare” representation read the rapes through national lenses and argued that the international community should intervene militarily in defence of the Bosnian government; and the third representation, “Balkan patriarchy”, claimed the privileged of a gendered reading of the rapes, the conflict in Bosnian should, according to this discourse, be understood as involving women on the one side and the patriarchal nationalistic leaderships on the other. The article concludes that the political impact of each of the representations is difficult to assess, but that the willingness of the International Crime Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to pursue rape-related indictments constitutes an important step towards the recognition of wartime rape as a collective security problem.

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