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Towards an understanding of combatants' motivations: the implications of the links between gender bias and political violence

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A growing body of literature has sought to explain the nature and effects of conflict-related sexualized violence. However, a critical problem that persists concerns why wartime rape varies both within

A growing body of literature has sought to explain the nature and effects of conflict-related sexualized violence. However, a critical problem that persists concerns why wartime rape varies both within and across conflicts. Political science literature mainly addresses these questions of variation in sexualized violence through group-level or structural explanations. Yet, clear patterns of combatant non-participation in conflict-related sexualized violence is apparent, even in cases where sexual violence is severe and pervasive. What allows one combatant to refrain, while another combatant, even within the same combat unit, perpetrates sexualized violence? In this dissertation, I argue that critical differences concerning attitudes, beliefs, and motivations exist between individual combatants. In light of these differences, I reintroduce the individual combatant onto the theoretical map as a critical unit of analysis and I explore the implications of gender inequality as an important and relevant factor related to sexualized violence in political conflict. Drawing on findings from social psychology, political psychology, sociology, and political science, the theory developed argues that combatants differentially internalize important norms related to gender that become particularly activated based on primarily externalized contextual influences. To test the theory, I conduct a mixed-method, sub-national comparative analysis of combatants and attitudes and beliefs associated with gender inequality during the Bosnian War (1992 – 1995). I rely on qualitative data generated from semi-structured, comprehensive interviews with psychologists, victim’s advocates, and legal experts managing sexual violence war crimes cases, and combat veterans directly associated with the Bosnian War (1992 – 1995) to assess differences at the individual-level of analysis. To additionally determine the broader effects of gender inequality, I employ an ordered probit regression analysis to ascertain the relationship between gender inequality related to institutional health and education factors and the severity of wartime rape. The combined results of these analyses demonstrate that individual differences between combatants better predicts the likelihood of a combatant to commit sexualized violence compared to structural or institutional accounts alone.

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  • 2019