The Politics of Making Sexual Violence an Issue

October 5, 2009

The UN Security Council mandated peacekeeping missions to secure women and girls from sexual violence. Hillary Clinton, who was in the chair, stirred a hornet’s nest when she included Sri Lanka in a list of cases where rape had been used as a weapon of war.


Hillary Clinton’s stewardship of the State Department will likely come to be associated with a vigorous advocacy of a human security agenda in international relations. The elimination of sexual violence is an important part of that agenda.

On September 30th, 2009, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution mandating UN peacekeeping missions to protect women and girls from sexual violence which assumes epidemic proportions in conflict zones. Hillary Clinton introduced the resolution saying, “We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma and Sri Lanka and elsewhere.” Predictably, this aroused a great deal of indignation in Sri Lanka: a sampling here in the comments section of a newspaper.

From one of Sri Lanka’s best-known peace activists, Jehan Perera, this measured reading: Openness to engagement as defence to accusation, October 5, 2009.

The US has responded to Sri Lanka’s protests by saying that instances of rape being used during the conflict had been recorded in the past.

Interesting, that accusations about the use of sexual violence are really found offensive, but no one wants to take sexual violence or gender violence, more broadly, seriously as a policy issue. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to talk about this and other human security issues on all her official visits; this could be her unique legacy depending on what form and what tone it takes in months to come.

This incident is a great example of what feminists mean when they say the personal is political and when they talk about the politics of identity and nationalism being played out on women’s bodies.

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