Are Women More Targeted By Explosive Violence: An Exploratory Analysis

Destroyed family houses in Bodrodyanka, Ukraine, after an explosive Russian attack Destroyed family houses in Bodrodyanka, Ukraine, after an explosive Russian attack © Ales Uscinov via Pexels

Despite the alleged suppositions of explosive violence being gender-neutral, its impacts seem to be gender-biased and harmful to women’s status.

Written jointly by Professor Ismene Gizelis, Dr Brian Phillips, Dr Sara Polo, and Dr Iain Overton, the “Gendered patterns in explosive violence: a policy brief on understanding the impact of explosive weapons on women” was published by the NGO Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) – contributing to disseminate evidence and rise attention on the victims of explosive weapons. 

To begin with, the report builds itself on a data-driven quantitative approach – thus, it utilizes numeric information and data gathered by AOAV and ACLED (Armed Conflict Location Event Data,) in order to explore to what extent explosive violence is gender-oriented and affects women. 

Successively, even qualitative features, such as social structures and norms are taken into account for the scope of the analysis. In fact, assessing the degree of gender empowerment, female emancipation, and women’s roles in countries under inquiry helps to understand whether they are more at risk of being targeted. For instance, estimates by the Variety of Democracies (V-Dem) index on women’s political empowerment and the World Bank Data are considered for the aim of the report – hence, demonstrating that explosive violence is gender-biased rather than being indiscriminate as often erroneously believed. In this regard, it is emphasised how the likelihood of women being targeted skyrockets, the more their social importance is nullified – as it occurs under hostile regimes and in war contexts. There, protection for fragile categories is missing and violence towards them by the perpetrators is seen as legitimate and part of their offensive strategy. 

 The report digs deeper into the patterns with which explosive violence – inflicted by detonating high-explosive substances which create massive blasts –  works. As previously explained, the assessment realized by considering both the level of female political engagement and the number of civil casualties due to explosive weapons let discover that the higher the female empowerment, the less targeted females are. Contrarily, if female emancipation, involvement, and social importance within communities are low and the protection they are provided is scarce, consequently, the more deliberate explosive violence they will bear. This permitted to highlight trends and find evidence that led to the safe conclusion that explosive violence in cross-border conflicts and civil wars is becoming less indiscriminate but targets more vulnerable civilians – with women and young girls at the forefront.  

The data and real situations in the field align with the thesis presented in the report. For instance, throughout the years of the Caliphate of ISIS’s highest peak, women, children, and girls killed or severely injured by explosive ordonnance reached levels up to 34%. Likewise, in the Syrian Civil War, 74% of the total killed girls occurred via explosive weapons. Additionally, it should be noted that explosive violence has even massive side effects for women and young girls who survive such brutal attacks, impacting their social status and quality of life. Indeed, female survivors report both psychological and physical trauma, which in least-developed, war-torn societies cannot be properly addressed, and pregnancy-related complications may occur. Furthermore, surviving females, whose trauma resulted in permanent disabilities, would undergo other sufferings by being considered as a burden by their families and being marginalized  within societies – jeopardizing all the efforts in reducing gender inequality. 

In light of what has been just aforesaid, it is imperative to acknowledge that gender-based explosive violence is a question of humanitarian relevance, whose urgency needs to be faced proactively starting from accurate data collection. Additionally, disarmament and a limit on explosive weapons – with particular attention to avoiding community-inhabited areas – are to be further imposed by multilateral agencies.  Finally, more women’s active participation in policy-making and gender-sensitive approaches are required when it comes to discussing security concerns.


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by Francesca Sabia

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