by student contributor Laura Kilbury
On Tuesday, March 31, George Washington University Professor, Aisling Swaine, presented on her research to a room of thirty people gathered together by the Global Women’s Institute. The research presented on comes from a paper that will be released in August by the Human Rights Quarterly.
Dr. Aisling Swaine’s research began as an academic and passionate pursuit to figure out why violence against women was occurring.
In 2006, Swaine was in Darfur working with an International Organization delivering first response to sexually based past violence. There was an emphasis on the intimate partner violence as well as rape.
What was happening in this environment became the genesis for Swaine’s research on Violence Against Women. In these camps, there was outrage provoked when outside violence was emerged into the community by outside militia, but when violence towards women was acted out by someone of their own community then there was silence. This was a conundrum. What did this mean?
After her time working, she went for a PhD to search for this answer. In her research, she worked with Feminist Legal Theory and International Law to narrow it down. She realized that other harms were missing. Questions like, why was strategic rape the only one that is mentioned? What is the violence conducted for personal and private means? What actually counts as a conflict debate? What is and what is not Human Rights violence?
These questions led to a three year investigation of research being conducted. She used the case studies of Northern Irealnd, Liberia, and Timor Leste. And Primary and Secondary Sources. She particularly emphasized her usage of the work of Elizabeth Wood.
Through her research she began to focus more on the factor of opportunity. In the case of Northern Ireland, Swaine found it interesting that the national state actors were acting out against their own. What did this mean? Wood had already highlighted causal factors of sexual violence as instrumental as well as the differing implementations of sanctions against sexual violence. Swaine used these finding but added three of her own: impunity; reporting and naming; and availability of resources. These she recognized as variations to forms of violence themselves, which become visible under forms that take place.
Northern Ireland showed that acts of violence by paramilitary were occurring within their own community. What was fascinating was that in Northern Ireland refuge workers were telling women not to tell them because they didn’t want to have to report that violence.
Timor Leste was very similar. Liberia showed extraneous violence was part of rape, and at times included forced cannibalism, which made the warriors feel more powerful. Charles Taylor boasted that eating the hearts of warriors resulted in gaining their strength.
Aisling’s discussion ended with the question of: why does it matter whether violence is counted as conflict related? UNSCR resolutions list only strategic violence as a tactic of war, but what about political violence? Or private violence? According to Aisling this creates a hierarchy of harms.
Swaine asked the group, how do we create a space for women to talk about their harms and to have it addressed in the way it should be? This question still needs to be answered, and soon according to Swaine as there is something about this hierarchy of harms that she sees as worrying.
Look for Aisling Swaine’s paper in the Human Rights Quarterly, coming out in August.