What is Gendered in Conflict-Related Sexual Violence?

30 June – 2 July 2022, Centro Estudos Sociais (CES), Coimbra, Portugal

The current wars and armed conflicts, the migration movements across different territories and borders as well as the ongoing feminist debates on the category »woman« bring sexual violence into the spotlight with renewed urgency. At the same time, the understanding of and knowledge about sexual violence in armed conflict is undergoing significant changes.

During our last workshop in Hamburg 2019, we examined the question »what is sexual about sexual violence?« The discussion revealed the challenge of thinking about the complexity of gender in considering the interconnectedness of sexuality and violence and, furthermore, the problem of understanding different gendered constellations of sexual violence. This problem is also becoming increasingly visible in current scholarly debates about wartime rape where gender is often reduced to the dichotomy men versus women, and the question of who does what to whom in armed conflict.

On the one hand, the observation that men can be victims and women perpetrators seems to be increasingly used as evidence that sexual violence is directed against both sexes equally and that gender constructions and relations are not crucial to understanding the phenomenon. On the other hand, despite the increasing visibility of LGBTQI victims, there seems to be little deeper analysis of gender in these discussions. The lack of sufficient understanding of these constellations notwithstanding, the current debates have already started to change the academic, activist, legal and policy terrain about sexual violence in armed conflict.

During this workshop we aim to explore current constructions of gender in the power relations of sexual violence in conflict, engaging with recent highly public debates in media, law and the policy world that increasingly draw attention to male and LGBTQI victims, as well as female perpetrators. To do so, we propose to engage with empirical sources and case studies from four different fields: (1) law and policy; (2) media; (3) history and memory; (4) activisms. Our main questions are:

What models of gender shape the respective approaches to sexual violence in armed conflict? Which research and intervention methodologies are used to document, understand and represent this violence, and what are their models of gender? 

What is gained and what is lost in this new understanding? How does this change perceptions and approaches to the subject? Which transformations can be seen in public and political debates?

What do we need do take into account to make sense of different constellations, for example constellations involving »female perpetrators« or »male victims«? How can we grasp the different individual and structural levels in which this violence is gendered?

Are there alternative models, such as gendered practices, that might advance both our knowledge about, and preventive interventions into sexual violence in armed conflict?


Thursday, 30 June

War, sexuality and the body. Thinking with Gaby Zipfel
Inputs: António Sousa Ribeiro, Fabrice Virgili, Regina Mühlhäuser
Moderation: Kirsten Campbell and Júlia Garraio

Friday, 1 July

Welcome and Opening Remarks
Kirsten Campbell, Júlia Garraio, Regina Mühlhäuser

Louise du Toit: Contesting the meaning/s of sexual violence in the South African postcolony: where are the male victims?
Moderation: Pascale R. Bos 

Regina Mühlhäuser: Changing meanings. Some observations regarding the understanding of sexual violence against men
Moderation: Gorana Mlinarević

Marta Havryshko: How to address wartime rape in the public sphere from a feminist perspective, and most importantly do justice to the victims? Problems and challenges regarding the war in Ukraine
Moderation: Regina Mühlhäuser

Aaron Belkin: Studying sexual violence at the Air Force Academy without learning much
Moderation: Elissa Mailänder

Atreyee Sen: Wartime women as perpetrators of rape and sexual assault
Moderation: Fabrice Virgili

Saturday, 2 July

Gorana Mlinarević: How to address wartime rape in the public sphere, and most importantly do justice to the victims? A feminist perspective 30 years after the war in Bosnia
Moderation: Kirsten Campbell

Kirsten Campbell: The problem of gender in sexual violence as an international crime. The example of the ICC briefs
Moderation: Atreyee Sen

Future Perspectives of the SVAC Network


  • Aaron Belkin, Founding Director of the Palm Center, California, USA
  • Pascale Bos, Associate Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, USA
  • Kirsten Campbell, Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, UK
  • Louise Du Toit, Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town in South Africa
  • Júlia Garraio, Researcher at the Center for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra in Portugal
  • Marta Havryshko, Writer, Member of the Department of Contemporary History, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Kiev, Ukraine
  • Elissa Mailänder, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Sciences Po Paris in France
  • Gorana Mlinarevic, Researcher in »The Gender of Justice«-Project, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Regina Mühlhäuser, Researcher at the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture and Associate Researcher at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Germany
  • António Sousa Ribeiro, Director of the Center for Social Studies, Coimbra, and Emeritus Professor of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Coimbra
  • Atreyee Sen, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark
  • Fabrice Virgili, stellvertretender Direktor der Forschungsgruppe »Identitäten, internationale Beziehungen und Zivilisationen Europas« an der Sorbonne, Paris, Frankreich