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– by Floreana Miesen
A painting from the Democratic Republic of the Congo
After armed service, ex-combatants often face an uncertain future. They are likely to commit domestic and sexual violence. Such violence is not only directed against women. Men are increasingly becoming victims too.
According to social anthropologist Rita Schäfer, gender stereotypes often contribute to post-conflict violence, as wars and civic strife shape ideas of masculinity. Child soldiers hardly learn any non-violent forms of resolving disputes or expressing masculinity. At the end of military conflict, many fighters experience an extreme sense of losing power when they hand over their weapons, Schäfer writes. Many try to compensate by acting violently.
In 2007, the humanitarian agency CARE examined gender-based violence in South Eastern Europe, where economic crisis in the late 80s led to exaggerated nationalism and wars in the 90s. The study showed that many young people perceived the police as an institution with a strong culture of violence and considered officers their role models. Schäfer states that men of influence need to become aware of such impacts, and should contribute to helping societies transcend stereotypes.
She praises programmes that address gender violence. For example, sports projects can promote solidarity and competitiveness in a healthy way. The media, moreover, can help to change gender roles and reduce the acceptance of violence. Schäfer points out that, so far, there have only been pilot projects, but long-term efforts are needed. She proposes linking HIV/AIDS prevention in post-war areas with anti-violence projects. After all, high incidence of rape results in higher prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.