Women in War

Rape, hunger, violence, cruelty - China Keitetsi, a former child soldier from Uganda, is not the only one to suffer this fate. In Africa very often wars take place. Of course this is horrible for the whole population, but the ones who suffer the most are women and children.

Women as soldiers

Women are involved in the war in different ways and often they are recruited as soldiers.

A very well-known example for this is China Keitetsi. She was only a small nine year old girl when she was recruited as a child soldier to fight for the NRA, the National Resistance Army, in Uganda.

The aim of the NRA, headed by Yoweri Museveni, was to bring down the dictator Milton Obote. Museveni said that the NRA was fighting for freedom and against clanship - but for this freedom Museveni stopped at nothing. He would accept the death of many people in order to take over the government. He was also among the first to use child soldiers. Because of that he is known as "The father of all child soldiers". In 1986 he finally took over the government but this did not mean freedom for the people. At first he held a democratic election, but since then he has continued totalitarianism - until today.

China is a typical example of a child soldier. She ran away from home and so, at first she was only happy to have a new "family". She thought that all the military education was only a game - until she had to fight in a real war for the first time. There she realized how horrible her future would be - but by then it was too late to escape. She had to fight in many battles under horrible conditions. Often there was not anything to eat for several days, nor was there sufficient to drink. The children were not allowed to sleep and if they were allowed to, they could not sleep because they were traumatized by horrible nightmares. She had to watch helplessly as many of her companions and friends were dying. After ten years, China had the possibility to flee and took it. She could start a new life in Denmark, but the horrible time of being a child soldier had left deep marks in her soul.

China was fortunate because she received help to assimilate her past; however, there are still many women in Africa who do not get that chance. They are traumatized for their whole life and often they also have had to suffer from physical injuries such as the loss of a foot or a hand..

Rape and sexual abuse

Another cruel aspect that war brings for women is rape and sexual abuse. When soldiers attack a village they do not kill all the women and girls since, for the soldiers, it is much more interesting to rape them. The soldiers do not take age into consideration as they rape all women, little girls as well as old women. Many women to suffer gang rapes or are raped more than once. If the women survive the sexual abuse, they fear horrible consequences. They often become pregnant or are infected with HIV or other venereal diseases. If they give birth to these children, it is very difficult for the women because the presence of these children is a constant reminder throughout their lives of the rape that they suffered.

The rapes also have consequences for their social life. Many female victims of sexual abuse and rape are subsequently abandoned by their husbands, because after a rape they are considered as having broken the principle of marriage to only have sex with their husband. So they are shunned by their communities, and condemned, along with their children, to a life of extreme poverty. [1]

As if a rape were not bad enough, they also have to fear these terrible social consequences. Because of women's traditional role in society, they are powerless against their men. Although there are laws that forbid rape and sexual abuse, women have hardly a chance to obtain justice because in times of war laws do not mean much.

The worst consequences are probably the psychological ones. The women need help to recover from their horrible experiences but mostly they do not get that opportunity. Even if the women were encouraged to talk about their horrible experiences, many of them would not do it. Often the women are ashamed of having been raped and so they do not talk about it.

A current example of this suffering is a conflict in North Kivu Province (a province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo). Although the conflict has officially ended, civilians are still being killed, raped, abducted and tortured by armed groups and government forces. Feminists try to fight against this violent state, but this is very difficult because there are too many soldiers and so the feminists are often raped themselves. This is the case not only in this province, but also in the rest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where during the ten years' war (1993-2003), women had to suffer rape and sexual abuse.

The strong women of Rwanda [2]

Although it is difficult to believe that in spite of the many horrible aspects suffered by war, sometimes there have been positive results for women. An example for this was the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The fascist government of Rwanda told the Hutu majority to kill the minority Tutsi. A tenth of the population of Rwanda was killed; most of the dead were men. So the women, then in the majority, started to rebuild Rwanda. Of course they were traumatized and lamented the loss of many family members, but they did not give up and started to work day and night to return Rwanda in a civilized state. They overtook the factories and fields of their men and so they stabilized Rwanda's economy. They took care of many orphans themselves and so the normal family life started to come back to Rwanda.

Today Rwanda is the land unique in the world for having the highest percentage of women holding leading positions in the country. This shall definitely not say that war is a way to strengthen the position of women in African society! This war brought about many more evil than positive results; however, it is a great example to show how women are able to make a change!

Wars in Africa will not be ended soon and as long as they continue, women and children will have to suffer such misfortune. Although the process of making peace has already started, it is still a long way until all wars will be ended!

Verena Hesse


Keitetsi, China: Sie nahmen mir die Mutter und gaben mir ein Gewehr. München, 2002

  • [1] No end to the war against women andchildren, http://www.amnesty.de/files/drkongokindersoldaten0908.pdf, 01.10.2008, aufgerufen am 23.01.2010
  • [2] Lichterbeck, Philipp: Die starkenFrauen von Ruanda, http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/geschichte/die-starken-frauen-von-ruanda/1647444.html ,12.12.2009, aufgerufen am 23.01.2010
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