The way an issue is ‘framed’ (viewed and understood) has a profound effect on whether it is viewed as a priority for action by international organisations, states, and civil society. Wartime sexual violence used to be framed as a ‘women’s issue’, but since the issue gained widespread notoriety in the mid-1990s, it has shifted to being understood as a ‘security issue’. Activists and campaigners have used this as an opportunity to press for more attention at international and national levels, and policymakers have given higher priority to the issue of ending wartime sexual violence. Yet framing wartime sexual violence in terms of security – and in particular, a focus on ‘rape as a weapon’ – comes at a cost. First, it isolates this violence conceptually from the wider context of gender-based violence before, during, and after active armed conflict, and other types of violence may receive little attention. In addition, the specific emphasis on ‘rape as a weapon’ affects the types of wartime sexual violence recognised and condemned by the international community, the kinds of ‘victims’ granted assistance, and the extent to which women and men are perceived as victims, empowered agents, or perpetrators.
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