Scholarship on political violence and armed conflict has long been gender-blind. Often subsumed within the category of ‘children’ (who are assumed to be male in the context of soldiery), girl soldiers have been subjected to a double invisibility. However, in the last decade the literature dedicated to the topic of girls within armed groups has grown. We now have a much clearer understanding of girls’ strengths and challenges, and clear evidence of their overall marginalisation both during wartime violence and following demobilisation. What is now needed is to implement what we have learnt, to support girls in the aftermath of violence, particularly in the long term. This article seeks to provide an overview of what is known about girl soldiers. It explores their entry into armed groups, and their multiple roles and wartime experiences, as well as their experiences of demobilisation and reintegration. To support the points raised, we highlight the voices and experiences of nine former girl soldiers from Colombia, and eight former girl soldiers from Sierra Leone, who were interviewed in 2010 and 2011. The realities of girls affected by armed conflict vary in different contexts, yet there are similarities. Girls’ options, roles, power relations, both during conflict and following demobilisation, are embedded within broader gendered power structures and identities.
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