Gender-based violence during conflict has become widely recognized as a problem of international security. scholars and policymakers alike have made many, sometimes conflicting, claims about the prevalence and causes of wartime gender-based violence. Yet no systematic data are available to assess competing explanations. Without a clear understanding of where wartime gender-based violence has occurred and how and to what extent it was experienced, no clear conclusions may be drawn about the phenomenon. In particular, the lack of reliable quantitative data has hampered the scientific study of gender-based violence and war. This project advances the understanding of the patterns and causes of gender-based violence during wartime and its immediate aftermath through a new cross-national data collection. Better data on wartime gender-based violence will allow scholars to test causal hypotheses, increasing the empirical understanding of gender-based violence.

The researchers will gather systematic data on when and where conflict-related gender-based violence was perpetrated in recent decades and on which armed actors were responsible for gender-based violence, which victims were selected for violence, and what types of violence occurred. With the creation of a comprehensive dataset on wartime gender-based violence, the researchers will then be able to address questions of critical importance to the theories of civilian victimization during wartime and to the understanding of repertoires of violence in armed conflict more broadly. Those questions include: What can explain the variation in conflict-related gender-based violence? What types of armed groups are more likely to be reported to have committed, or refrained from, gender-based violence? Which groups of noncombatants are most at risk for victimization? What factors help predict the form of gender-based violence, and what locations are most at risk for violence? Are certain forms of gender-based violence correlated with each other and with other types of lethal and non-lethal violence, and what implications might this have for strategic warfare?

The project will create a dataset that will capture distinct types of violence against women perpetrated in armed conflict, including large-scale wars, low intensity armed conflicts, and post-conflict situations in the period from 1989 to 2009. We look at three different types of armed conflict: intrastate armed conflict (civil conflict/war), internationalized internal armed conflict, and interstate (international) conflicts. The unit of observation is the actor-conflict-year; actors include state militaries, pro-government militias, rebel groups, and foreign states' militaries involved in conflicts beyond their own borders. This new dataset is designed to be compatible with other widely used datasets in civil war studies.

The project will create the most comprehensive cross-national dataset to date on wartime gender-based violence. A number of theoretical questions can be examined with such data. In a pilot study, the researchers found that gender-based violence by armed actors continued, often for years, after the official end of the war and cessation of lethal violence. This and other questions can be examined more conclusively with the new dataset generated by this research.

This project has a range of broader implications. The project's data will be of interest and use to researchers in a broad array of disciplines. The impact and understanding of violence and war is one of the most pressing questions in contemporary politics. In advancing the understanding of wartime violence against noncombatants, this project broadens the metrics used to estimate the human costs of war and sheds light on strategies that policymakers might use to prevent violence.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Brian D. Humes
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
United States
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