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Relating Modernity, Conflict and Sexual Violence: Discourses of Violence Against Women in Post-War Sierra Leone


This paper attempts to bring two spheres of violence against women (VAW), female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual assault, together in conversation against the backdrop of post war Sierra Leone. Within the dynamic sphere of human rights, violence against women has reached a crossroads. While activists have been successful in advocating for women's rights as human rights (focusing particularly on developing and conflict saturated countries), their efforts have, in many cases, reinforced unequal gender relations. Additionally, these efforts have catapulted images equating women's rights with the literal protection of 'womanhood.' Within its small borders, Sierra Leone presents an arena for analyzing the intricacies that influence international and national attitudes on sexual violence and female genital mutilation. Extending Minoo Moallem's concept of fundamentalism as informed and created by modernity, this project critically engages the relationship between female genital mutilation and sexual violence as a result of the recent civil war in Sierra Leone and the subsequent transitional justice process. Using a critical discourse analysis of institutional texts from non-governmental organizations and ad-hoc war tribunals, I argue that the framing of violence against women within the dichotomy of fundamentalism and modernity not only influences contentious perspectives of violence against women, but actually creates and aggravates divergence. This project contributes to broader, multi-faceted discussions on the dynamic relations between gender, violence and health interventions in post-war reconstruction.

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