Gender permeates the crime of genocide. It is woven into the perpetrators’ planning and commission of coordinated acts that make up the continuum of genocidal violence. It is through these gendered annihilative acts that perpetrators maximize the crime’s destructive impact on protected groups.
Female and male members of targeted groups, by the perpetrators’ own design, experience genocide in distinct ways by reason of their gender. Men and older boys are targeted as a consequence of the gendered roles they are perceived to inhabit, including those as heads of households, leaders, religious authorities, protectors, guardians of the group’s identity, and patriarchs. Assaults on women and girls pay heed to their roles as mothers, wives, daughters, bearers of future life, keepers of community’s and family’s honor, and sources of labor within the home. An understanding of what it means to be male and female in a particular society thus saturates perpetrators’ conceptions of their victims, and of themselves. In particular, the violence directed at women and girls during genocide is fed by existing misogynistic attitudes in society, and the traumatic impacts are magnified by the financial, social, cultural inequalities to which women and girls are subjected.
Genocide is often understood as a crime committed predominantly through organized mass killings—the majority of victims of which, both historically and today, tend to be male. Consequently, non-killing acts of genocide—more likely to be directed against female members of a protected group—are often cast out of the continuum of genocidal violence. Equally, in privileging the act of killing, other acts of violence committed against men and boys—such as torture, rape, and enslavement—have also been obscured.