Research seminar with Chessie Baldwin
Chair: Dr Ermioni Xanthopoulou, Brunel Law School
Liminal categories of gender and war have collided in the complex history of Tigray, Ethiopia. In a region which has witnessed devastating conflict thrice in the past fifty years, women’s experiences of violence and militancy are critical evidence of the inextricably gendered landscape of warfare, yet their voices remain underexplored or misrepresented. This paper seeks to historicise women’s participation in conflict arenas in Tigray since the 1974-1991 civil war through to the ongoing Tigray War, begun in November 2020. It will draw on original oral history interviews with former fighters, activists, and survivors of violence in Tigray and the diaspora to revise representations of female engagement in war.
The paper will first explore the unique and intricate history of female combatants in Tigray, and their pivotal contributions to the populist revolution which overthrew the Derg regime in 1991. Unpacking expressions of self and positioning within hierarchies of militarism, this paper will argue that tegadelti (fighter, struggler women) re-negotiated representations of womanhood in Tigray. The legacies of women’s involvement as combatants will be used to present the hitherto unexplored possibility that the strategic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in Tigray in the past ten months is related to the history of female fighters in the civil war. In addition, the correlation between conflict-related sexual violence and mobilisation will be critically analysed in light of evidence from a new generation of Tigrayan female fighters, in the broadest sense of the term. By placing the extreme violence against women in the Tigray War in its historical and regional context, this paper will ultimately put forward the argument that the perpetration of rape and sexual violence in this conflict constitutes an act of genocide.
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