Ottawa Citizen
Monday 6 March 2000

Some grim conclusions about gender and mass killing

Christina Spencer
The Ottawa Citizen

International Women's Day, March 8, marks injustices against womenfolk. It symbolizes how, through history, females have suffered for their gender. Examples leap to mind: the European witch-hunts, the Montreal massacre. So if I suggested we need an International Men's Day too, would you agree? Of course not. Men perpetrate violence; women endure it.

But have a conversation with Adam Jones, a Canadian academic with a gender-studies interest, and you may see it a bit differently.

Prof. Jones, now at the Centre for Research and Training in Economics in Mexico City, runs a human rights group with the unsettling title "Gendercide Watch." Aided by a few colleagues and almost no money, he has collected academic papers and case studies of mass killings through history, which he grinds with the pestle of gender studies. His unexpected conclusion: The most frequent targets of mass slaughter are not women but civilian men. Some examples:

Kosovo, 1999. "Although the Milosevic regime's genocidal assault on Kosovar society swept up all other sectors of the population, killing many and expelling hundreds of thousands, the most systematic and severe atrocities were inflicted disproportionately upon non-combatant men."

Srebrenica (Bosnia), 1995. "The long-term success of ethnic cleansing depending on killing off the Muslim men, without whom the population's women and children would have no means of returning."

Rwanda, 1994. "[After the massacre] Rwanda became a country of women. It is currently estimated that 70 per cent of the population is female and that 50 per cent of all households are headed by women." (Sources of these citations are on the website www.gendercide.org, and in Mr. Jones's own paper, "Gendercide and Genocide.")

While feminist scholars focus on the damage to women and children from mass conflict, Mr. Jones states boldly: "There is a wildly disproportionate emphasis upon the plight of women, a virtual taboo on raising anything on the other side of the coin."

Yet Mr. Jones is not anti-feminist; he does not begrudge the support that goes to women's programs. "I wouldn't want to see a single cent of this aid cut." But "the notion of special vulnerability does not hold up ... male flesh is not more immune to a bullet than female flesh." Thus his thesis: In mass killings, the most vulnerable group of non-combatants is males, 15 to 55.

The key here is "non-combatant." On the battlefield, we expect most casualties to be men. Mr. Jones, however, is speaking of civilians -- a group we often define as "women and children." That's not clear thinking, he says.

Consider the 1915 Armenian genocide. The first step of that brutal terror was the disarming of conscript Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army. They were turned into pack animals, "driven by the whips and bayonets of the Turks into the mountains." The weak were left to die or were shot. Next, civilian males were taken from their towns and slaughtered. At this point, the rest of the population -- women, children, the elderly -- were deported. All, of course, were victims. But the first target of extermination was men. The rounding up of males is, often, a precursor of worse to come.

During Operation Barbarossa, the Nazis killed 2.8 million Soviet PoWs, most by starvation, in eight months during 1941-42. Barbaric, but why would Mr. Jones call it 'gendercide'? "PoW did not just mean men who had seen military service. Nazi policy was explicitly that all men between 15 and 65 were to be taken to PoW camps."

Killing men was a way to train the future executioners of the Jews. Nazi leaders on the eastern front started with the killing of male Jews. "By shooting primarily teenage and adult Jewish males, they would be able to acclimate themselves to mass executions without the shock of killing women, young children and the infirm ... they could believe that they were selectively killing the most dangerous Jews, which was a measure that they could conceive to be reasonable for this apocalyptic war." The rest of the population would come later.

Says Mr. Jones, "acts of 'gendercide' can be seen in such cases as a vanguard for the genocide as a whole, an initial barrier to be surmounted and threat to be removed, before the remainder of the community is consigned to violent death." If that is true, it is worth focusing specifically on the plight of non-combatant males in the early stages of conflicts.

Mr. Jones's views are not necessarily popular. "You run up against a wall of resistance," he admits. "It's incumbent upon me to present our evidence in an arguable way."

So I conclude there's no International Men's Day on the horizon. But Mr. Jones's work will "engender" debate.

Read previous Christina Spencer columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

Copyright 2000 Ottawa Citizen