Genocide is a crime of destruction, an attempt to annihilate a group of people and render them irrelevant, invisible, and eventually forgotten. Popular conceptions of genocide have long characterized it mainly as a crime of mass killing, the majority of victims of which tend to be men. During genocidal campaigns, women and girls are more likely to survive the initial killings but face enslavement, beatings, starvation, degradation, and other atrocities that form constitutive acts of genocide. Survivors of these abuses are not just witnesses to genocide; they are also its intended targets. When these gendered, non-killing crimes are not recognized as genocide, women and girls are denied justice for the abuses they have suffered.
Across continents and cultures, genocide is carried out along gendered lines. The first step is often the separation of groups by gender and age for distinct treatment. When Daesh captured thousands of Yazidi in August 2014, they executed males over 12 years old, and sold women and girls into slavery. During the Rwandan genocide, members of the Hutu militia tore clothes off children to ensure boys were not dressed in girls’ clothing as a means of escaping mass killings. Once separated, women and girls experience distinct and destructive genocidal acts.
Though they are frequently not regarded as genocidal, these acts can in fact form the basis for the four non-killing crimes of genocide: causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcibly transferring children to another group. For an in-depth legal analysis of the role of gender in genocide, see the Global Justice Center’s whitepaper, Beyond Killing: Gender, Genocide, and Obligations Under International Law.