Targeting Women in Wars: Gender and Intentional Civilian Death

Laura Sjoberg, Jessica Peel

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In this chapter, we critically evaluate the civilian victimization debate through feminist lenses, asking how gender weighs into belligerents’ decisions to intentionally target civilians. After exploring previous feminist contributions to the debate about the meaning and effectiveness of the non-combatant immunity principle, we introduce a theoretical approach to civilian victimization in war inspired by feminist thinking about the gendered nature of war and militarism. We argue that states use “civilian” as a proxy for “women” as a Clausewitzian centre of gravity for state and nation, and therefore attack civilians to attack women to attack the essence of the enemy. We then offer empirical evidence in support of this theoretical interpretation in two forms: statistical work on the relationship between sex, gender, and other factors that the civilian victimization literature has identified as influential, and a case study about the British Blockade of Germany in the First World War. After evaluating the evidence, we argue that belligerents do not attack a gender-neutral category of “civilians” when they attack non-combatants. Instead, they attack women. Still, attacking women is not the whole story: belligerents attack women not as women but instrumentally as proxy for state and nation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFeminism and International Relations
Subtitle of host publicationConversations about the Past, Present, and Future
EditorsJ. Ann Tickner, Laura Sjoberg
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780203816813
ISBN (Print)9780415584579, 9780415584609
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2011


  • gender
  • civilian immunity
  • just war
  • feminist IR
  • feminist security studies

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