A review of Erin Baines’ Buried in the Heart: Women, Complex Victimhood and the War in Northern Uganda (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
By Gretchen Baldwin
Too often, lives touched by violent conflict are neatly divided into binaries—victims and perpetrators, guilty and innocent, state and non-state, and so on. In the policy world, women in conflict are frequently placed in one side of those binaries–understood as innocent victims, inherently inclined toward peace. Those reductive assumptions show through in the oft-repeated phrase “women and children”–the UN Women program in Nigeria, for example, uses a single line of effort to “improve protection for women and children in conflict settings.” The conflation of women and children simultaneously infantilizes women and negates the complexity of children’s issues, and neither the phrase nor the sexist logic that underpins it should have any place in policy discussions. Instead, scholars and policymakers must work to disaggregate these categories and confront the multi-faceted realities of people embroiled in political violence.
A movement to understand conflict outside of the standard victim-perpetrator binary has emerged recently in the study of political violence and transitional justice. One of the movement’s major contributions has been to begin grappling with “complex victimhood,” an approach that moves “beyond static categories of victim and perpetrator… to recognize contingency and agency within these categories.” Erin Baines, in her book Buried in the Heart: Women, Complex Victimhood and the War in Northern Uganda, strikes a blow against “women and children” framing and demonstrates how thinking about complex victimhood can improve our understanding of women as political actors in conflicts.