Framing reproductive violence as a crime distinct from sexual violence in international crime law - applications invited

Published: 11 January 2021 at 17:07

We're looking for a PhD student to develop a theoretical framework to develop a more sophisticated understanding of reproductive violence in international crime law, as a distinct crime from sexual violence.

Today, the issue of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in armed conflict has become firmly embedded in international criminal law (ICL). As one prosecutor noted, ‘[t]oday there is no shortage of recognition that conflict-related sexual violence is a problem requiring priority attention.’ The same cannot be said, however, about the issue of reproductive violence, which has been largely absent from the ICL scholarship and from the narratives of international criminal justice.

Reproductive violence may be broadly defined as ‘[v]iolence which involves a violation of reproductive autonomy or which is directed at people because of their reproductive capacity.’ Those targeted are usually women and girls; however, men and boys may also be targeted. It could include acts of forced pregnancy, experimentation on reproductive organs, forced abortions, castration and forced sterilization, and may be committed both within the context of international or domestic crimes.

While reproductive violence and sexual violence are clearly linked, there is an emerging need to treat them as distinct crimes and to study the specificities of reproductive violence in their own right (rather than as a subset of sexual violence).

Instances of reproductive violence have occurred in different jurisdictions and contexts including during the military regimes in Argentina (baby stealing), against the Yazidis in Iraq and Syria (forced contraception and abortions), and China (forcible sterilizing Uighur women) to name but a few. A PhD student working on this project may decide to select one or more of these case studies.

The aim of this interdisciplinary research is to develop a theoretical framework to develop a more sophisticated understanding of reproductive violence in ICL, as a distinct crime from sexual violence. Paying more attention to reproductive violence in armed conflict is important from a victim- and survivor-centred approach, in order to develop a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the nature of conflict-related violence and to accurately characterize the full nature of the harm inflicted on the victims.

It is also important for ‘fair labelling’ of the violence because when reproductive violence is committed with the intent to destroy a group, it is ‘more than a war crime or a crime against humanity – it is a crime of genocide.’ Furthermore, a focus on reproductive violence encourages a concern with the longer-term harms of such violence on survivors and their children.

Research questions and methods

The research questions would include:

  • What interdisciplinary frameworks could we apply to develop a more sophisticated understanding of reproductive violence in conflict situations (ICL, Feminist Theory, Constructivism)?
  • How could reproductive violence, in the context of conflict, be understood from the perspectives of the perpetrators, the victims and other relevant actors?

This project is envisaged as primarily desk-based. There is a large amount of primary material available online, emanating from international organisations (for example, the United Nations), NGOs and also the perpetrator group itself (ISIL has not held back from publishing reports of its atrocities online and in a magazine called Dabiq).

The researcher would adopt a constructivist approach to interpreting the framing of the crimes and to consider how crimes of reproductive violence tend to be subsumed within the broader notion of sexual violence. S/he will consider the various issues and ramifications of this approach.

The project is interdisciplinary, as the researcher will engage with legal literature, feminist literature and literature in the area of health.

Applications from suitably qualified students are invited for this project. Apply online, or contact Dr Aldo Zammit Borda, Senior Lecturer in Law, Faculty of Business & Law at for more information.