News organizations and human rights groups reporting on tragic events commonly single out the victimization of certain groups (based on gender, nationality, religion, age, etc.) as especially noteworthy. Sometimes this is based on the circumstances of the incident, like if a group is disproportionately targeted or affected (“Gunmen shot dead 11 people, mostly Christians, in central Syria on Saturday”). Other times it is based on properties of the group, such as if they’re more relatable to the audience (“At least 2 Americans among the dead in Nice, France attack” in an American outlet).
Singling out “women and children” is especially common in this reporting. Sometimes it happens when they’re disproportionately affected (“Dozens killed in Aleppo; mostly women and children among the dead”), but even when men are disproportionately affected—which is very often—it’s still generally “women and children” whose victimization is singled out. I consider this an example of male disposability and finding the suffering/death of men less distressing than that of women (and children).
The age part is not concerning because “age equality” (or “equal treatment of children and adults”) is not a value we hold. However, gender equality is. If we take gender equality seriously, basing how much we care about a person’s suffering or death on their gender should be as disturbing as doing so for their race (imagine a headline like “433 people killed in Chicago in 2011, including 20 white people”). In the following two examples, women are killed five to seven times less often than men but they’re the gender singled out. The title of the first article erases the victimization of men completely!
“More than 3500 children and women killed during 17 months of aerial bombardment” (March 20, 2016) from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights:
SOHR also documented the death of 7902 civilians, including 1121 women, and 1679 children, due to aerial bombardment carried out by the regime warplanes and helicopters, while about 41,000 civilians were wounded and dozens of thousands displaced.
“‘The sky is not falling,’ Toronto police chief says of homicide spike” (Jan 2, 2017) from Metro (and the Toronto Star):
Sixty-nine people were victims of homicide in Toronto in 2016, a sizable jump in total murders in the city compared with the past few years […] Ten of last year’s homicide victims were women, among them [case details].
This practice could in part be motivated by stereotypes of women being more vulnerable (the UN Security Council in 1999 condemned attacks on civilians, “especially women, children and other vulnerable groups”). But in an incident where men are more likely to be killed, are women really the vulnerable ones? Stereotypes shouldn’t override the facts.
Some justify this practice by noting that (in a war-zone) men are more likely to be combatants. That’s true, but it’s not always their choice, and more importantly most of these examples (including the first one above) already exclude combatants and only look at civilians and they still single out women. Also, sometimes civilian men are wrongly labelled combatants; the Obama administration “count[ed] all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants” unless proven otherwise. This mental link between men and combatants is strong. A 2005 article in International Studies Quarterly explains how humanitarian discourse on civilian casualties frequently treats “women and children” and “civilians” as synonymous and interchangeable, to the detriment of male civilians.
Some might disagree that this practice is an issue for men and say it’s instead insulting to women because it treats them like children. I welcome efforts from women’s advocates to challenge the practice, but it’s not either/or; it can be a concern for both genders (men because of disposability, and women because of infantilization).
29 More Examples of “Among the Dead Were Women and Children”
Sources included are Western and non-Western, left- and right-leaning, etc. In most of the incidents (where numbers are available), more men than women were harmed.
“Syria war death toll now more than 300,000: monitor” (Sept 13, 2016) from Al-Monitor:
More than 86,000 civilians were among the 301,781 people killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The civilian toll includes 15,099 children and 10,018 women, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
“WEEK IN REVIEW: 14 killed in Chicago, including woman holding her baby; and woman stabbed by ex-boyfriend” (Oct 13, 2016) from Homicide Watch Chicago (from the Chicago Sun-Times):
At least 14 people were killed in violence in Chicago last week, including two women, one of whom was fatally stabbed by her ex-boyfriend in a murder-suicide, and the other who was an innocent bystander caught in gang crossfire.
“Mexican Cartel Beheaded 29–Including Women and Children–In Saturday Night Massacre” (May 16, 2011) from CNS News:
The gang’s violent signature could be seen in the manner and style in which the 29 bodies were found: bound, beheaded and strewn across a grassy field near their cut-off heads, said Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Menocal. Two children and two women were among the dead […]
“DR Congo unrest: Children freed from militia, says UN” (Aug 17, 2013) from the BBC:
The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says that 82 children – some as young as eight – have been rescued from an armed group. Monusco says the children, including 13 girls, had been forcibly recruited in the past six months by the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga militia. […] Monusco said that since the beginning of the year, 163 children, including 22 girls, have been removed from the militia.
At least 11 Afghan civilians including women and children have been killed and 16 injured in a Nato airstrike in the eastern province of Kunar, local security officials have told the BBC.
“Factbox: Civilian casualties in Afghanistan” (Feb 20, 2011) from Reuters:
Joint operations by Afghan forces and NATO-led foreign forces have killed 64 civilians in eastern Kunar province, including many women and children, over the past four days, the governor of Kunar said on Sunday. […] On July 23, 2010, at least 45 Afghan civilians, many women and children were killed in a NATO rocket attack in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman Siamak Herawi said.
“Turkish border guards ‘shoot eight Syrian refugees dead’ including women and children trying to reach safety” (April 22, 2016) from The Independent:
Women and children are among eight Syrian refugees reportedly shot dead by Turkish border guards while trying to reach safety.
“Kabul Attack Kills Dozens, Including Women and Children” (April 19, 2016) from Common Dreams:
The bombing took place during rush hour in the city’s central district, and targeted a security team that protects government VIPs, according to CNN. However, most of the victims were civilians—including women and children, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.
“US Airstrikes in Afghanistan Kill at Least 30 Civilians” (Nov 4, 2016) from Common Dreams:
U.S. airstrikes carried out Thursday in Kunduz, Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians, including women and children, local officials said.
“The 15-year U.S. war in Afghanistan barely gets mentioned, even when NATO airstrikes massacre 30 civilians” (Nov 5, 2016; same incident as above) from Salon:
At least 30 civilians, including women and children, were killed in NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan on Thursday. Dozens more civilians were wounded.
“ISIS claim suicide bombing in Syria that kills 48 people including women and children” (July 27, 2016) from The Daily Mail:
ISIS have claimed responsibility for a today’s massive suicide bombings in Syria that killed 48 people. Among the victims were women and children at a Kurdish security facility in al-Qamishli in the country’s north less than a mile from the Turkish border.
“The Fall of Aleppo Is a Huge Gift to ISIS” (Dec. 19, 2016) from The Daily Beast:
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, one of the Iraqi militias which the United Nations accused of murdering 85 civilians, including women and children, broadcast a song on an affiliated Iraqi TV channel. “Aleppo is Shia,” it ran.
“More women, children killed in 2013 in Afghanistan – UN” (July 31, 2013) from Russia Today:
In its latest 78-page Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict UN said that 1,319 civilian were killed, including women and children, and 2,533 injured,with total casualties standing at 3,852 from January 2013 to June 2013.
“Women and children among dead in Alawite village, say monitors” (Sep. 12, 2013) from ARA News:
The casualties of an alleged massacre in an Alawite village in central Syria has risen to 22, including women, children and elderly men, a rights monitoring group said on Thursday. […] The British-based Observatory said the victims included seven women, three men over the age of 65, and four children under the age of 16, citing residents and medics.
“Father and two sons among 162 slain by Israel in Gaza” (this title looks like an exception, although it’s singling out individuals who are men rather than all of the male victims) (Nov 22, 2012) from The Electronic Intifada:
Israel says it has hit 1,450 targets in the Gaza Strip since assassinating Hamas’ most senior military leader in a missile strike on 14 November. The eight-day attack killed 162 Palestinians, including 42 children (a number of them still babies), 11 women and 18 elderly people, the oldest 82 years of age.
“‘Dozens’ of refugees, including women and children, killed by rocket fire in Ukraine” (Aug 19, 2014) from EurActiv:
Dozens of people, including women and children, were killed as they fled fighting in eastern Ukraine yesterday (18 August) when their convoy of buses was hit by rocket fire, military spokesmen said.
“Syria: Deliberate Killing of Civilians by ISIS” (July 3, 2015) from Human Rights Watch:
[On an ISIS attack near Kobani] The Syrian Violations Documentation Center, a monitoring group, released the names of 262 dead that it said were civilians, including 12 children and 67 women.
“Ukraine: Rising Civilian Death Toll” (Feb 3, 2015) from Human Rights Watch:
A medical official collecting information from both rebel and government-controlled areas said that at least 341 people, including 71 women and 6 children, had died in the Donetsk region in January.
“Women, children among 9 killed in Ghazni bus-car collision” (July 30, 2015) from Pajhwok Afghan News:
Nine people, including women and children, were killed in a traffic accident in southern Ghazni province on Thursday morning, an official said.
“Women, children among at least 73 dead in Afghanistan bus-oil tanker crash inferno” (May 8, 2016) from The Japan Times:
Many of the dead, including women and children, were burned beyond recognition and dozens of others were left wounded in the accident in Ghazni province, near the Afghan capital, one of the areas worst affected by the Taliban insurgency.
“In US, Not All Casualties Are Equal” (July 20, 2006) from Antiwar.com:
More than 250 Lebanese, most of them civilians, including women and children, have been killed in Israeli air sorties using 500-pound laser guided U.S.-made bombs.
“Over 5,700 people, including women and children, killed in Yemen war” (Nov 19, 2015) from NewEurope:
5,700 people, including 830 women and children, killed in Yemen war, according to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Johannes Van der Klaauw.
“In Syria, a massacre feels eerily familiar” (June 8th, 2012) from CNN:
Among the dead were 40 women and children. […] At least 78 people, including 35 from one family, were killed by Syrian regime forces in Qubeir, said the opposition network Local Coordination Committees of Syria.
“Women and children ‘among the dead’ in town shelled by Assad’s forces” (Aug 26, 2012) from the London Evening Standard:
The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 32 dead bodies were found in the streets and they had been killed by “gunfire and summary executions”. Among them were three women and two children, the group said.
“Gunmen Indiscriminately ‘Massacre’ Christians in Syrian Village, Women & Children Among Dead” (Aug 17, 2013) from The Blaze:
The state-run SANA news agency described the attack as a “massacre” and said that women and children were among the dead.
“‘Civilians killed’ as battle for Aleppo nears end” (Jan 21, 2017) from Al Jazeera:
[UN rights office spokesperson Rupert] Colville said government forces on Monday killed 82 civilians – including 13 children and 11 women – in the neighbourhoods of Bustan al-Qasr, al-Kalleseh, al-Firdous and al-Salheen – taken over that day by government forces.
“Donald Trump’s first US military raid ‘kills 30 civilians, including 10 women and children’” (Jan 30, 2017) from The Independent:
Around 30 people, including 10 women and children, are thought to have been killed by American military personnel in the rural Yakla district of al-Bayda in the south of the country, according to medical staff.
“450 acid attacks against women since 2011 — in LONDON” (March 17, 2017) from PamelaGeller.com:
Seven out of ten victims in London are male, in gang-related crimes. But that leave 30%, or 450, female victims.
“Syria chemical ‘attack’: Damascus attaches conditions to UN inquiry” (April 6th, 2017) from BBC:
The opposition-run health directorate in Idlib province says at least 84 people, including 27 children and 19 women, were killed. […] Evidence has mounted that the victims were killed with a nerve agent such as Sarin.