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The worldwide war against women (graphic content)

27 November 2014, 12:39 Malini Mohana

Nairobi - ***Trigger warning: Graphic content. Rape, murder, torture.***

Today, the world of news is set alight with stories of countries tearing at the seam.

Some are new, others relatively recent, most far too old for Twitter to care.

I sit back and read them all; the kidnapped Nigerian girls, the massacres in the Central African Republic, the slow destruction of Ukraine, Syria, Egypt.

There are stories in these countries, so many stories of death and displacement, and troops and vetoes; of fire and brimstone and gunmen.

Russia did this, China said that, the US scolded everyone, and so it goes.

It seems, however, that the human experience of what happens on the ground floor is not something that most people prefer to hear about. So I ask you to stick around for a few minutes of your privileged life and understand what it means when you see a headline about anarchy, or coups or civil war.

See, we’ve been raised a world that summarises the existence and the life cycle of conflict in explosions and guns, fiery masculine accounts of gunslinging and revolutions.

Also read: Kenyan women flaunt bodies, don miniskirts in strip demo

We hear claims of how war is necessary, how honourable men die for their countries. Any damage beyond those perimeters is considered ‘collateral’. 

Including, and especially, the most horrific war-time favourite – rape, most of which is suffered by women and children.

Let me show you what this ‘collateral damage’ looks like.

In war or civil conflict, the most common and destructive crime of all is sexualised violence.

The Women Under Siege project reports that “the situation is complex, with conflict-related sexualized violence encompassing crimes such as gang rape, sexual slavery, repeated assault, and forced sexual activity between victims.

"Wartime rape may involve variations, even the use of inanimate objects that lead to the loss of a fetus when a pregnant woman is deliberately raped.”

This tactic is not new and has long since been called “the invisible war”. Taking one look at the numbers makes me wonder what exactly is so ‘invisible’ about it:

-  In Rwanda, between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the three months of genocide in 1994.

-  A staggering 50% of all women in Sierra Leone were subjected to sexual violence, including rape, torture and sexual slavery, according to a 2002 report by Physicians for Human Rights.

-  More than 40,000 women raped in Liberia (1989-2003)

-  60,000 in the former Yugoslavia (1992-1995)

-  At least 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998

-  In the 1990s during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped.

Let’s take a closer look at that last point.

Bosnia was exposed for its ‘rape camps’ after  the war - a harrowing truth that their politicians attempted to deny even existed.

One of the most well-known of these rape camps was the Partizan Sports Hall:

“Women and girls, as young as 12 years old, were detained and detained and raped, vaginally, anally and orally; subjected to gang rapes, forced to dance nude with weapons pointed at them”,stated UN prosecutor.

Perhaps the numbers are too clinical for you to understand. Perhaps it’s something more qualitative that will incite some anger, some realisation.

Women Under Siege work with NGO’s on far-reaching journalistic and humanitarian work in numerous countries – some of which includes getting testimonies from victims and doctors who work in the area.

“In Stephanie Nolen’s 2005 Ms. article, "Not Women Anymore...," she quotes a gynecologist named Dr. Denis Mukwege who is one of two doctors in the eastern Congo who performed vaginal reconstructive surgeries at the time”


We've listed more of these accounts here.

And still, to this very day, they call it “collateral damage”.

Whenever a nation dissolves into dissent - whether it's the DRC, Syria, Algeria, Kosovo, Myanmar, Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia – this kind of wide-spread rape has reached epidemic proportions.

The violence does not simply arise from violent opportunism, but is used as a strategic weapon of war.

There are two reasons why this war crime is accepted and ignored by military command:

Ethnic cleansing

Women were told by soldiers raping them that the intent was to get them pregnant, as in Bosnia.

This is a gender-specific kind of political, emotional and physical torture in which the victim is forced to bear the children of her attacker.

Another reason is to infect her with HIV, or an attempt to cause a miscarriage.

In light of this, it’s horrifying to know that the US has not yet lifted abortion bans on humanitarian aid for victims of rape.

The Norwegian Bar Association has urged America to drop this ban and “eliminate any barriers in accessing such services and upholding women's rights under international humanitarian law”.

Why and how full reproductive humanitarian care is still unfettered is beyond my imagination.

Degrade and Humiliate

To this day, a women’s virginity and virtue are considered what give her value.

Women were raped in front of their loved ones, their children, to break the will of the individual and the community.

In Islamic countries, many girls are ostracised, prosecuted and punished by their own family for having been attacked.

It’s no real surprise, even in this day and age, why rape as a tool of war is so effective. In a world where girls are a symbol of a country’s purity, they will be nothing more than that – a symbol.

And in war, the symbols and ideals of a country are the first to be defaced.

Consider this: In India, and many Islamic nations, the chosen way to smite a woman (or her family) is to either rape her and/or throw acid on her face.

Rape will strip her of her ‘virtue’, and the acid will strip her of her beauty – the two things that are considered the only valuable assets of a woman – without which she becomes a dishonour.

The data is right there, staggeringly dense and starker than photos of bombings. Yet even today, organisations still ask for “proof” before considering conflict areas high-risk for women and children.

The United Nations, international donors and governments demand data before any aid is sent out – prolonging the time it takes for women and children to get the security and medical assistance they need.

Over and above that, an interview with Professor Elisabeth Jean Wood of Yale University and Assistant Professor Dara Kay Cohen of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government revealed that rape 

“often emerges from troops on the ground and is then tolerated by the chain of command — not because commanders have recognized strategic benefits but because the costs of effectively suppressing it appears too high”

The costs of suppressing it appears too high.

The costs are too high when the Central African Republic has descended into massacre and ethnic cleansing, with very little is being done.

The costs are too high when the UN is broke and launching a plea to help the CAR – the efforts of which will only materialise in mid-September.

The costs are too high in every single one of those places where human lives, particularly female lives, aren’t worth a cent.

Yet the costs aren’t that high when an airline goes missing and the developed world spends over $43 million (and counting) to solve the mystery. 

This moment reminds me of a monologue from a film. I’ve made some choice replacements, but some of you might be familiar with it:

“Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying.

"If I tell the press that tomorrow a 100 000 Syrian women will be raped, nobody panics – because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old airline disappears, everybody lose their minds.”

In war, sexualised violence against women and children is the plan.

It is expected, it’s fate, it’s how it has been seen and understood since time immemorial. It’s collateral damage after all. Nothing of national interest.

So we cover the truth in feathered words, and call epidemic rapes child “marriage”, child “bride, “non-consensual sex” and flash our ‘collateral damage’ card when an entire population of human beings are globally exploited.

Academically I understand, but as an empathetic human being, I still struggle to comprehend why this still occurs.

Perhaps the best way to summarise it is with the words of journalist Lauren Wolfe in response to the 200 missing girls in Nigeria – “Girls are the low hanging-fruit of the biblically proportioned anger at Eve”.

Today, there are hashtags galore to “bring back our girls”. It took over two weeks
for the international community to act, or even the media to take a stance.

Moreover,Amnest International stated that “its researchers had proof that local officials had been alerted about four hours before the April 15 attack... 

"Though the alarm was raised, Amnesty reported, officials failed both to send military reinforcements and to attempt to move the girls to safety.”

And now well-wishing slacktivists sit around and hashtag the sad story while Nigeria fails to protect its girls and the international community fails to deliver unfettered humanitarian aid. So what’s new.

An important factor about this kidnapping is that it’s not an isolated case, nor is it unusual. Kidnappings and sexual slavery have been rife in every politically shaky country.

Perhaps it’s causing this much media attention because the incident was a documented, publicised move – when it’s nothing more than Boko Haram’s irreverence in a world where women are expendable symbols of desire.  

It’s apparent that there are prejudicial structures set in the world that are more powerful than the constitution.

More resilient than the law. Easier to execute than justice, or human rights. We see it every day.

How long until we acknowledge it? How much longer until we act on it?

At this moment, the experience of women and girls serves as nothing more than background noise in a world where the plights of men and their machine guns take centre stage.

Dulce est decorum, indeed.

- Women24


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