News: The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them

Source: Ottawa Citizen 08 March 2007

By Sheila Sisulu

Annie's life was good -- she had studied agriculture at a university and her husband was a gold and diamond trader. Together, they lived with their children in a four-bedroom house in Bukavu, which lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Yes, they had lived well. That is, until her husband was forced to flee for his life and she was gang-raped by five of the government soldiers looking for him. When they returned, they told her, they would kill her.

She didn't wait -- she took her children and went in search of peace and safety. But before she found it, she was stopped by a rebel ambush and sexually violated with bottles. Only then did she make it to a refugee camp, where for the past year she has been living in a mud house and sleeping on the ground with her nine children.

Annie's story is all too familiar. The faces may change, the details vary and the language in which it's told may be different, but there is always one constant -- the violence that specifically targets women and girls.

Gender violence can be found in every country, in every continent. But in developing countries or countries involved in conflict, violence toward women is rife. Its perpetrators do not consider age or status. They only consider the fact that their victims are female.

Women and girls, identified as the mothers of future generations in a community or ethnic group under attack, are intentionally targeted for violent acts. During Liberia's 14-year civil war, 40 per cent of the female population were raped. Nearly half of Liberian women now live with lasting injuries due to the force and the objects used against them, not to mention deep, psychological scarring. Many are now supporting themselves by the only means they have -- transactional sex -- which exposes them to more violence and increases their chances of contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Systematic rape, torture or sexual enslavement has been used to suppress, terrify and destabilize communities all over the world, from Haiti to DRC to Burma (officially Myanmar.) During Sierra Leone's long and bloody civil war, thousands of women and girls as young as seven were kidnapped into sexual slavery. Others were forced to become soldiers, to kill and commit atrocious crimes. Many had to do both.

Sadly, violence against women and girls is not confined to times of war. For many girls, it begins at birth, with female infanticide. Or, for some 6,000 girls every day, it begins with female genital mutilation, a cultural practice found in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa. This early experience often heralds a longer line of abuses and violations. At some point in her life, at least one in three women has suffered physical or sexual abuse: forced childhood marriage, kidnapping and trafficking, forced prostitution, domestic violence, legal discrimination, exploitation of widows. If they are pregnant or very young, the risk of severe, sustained and repeated attacks is greater still.

How is it that seven years after the new millennium, when mankind has reached such dizzying summits in science, technology and rational thinking, that such appalling and primitive abuses continue, with no end in sight?

Ending gender violence also means ending impunity for those who commit it. And yet, in many places, rapists and abusers roam free of punishment and vilification. In order to change this -- for it must be changed -- societies must alter. Cultural norms, politics, economics, religion, conflicts must all be examined and the resulting understanding used to convey the unacceptability of violence against women and girls. Initiatives specifically aimed toward the protection of women's rights, bodies and futures need to be formed, and existing ones encouraged.

But most of all, factors that contribute to gender violence -- poverty, ignorance, hunger -- need to be rooted out and eradicated.

The United Nations World Food Programme is working to this end. Its long-standing practice of putting food aid directly into the hands of women not only empowers them, but also helps ensure nourishment will get to those who need it most, as experience has shown.

WFP also provides food to accompany training and education for women and girls. In Bangladesh, women learn about their rights as well as new skills that will make them less dependent and therefore less vulnerable. With such skills women are also less likely to resort to transactional sex.

In Liberia and the DRC, WFP provides food to survivors of gender-based abuse who can then stay in hospital for the full recovery time. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, girls who go to school for a set number of days receive school meals as well as take-home rations for their families. Education helps girls -- and boys -- break out of the trap of ignorance and poverty where physical abuse festers.

With the help and support of the international community, governments can be held accountable to implement policies and practices designed to protect women, and efforts of local women's organizations, police or security forces can be co-ordinated. But more importantly, attitudes can be changed. An unfortunate sense of resignation toward gender violence is pervasive, a sense of "these things happen." But in its most basic form it is permissiveness; resignation fosters impunity for perpetrators and only puts more women and girls at risk.

Yes, these things do indeed happen. But they needn't and they shouldn't. Now is the time to take action.


Post a Comment

To avoid spamming and profanity, comments will only show up after I (manually) clear them.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Kind people supporting The Road to the Horizon:
Find out how you can sponsor The Road

  © Blogger template The Business Templates by 2008

Back to TOP