April 7, 2011 § 1 Comment
The Democratic Republic of Congo is the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Rape is a tool of war, strategic rape is used to render whole communities crippled, physically and mentally. This blog has looked at the situation before for women caught in the warzone – in a country where 40 women are raped every day, the situation has reached the level of a global catastrophe. In a new campaign called Congo Now!, a group of 16 UK_based NGOs, charities and campaigning groups have joined together to raise awareness of the continuing violence and civilian suffering in the DRC. Members include Save The Children, CAFOD, Women for Women International, Global Witness and Christian Aid. In a guest post, Robert Davidson from Congo Now writes for the Gilded Cage Blog on the situation for women and what can be done to make a difference to one of the worst conflicts of our lifetimes.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s most forgotten conflicts. An estimated 5.4m have lost their lives in the last 15 years, most through preventable disease and malnutrition unleashed by the conflict.
That is the equivalent of the population of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff and Coventry put together. Another 1.7m have been forced from their homes.
Rape has been used as tool of war in this conflict, with children as young as 3 months and women as old as 80 have been attacked; making the DRC the ‘rape capital of the world’, according to Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
Rape is used by rebels and military to keep the population under control, to force people out of their homes, to coerce people into labour and to appease troops that spend much of their lives hunted in the jungle. As Maurizio Giuliano, at the UN puts it: “This is not about opportunistic rape; rather, it is a strategy.”
Women survivors are often ostracised for having been raped; their husband, their family and their community may shun them. All the while the women are stigmatised, there is often complete impunity for the rapists, even if they are known.
The UK Government is one of the largest financial contributors to the DRC government. The UK will spend an average of £198m per year in DRC until 2015. But how this money will be spent is not yet decided.
Last year, 14,591 new cases of sexual violence were reported in DRC, yet there is still only one main rape crisis centre where women can go for support. Often women have to walk for days in order to receive post rape health care. The majority of these rapes go completely unprosecuted, perpetuating the idea that rape can be used as a weapon of war.
This situation is unacceptable. Now is the time to act.
Congo Now calls for you to write to International Violence Against Women champion, Lynne Featherstone MP to get the UK government to live up to its commitment: the UK Department for International Development have stated that “improving the lives of girls and women will be a major priority” in the DRC. So help us hold the government to account on this.
Now is the time when Lynne Featherstone will be deciding which countries to focus on in her role. We want to make sure that DRC is at the top of this list.
Congo NOW! is a coalition of 16 of the UK’s most active NGOs and UK-based Congolese campaigning organisations. Our aim is to raise awareness of the ongoing conflict in DRC, the continuing violence and civilian suffering as well as to raise broader awareness of the situation in the country as a whole: both the good and the bad.
We believe, NOW is the time for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo to be genuinely free: free from violence and free from poverty. You can contribute to this change; act now!
March 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
Just a few lines on a really interesting talk last night from Ahdaf Soueif, the Egyptian writer who was in Cairo at the time of the recent protests, writing for the Guardian and participating in the revolution there.
Interesting for itself, as she is a truly inspirational woman and fascinating to hear talk generally, the event was also an insight into the role of women in Egyptian protests. Asked about the role of women, she was keen to stress that the protest was not seen in gender terms, and that the country’s women were there, participating, taking an active role in the political action.
“Every single type of woman was there in Tahrir Square. People need to know that the protestors in Egypt were not seeing this on gender terms,” Soueif insisted. And this article supports that ideology – women were being pragmatic, Egyptian, citizens all facing the same oppression.
There are, she admitted, gender challenges ahead. Women in Egypt feel largely patronised by plans to assign a certain number of seats in the new parliament to women, and there are issues around the number of women in the work force that need to be addressed as the new state forms – and some concerns about any extremist party that might rise to power in the current uncertainty. Unquiet has also begun to rumble around the fact that there are no women at all in the Constitutional Drafting Committee – and rightly so. This is a very comprehensive post that works through the constitution and the new amendments, and what they mean for women, and is well worth a read to get to grips with the changes.
So it was a rare opportunity to hear a powerful voice speak out so passionately about her country, and conclude that yes, there are challenge ahead for the country – but that women will be a part of them, want to be a key part of them, and won’t forget their part in the revolution.
“Things are good in Egypt,” she said. “Things are great and can only get better as far as women are concerned.”
And her conclusion was particularly interesting. She finished by saying that the country was facing the question: “How do the people change policy?” And this is indeed the challenge now facing Egypt – to make all the people united and represented by the new state, without discrimination on terms of race, education or gender.
March 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
Another report published here that will receive far less attention than it should. Médecins sans Frontières has reported that the levels of mass rapes in Fizi, South Kivu have increased in the seemingly endless bitter conflict in the DRC.
Although cases of rape in the DRC are certainly not rare – used as a weapon of war, rape is a permanent feature in the country’s war, and in this area of South Kiva more than 8,000 rapes were recorded for the year 2010 – this report highlights an emerging trend of large-scale attacks in one targeted location. More than 200 people have been treated for this type of rape since January – ie in the last two months – just in this specific area of the country.
According to MSF, the armed men attack specific villages; take the villagers hostage, tie them up, steal their belongings, beat them, and systematically rape them – women, children, men, the whole village. The idea of rape, already a weapon of war, becomes a military strategy that leaves its victims devastated.
“Mass rapes and violent attacks are happening with alarming regularity in this particular part of the Fizi region,” says Annemarie Loof, MSF head of mission in South Kivu, in a statement to IRIN. “We are extremely concerned about the fate of civilians who are being targeted amid the increasing violence and insecurity in this part of eastern DRC.”
Not just extremely concerning – extremely baffling to try and imagine what does through a human being’s head when they draw up this horrific plan of attack. As this heartbreaking story highlights: this war is nothing to do with women. And yet they must bear the brunt of its pain.
While rape is used in the DRC to shame women, exclude them from their communities and cause a great deal of physical and psychological pain, in these mass attack cases it targets their families and brings an entire community to its knees
As Maurizio Giuliano, at the UN puts it: “This is not about opportunistic rape; rather, it is a strategy.”
To learn more about the situation in DRC, I would recommend this site . The campaign, called “Stop raping our greatest resource”, is inevitably grim reading. In South Kivu, an estimated 40 women are raped every single day: nearly 50% of the survivors of sexual attacks are children.
But, this is an amazing site, full of information, interviews, facts – give it a few minutes of your time and think about donating to help target the biggest humanitarian crisis going on in the world today.
February 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
As political unrest and media focus shifts to Libya, I hope the current protests and calls for political reform also form a basis to improve women’s freedoms in the country. Following the detention of an outspoken government critic, violent protests have left many dead and injured – a very rare show of aggression in a normally quiet country. A newspaper connected to one of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s sons showed the police station in al-Bayda on fire. The newspaper’s website has since been closed down. In a media environment like that, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on. There are reports of killings, there are reports of government forces opening fire on protestors.
As the longest-serving leader in the Arab world, Colonel Gadaffi has his influence in every aspect of Libyan life and government. And, since he came to power, some of the changes in the country have been positive – he even appointed female bodyguards as a sign of the changing world. The women’s lib movement came fairly late to Libya, with the movement really taking off a few years ago – this is a great story about the first female pilot in the country, for example. And female teachers are not allowed to teach with their faces entirely covered.
But still, only 22% of the workforce are women, and the male relatives of women still have a massive influence over women’s choices in life. Sexual harrasment can be a problem frequently experienced by women in the country – see this post on one woman’s experience.
Libya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but has ominously filed formal reservations to exempt itself from having to comply with several provisions – which rather defeats the point of signing up at all.
Women’s organisations need to be involved in the decisons made about governing the country in the future, whether that involves a new leader or not. There are some good laws in place – the country’s leaders need to see them through into practice to give Libyan women the equality they have been edging towards.
- Libya’s regime must now fear its people’s anger | Muhammad min Libya (guardian.co.uk)
- Factbox – Key facts about Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (reuters.com)
February 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
The German state of Hesse has become the first in Germany to ban burqa being worn in public places.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of a burqa that it’s worn in public places? This law is a strange one that smacks more of religious intolerance more than anything else. I understand the concern that women might be pressured or forced to wear burqa or niqab by more extreme members of their family, but let’s assume that for the sake of argument that this is the exception and not the rule – I certainly know several inspirational, headstrong, independent Muslim women who have taken to wearing a headscarf in their mid-twenties through no pressure and solely down to their own beliefs. If women are genuinely choosing to wear the religious veil for their own reasons, then there is no justification for the state having the right to force them not to. Are we not all mature enough to allow women to choose how to dress? Do we really need the government to dress us? I am a woman who does not wear a veil. I do not presume to speak for all women who do not, nor to assume that all women who choose to wear one are doing so for the same united reason.
It is a gross violation of human rights and an insulting and patronising move for the women involved. And it is part of a wave across Europe, with Spain and Belgium considering similar moves (and presumably other states in Germany will follow).
And the recent ban in France is a similar example of controversy in a country that should know better. It was hailed as a “victory for democracy” – don’t ask me how. I genuinely understand the concern that the veil can segregate Islamic women, can make them seem unapproachable, can represent the oppression of women. But to assume that these stereotypes are true, all this law does is target a very vulnerable part of society.
Put another way, lets pander to the far-right critics that a woman wearing the veil is forced to do so by an overbearing husband. In France, she will now be punished outside the home by her husband if she doesn’t wear it, and punished by the state if she does – possibly fined up to €150 each time. So she can’t win, and she becomes more marginalised. And after all, nobody in this whole law making process seems to have asked her what she thinks anyway.
It would be better to work on integrating society. Many of the women who wear the niqab in France are from North African descent – many immigrants came across to France after the Second World War and settled there precisely because it was a place that could offer similarities in terms of language and culture. Almost 10% of the country are Muslim, and Islam is the most widely practised religion in France. Work to promote understanding and intergration between different communities would be a much better use of Sarkozy’s resources, rather than pushing them out to the edges of society.
January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
These brilliant pictures are being compiled together on Facebook by Leil-Zahra Mortada in Spain. Have a look as women stand up equally with their male countrymen, and make their feelings clear through protests, slogans, and chants.
Any revolution can only be built on a solid basis if it involves all corners of the country, considering all of the people in it. While most of the crowd shots on our televisions seem to be made up largely of men, it’s inspiring to see women central in the protests, and these people make me feel humble and proud. Take the time to have a look at these brave women.
January 26, 2011 § 3 Comments
If ever there were two words ridiculous put together, “corrective rape” wins the prize. In South Africa, the term is used to cover a violent, vicious atrocity on a woman to “cure” her of lesbianism.
Campaigning group Avaaz is raising awareness of these crime, highlighting the case of Millicent Gaika, a young woman bound, strangled and tortured for five hours. A few brave activists from Cape Town raised an appeal to the country’s Minister of Justice, gathering over 140,000 signatures.
Astonishingly, nobody has ever been convicted of “corrective rape” and the Minister has not answered their demands with any action. It’s not even recognised as a “hate crime”.
Sign the petition here https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_corrective_rape/?vl
The wider context here too is that a South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. 62% of boys over 11 don’t think forcing someone to have sex is an act of violence. President Zuma himself is a Zulu traditionalist who has stood trial for rape.
Avaaz has rightly called it a “human catastrophe”.
I want to do my part to raise awareness on this topic. Please, sign the petition. Let the South African government know that the world is outraged by a statistic like that, a case like Millicent’s, a government that does so little to care for the country’s women.
This video is the Minister of Justice on South African television talking about corrective rape. He’s making a lot of the right noises, emphasising that “rape is rape, regardless of the motives”. Let’s make sure the pressure is kept up so that he has to match his talk with action