“This is not opportunistic rape; it is a strategy”

March 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

AFP: Women in the DRC

 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.


The women of Afghanistan – wives of the warriors

February 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

An interesting video from wisemanproductions here, with some fairly rare footage of women in Afghanistan talking about the situation in their lives, the history of women’s rights, and attacks against women in the country. Although it’s only recently uploaded, I think it might be older than that, but still well worth a watch to help tell these stories. Be warned though, some of the pictures in it are shocking.

Also helping to highlight life for women in Afghanistan is a new exhibition opening in the House of Commons in London this week with some beautiful photos and inspiring stories – you can take an online tour here.

Girl flogged to death for “affair” at fourteen

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

A fourteen year old girl has died in Bangladesh after being lashed 100 times on the orders of a village cleric.

Mosammet Hena was beaten with a bamboo cane for allegedly having an affair with a married cousin. Four people have been arrested and another fourteen people who are accused of taking part in the lashing are being hunted by police.

That means at least twenty people were directly involved in this young girl’s murder – probably more. Her body was covered in bruises and bite marks.

Punishments in the name of fatwa were outlawed in Bangladesh since last year, but old habits can die hard. This case is a shocking, repellant example of how cruel a system can be – and the dangers of mob actions.  A complaint was made by the man’s wife, she was “sentenced” by “senior community members” – all men, I presume – and so justice was deemed to be done.

Even if you accept the ridiculous precedent that adultery is a crime worthy of flogging to death, what has happened to the man she is meant to have had an affair with? 

Delve a little into reports of her alleged crime and the case against her becomes even more ridiculous. The man’s wife said “she had seen Mosammet speaking to her husband near their home” according to reports. Hardly a conclusive case.

Less impossible to believe – a few reports say Mosammet was raped by the man, and this was a desperate attempt to quiet her. We will never know exactly what happened here, but in Bangladesh it was fairly common for rape victims to be flogged for being “complicit” in their assault – one well publicised horrific case that was focussed on includes a woman being flogged after she was raped and became pregnant – her rapist was pardoned.

Since Mosammet’s death lawyers have filed a case against the government at the court, and a team of investigators from a human rights organisation has travelled to the village.

Director of investigations there, Nur Khan Liton, said: “This is an absolutely horrific crime. It shows that despite court judgments banning punishments in the name of fatwa, an aggressively religious group who are capable of committing such barbaric crimes of torture against women are still present in our society.”

The Bangladesh High Court has now taken up the case. I hope they will make an example of this case, rise the profile of this young girl’s murder and try and use her sad death to save this happening again for another innocent woman.

Women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than to learn to read

January 26, 2011 § 3 Comments

Millicent Gaika, victim of "corrective rape" in South Africa

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

Mexican women climb from violence, poverty and corruption

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Video of two women scaling a fence built by the US along the Mexican/American border are supposed to demonstrate how easy it is to to escape into America. And although there are many illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the US, it’s hardly likely to be as easy as this video makes it appear – and it’s not surprising that so many are forced into living outside the law once they get there.

Although separated by as little as a border line, the two countries are worlds away.

In Mexico, one in four women has suffered abuse at the hands of their partner, according to Amnesty International. Female tourists are warned to be alert to high potential of violence – look at this case of a Canadian women pursuing a case of gang rape by the Mexican police, or a woman murdered potentially because of her outspoken criticism of the country’s treatment of women. “Femicide” has reached terrifyingly high levels in Mexican cities.

And there are articles on this very blog detailing women forced into the drugs trade, a mother killed while protesting on behalf of her murdered daughter, and the need for “women only cabs” because violence against women is so high.

 In the face of these problems, living illegally in America for a short while can seem a small price to pay. After all, 56% of the 11m (at least) illegal immigrants in the USA are estimated to be from Mexico, so it’s almost a home from home. And although conditions can be horrendous, some migrant workers will earn far more than at home in Mexico, where demand for work, particularly agricultural or labour work, is dropping, and where corruption costs the economy about $60m a year.

 And children born in the States, even if their parents are illegal immigrants, are considered “birthright citizens”.

 I’m not advocating illegal residency in the States, and I fear for anyone who takes the risks these two young girls in the video demonstrate must be desperate to climb a wall like that in broad daylight. Potentially easy to climb a fence, but not so easy to run once on the other side, with no family, money, identification, safety. That’s a risk only take if you truly believe better awaits on the other side of the fence, particularly with reports of teenagers shot at the fence by American soldiers and President Obama signing a bill worth $600m to fund 1,500 new border patrol agents.

Until Mexico can work to improve the situation for its citizens and women in particular, and American can gain a little more flexibility in its stringent immigration legislation, the two countries sit next to each other as a grim reminder of how unfair life can be.

Human rights activist killed in Mexico

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Mourners at the coffin of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz: Reuters

A call to arms here over the murder of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, the Mexican activist who has fought tirelessly for almost two years to bring the killer of her daughter to justice in the most violent city in Mexico. Now a suspect in the killing of the mother as well as the daughter, Sergio Barazza confessed to murdering Ortiz’s teenage daughter Rubi, whose burned body was found in July 2009, but was still released on bail.

The statement from women’s campaigning group AWID is below to give you more background to this sad case and the situation for women in Mexico.

“The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition joins the community of activists in Mexico and internationally in denouncing the killing of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz on 16 December 2010 in front of the state capitol in Chihuahua city, Mexico.

A women human rights defender, Marisela had been peacefully campaigning for a week in front of the governor’s office for a conviction in the killing of her daughter, Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo, whose burned and dismembered remains were found in a trash bin in the border city of Ciudad Juarez on 18 June 2009 after she had been missing for nearly a year.

A security video recording shows masked men pulling up in a car in front of the governor’s office. One appeared to exchange words with Marisela, who was holding a vigil outside. She tried to flee by running across the street, but the gunman chased her down and shot her in the head, said Jorge Gonzalez, special state prosecutor for crime prevention. Marisela was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she died within minutes.

Marisela launched a campaign pressing for the conviction of Sergio Barraza who had been the main suspect in the killing of her 17-year-old daughter. Barraza was acquitted by a three-judge panel in April for lack of evidence. The three judges were suspended pending investigation of Marisela’s death after a group of demonstrators gathered outside the Interior Department in Mexico City last Friday, 17 December, to protest the killing and the miscarriage of justice in the acquittal of Barraza.

A tireless fighter for justice for her daughter and also a leader of Justicia para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters), Marisela had been speaking out against the pattern of femicides in the city. “This struggle is not only for my daughter,” she said through a megaphone during one of the marches. “Let’s not allow one more young woman to be killed in this city.” She and other women human rights defenders have been receiving intimidating phone calls and threats for demanding accountability for the killings and abductions of women in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua.

For close to two decades now, a wave of femicide — a progression of gender-based acts of violence against women that range from emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse through battery, torture, rape, prostitution, sexual assault, child abuse, female infanticide, genital mutilation, and domestic violence have been occurring in Ciudad Juárez and then spreaded to the State Chihuahua within a broader context of escalating violence in the region involving organized crime gangs, drug cartels and Mexican security forces. Most of the perpetrators remain nameless and at large and state apathy, corruption, and inept investigations have made people suspicious of governmental efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

We urge the Mexican authorities to conduct a thorough investigation regarding the death of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, to arrest the convicted murderer of her daughter, Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo, and bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with international human rights standards. Having ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1981, the Mexican government is also obliged to take appropriate and effective measures to overcome all forms of gender-based violence, whether by public or private act, and to provide effective complaints procedures and remedies, including compensation and reparation for victims of femicide and other forms of violence against women. In December 2009, the Inter American Court of Human Rights issued a ruling against the Mexican State for the disappearances, sexual violence and homicides of women in Ciudad Juárez and recognised the harassment and systematic aggression against the families and the defenders that are demanding justice for the victims in these cases, condemning the government for not guaranteeing their protection, and for the prevailing impunity and for the lack of reparation for the victims.

Under the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Mexican government is primarily responsible for the safety and security of all human rights defenders that have been advocating for justice in this case and all the unsolved cases of femicide in the country. The Mexican government must ensure that all human rights defenders, particularly women human rights defenders carrying out their legitimate work in defence of women’s human rights to be free from any form of gender-based violence, are able to operate free of any restrictions and reprisals.”

A year on: Four year old girls raped in Haiti

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe. As if there wasn’t enough heartache already in the country following the earthquake a year ago which is believed to have left more than 300,000 people dead, there are still a million people displaced, homeless, and relying on  NGOs to support them as they live under tents and tarpaulins. According to those in the country, reconstruction has barely begun.

 And then the cholera outbreak began. Followed by a disputed presidential election. And scenes of political unrest.

 But the reports of rape in the country break the heart. This morning there were stories on the radio of raped women, and girls as young as four and five being raped in the chaos, and the stories brought me to tears amid descriptions of normal structures breaking down in communities.

 There are reports of women fleeing into the countryside. Raped in the earthquake ruins. Taken away as “servants” for “work” (inverted commas due to the lack of payment involved – “slaves” might be a better word) Children as young as four and five being raped.

The situation was not great for women before the disaster. Rape was only officially recognised as a crime in 2005, and domestic violence was a long-standing problem. The earthquake fallout is running the risk of reversing progress that had been made.

 As the New York Times reports: “Marie Cluade Pierre was sad even before the earthquake. She is sadder now.”

 After a year of horrors, there is little to celebrate. The country is on a knife-edge – the only real question really is whether the balance has already tipped over. After all, many people will be wondering just how it can get worse.

Fabienne Jean in Haiti : Damon Winter/The New York Times

 But there are stories out there to inspire. One example to celebrate is the story of Fabienne Jean, a young dancer who lost her leg in the earthquake. Now walking on a prosthetic leg, she is starting to dance – only a little, and she is realistic about the fact that she will never be a professional performer again. But plans must be re-dreamed, and she is hoping to open a dance school, or a fashion boutique.

Equally, the work of “Eternal Optimist” Cameron Sinclair and his Architecture for Humanity,  planning the rebuilding of the country – to name but one of hundreds of devoted individuals working to help stabilise the situation and provide a safer future. After all, solid bricks and mortar are the first practical protection for women at risk.

 And read the story of Rea, one incredible woman who rebuilt her school literally from the ruins, and even started a micro-credit facility for women  

It’s a sobering fact, but natural disasters are almost always worst for women. As the Haitian example proves, women are not safe in refugee camps, or living without protection. Their children are not safe. Medical care for pregnant women is very limited. There are scores of women who are forced into the Dominican Republic and trafficked into the sex trade.

Everyone can help and make some difference. Everyone, whoever or wherever you are. Let’s do our best to make this year the year of reconstruction that should have begun in 2010.

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