DRC: The ‘rape capital’ of the world

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.

 Click here to sign the petition and add your voice.

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!

For more information go to www.congonow.org, www.facebook.com/congonow  or www.twitter.com/Congo_Now

“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.

Dedicated to the gods, abused by men

February 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

 A post here dedicated to the misogynistic and dangerous practice of Devadasi. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an ancient Indian custom that has been used in more recent times as an excuse for the abuse and rape of vulnerable young girls.

The ancient tradition saw a girl ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or temple, in order to serve the goddess Yellamma – it was once a high-status role, if a dubious honour.

The practice has now been made illegal in law, but it still goes on, with the added exploitation that sees young girls, once they reach puberty, forced to have sexual relations with the men in their community in order to better serve the goddess.

No, I don’t understand the logic either.

I only learn of this practice recently, and the more I learn the more I am horrified. The women targeted are typically from lower castes – and in India that still tends to mean they are less educated, poorer and more vulnerable (the attitude persists in the country that rape is more acceptable in lower caste women, because it protects those higher up the social ladder)

And I cannot emphasise enough – this is not a small problem. There are 50,000 Devadasi in southern India.

Particularly sad is the overwhelming poverty that can leave families with seemingly little option but to give a child to the corrupt Devadasi system – and children of Devadasi are often dedicated into the system themselves.

An excellent BBC programme  aired in January highlights the Devadasi system. Also, visit EveryChild’s website   – they are a inspirational international charity working on the ground to urgently protect girls from being sexually exploited.  Measures include trying desperately to keep girls with their family, helping to increase opportunity for girls in low-caste groups, running workshops, setting up credit societies for women-only to help raise the status of women in society, and helping with the work of Child Rights Protection Committees being run at village level to intervene on behalf of children at risk. The last one in particular is a great idea, working with the only people who really have the ability to challenge the system: the people of India.

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.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with rape at The Gilded Cage.