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“Wartime sexual violence has been one of history’s greatest silences.” [News]

May 13, 2011

This new report from Al Jazeera is just devastating:

More than 400,000 women and girls between the ages of 15 to 49 were raped in the war-ravaged country in central Africa during a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health on Wednesday.

That is 26 times more than the 15,000 women that the United Nations has reported were raped there during the same 12 months.

Twenty-six times more.

Sexual Violence is a tool of war so rarely addressed, and so rarely considered as a potential consequence when contemplating military combat. I think back to the bravery of Iman al-Obeidi, the Libyan woman who was dragged away by Gaddafi’s forces for accusing the regime of sexual assault. Her plea to journalists was captured on video (Caution: Potentially Triggering) back in March, and caused a brief public outrage. However, news reports tend to focus on localized instances of sexual violence rather than the systemic use of sexual violence as a tactic of war.

UNIFEM’s website offers some statistics on gender based violence in recent conflicts:

  • 250,000–500,000 women and girls were raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda [2].
  • 20,000–50,000 women and girls were raped during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s [3].
  • 50,000–64,000 internally displaced women in Sierra Leone were sexually attacked by combatants [4].
  • Out of 300 peace agreements for 45 conflict situations in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, 18 have addressed sexual violence in 10 conflict situations (Burundi, Aceh, DRC, Sudan/Nuba Mountains, Sudan/Darfur, Philippines, Nepal, Uganda, Guatemala, and Chiapas)

Again, devastating.

Right now I’m feeling overwhelmed by my lack of understanding of what I can do to take greater action on this issue. The UN Women website and its publications are a great resource, I’ve signed UNiTE’s petition and I’ve started applying for jobs and internships at international women’s organizations. I’m getting that feeling of panic from just standing still about this issue. I’d love to hear more ideas and campaigns on how to take action now.

I think again to the quote from Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:

Wartime sexual violence has been one of history’s greatest silences.

Let’s change that.

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