About a week ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an eye-opening op-ed in NYTimes – After Wars, Mass Rapes Persist. In Liberia, and probably in some other places, the end of war does not automatically mean the end of rape:
Of course, children are raped everywhere, but what is happening in Liberia is different. The war seems to have shattered norms and trained some men to think that when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl. Or at school, girls sometimes find that to get good grades, they must have sex with their teachers.
The war, and the use of rape as a weapon of war, changes the culture in a way that permits the rape to continue in a civilian society, as a means of asserting power, nursing one’s wounded sense of masculinity and keeping the women under control. Kristof writes:
The evidence is overwhelming that the best way to deal with rape — whether in Darfur or Liberia, or even in the United States — is to demystify it, dismantle the taboos, and address it directly. That is happening.
The United Nations Security Council held a formal session last year on sexual violence, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued its arrest warrant for Sudan’s president in part because of mass rapes. Senators Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold chaired subcommittee hearings on rape just this month, focused on Congo and Sudan, where the brutality is particularly appalling. But the lesson of Liberia is equally sad: that even when wars end, mass rape continues by inertia.
In a related article, Eve Ensler focuses on similar issues in the Congo:
Nothing I have heard or seen compares with what is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where corporate greed, fueled by capitalist consumption, and the rape of women have merged into a single nightmare. Femicide, the systematic and planned destruction of the female population, is being used as a tactic of war to clear villages, pillage mines and destroy the fabric of Congolese society.
In 12 years, there have been 6 million dead men and women in Congo and 1.4 million people displaced. Hundreds and thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured. Babies as young as 6 months, women as old as 80, their insides torn apart. What I witnessed in Congo has shattered and changed me forever. I will never be the same. None of us should ever be the same.
Ensler is also the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.
Sheril Kirshenbaum is leading a very important blogospheric initiative called SILENCE IS THE ENEMY starting today, June 1st to help a generation of young women half a world away. She says:
An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way in the previous 18 months. Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That’s 61% age 12 or under. We read about their plight and see the figures, but it’s so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls. Together we can do more.
Today, on June 1 at 9am, ‘SILENCE IS THE ENEMY’ begins – so named because we will not be (also lyrics of a rising Top 30 song, and therefore memorable).
What can you do?
Post about this. Send the URL of your post to Sheril (see the details and instructions in her post) so she can add it to the ‘SILENCE IS THE ENEMY’ homepage. And make sure you include the links to the Doctors Without Borders Donation Page and ask for donations, as well as to the Congressional Directory so readers can contact their representatives. Sheril will also post a static letter to Congress on the sidebar of her blog, so that readers can copy it and include it in their letters to Congressmen.
And spread the word using all the online and offline tools you have.