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Global Feminism in the News: Women & War

July 1, 2009

Global Feminism in the News is a monthly column discussing recurring themes in international news stories concerning women. This month we will focus on women and war.

I read through several news sources a day looking for news stories about women. Often our struggles are documented, and sometimes our victories our celebrated. Recently I have noticed many articles about the gender specific struggles of women living in conflict zones.

On April 6, Irin News (A source of humanitarian news published by the UN) ran this story about the struggles of pregnant Sri Lankan women caught in the crossfire between the government and the LTTE (aka Tamil Tigers). According to the UN Population Fund (The UNFPA):

…pregnancy-related disabilities and death often rise in conflict situations when reproductive health services, including pre-natal care, assisted delivery and emergency obstetric care are disrupted and often unavailable. At the same time, many women lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancies.

Then on May 11, the Christian Science Monitor published a story documenting the use of rape as a weapon of war in Colombia. (This article is no longer available on line.) This is not the only country to have used this tactic; one among many example estimates that during the civil war in Liberia 3 out of 4 women were raped by soldiers from both sides. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is estimated that over 500,000 women and girls have been raped, forced into sexual slavery, impregnated, and genitally mutilated by soldiers. (For more information on sexual violence in the DRC, go to vday.org).

On May 16, Nicholas Kristof (who has written extensively on sexual slavery in the world today) published a piece about maternal mortality rates in Sierra Leone, a country riddled with a civil war that was officially declared over in 2002, but left the country so devastated that instability continues to rule. One in ten women dies in childbirth in Sierra Leone. That statistic absolutely astounds me.

And yet, the UN Security Council Resolution passed last year acknowledged for the first time the tactical use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

UN and military officials met with women’s rights activists this week in New York City to discuss the importance of addressing and solving the epidemic of sexual violence during wartime- an important step towards acknowledging women’s gender specific struggles during war. Leymah Gbowee of the organization Women, Peace and Security Africa, particularly wanted to raise awareness of sexual violence as a deliberate and systematic military strategy, not just a social or a humanitarian problem. In her own words,

This kind of meeting backs up the quest for justice. It emboldens mediators and gains greater respect for women’s groups, which the parties to peace talks can often ignore.

Looking at the overwhelming crises women in conflict zones must face, it is astonishing to me that so many of these problems are dismissed as “women’s issues”. We must acknowledge the imbalanced health and safety risks to women during wartime, including young girls, expectant mothers, and elderly women. We must also acknowledge that this problem affects a country, and our world’s greater population, and is thus a human rights issue. I am baffled when deaths, disease, and violence are dismissed or diminished because they happen to the female half of the population. Have these deaths gone unnoticed? Has this sexual violence gone undistinguished from other forms of violence? Is the suffering of women less visible than the suffering of men?

When we speak of the feminization of poverty, we might also speak of the feminization of war casualties.

Colleen is a paralegal at a non profit that serves domestic violence survivors. She graduated from Georgetown with a degree in Spanish and Women’s Studies. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

2 Comments
  1. July 2, 2009 9:35 pm

    MJPC blames the Congolese Government for the Deteriorating Situation in East Congo(DRC)

    “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in lawless eastern Congo for six months”

    Following the deteriorating situation in east Congo, the MJPC called today for the Congolese Government to urgently pay the salaries to thousands of soldiers who have not been paid for over six months in eastern Congo, take swift action to enforce the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) warrant against Bosco Ntaganda and to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual violence against women for their acts.

    “Failing to hold accountable individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humunity continues to be the leading cause of widespread and systematic sexual violence acts against girls and women in the easten Congo” said Makuba Sekombo, Community Affairs Director of the Mobilization for Justice and Peace in the DR Congo (MJPC).

    Mr. Sekombo again criticized the government of Congo for not only the continuing failure to protect women and young girls from sexual violence, but also for “encouraging conditions that create opportunities for sexual violence to occur”. “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in the lawless eastern Congo for six months” said Sekombo. The MJPC has also renewed its call for the Congolese government to take urgent needed action to end human rights abuses in east Congo, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure reparation for the victims of sexual violence.

    The MJPC has been urging the Congolese government to compensate the victims of sexual violence in order to also help combat impunity in eastern part of Congo where sexual violence against women and children has been widely used as weapon of war for more than decade. The MJPC online petition calling for help to put pressure on Congolese Government to compensate victims of sexual siolence in Eastern DRC can be signed at http://www.gopetition.com.au/online/26180.html

    About MJPC
    MJPC works to add a voice in advocating for justice and peace in the DRC particulary in the east of DRC where thousands innocent civilian including children and women continue to suffer massive human rights violations while armed groups responsible for these crimes go unpunished
    For more information about the MJPC and its activities, visit http://www.mjpcongo.org. or call Makuba Sekombo @ 1-408-8063-644 or e-mail: info@mjpcongo.org. The online petition calling on the Congolese Government to put urgently in place a comprehensive program of compensation for the victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo can be signed at http://www.gopetition.com.au/online/26180.html

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