President of the ICRC needed William Hague to tell him sexual violence in conflict was a problem

I’m sitting here listening to speeches on a panel in ending impunity in war with increasing sense of ridiculousness. Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has just said that he didn’t realise the severity or extent of the problem of sexual violence in conflict until William Hague told him. Now, I don’t know anything about Maurer’s professional qualifications but I’m struggling to believe that anyone working for to he ICRC, particularly in a senior management, could have needed Hague’s help in working this is. Maurer is either extremely thick or suffering from severe cognitive dissonance because if any NGO should understand the severity it’s the ICRC.

The financial cost of sexual violence in conflicts must make up a significant part of the ICRC’s budget in dealing with civilians who have no access to healthcare during conflicts and the quite serious injuries to women’s bodies because of sexual violence including fistula, STD and pregnancy.

If Maurer actually needed Hague’s help, well, it doesn’t speak highly of Maurer (and by default the ICRC) understandings of t he specific needs of women in conflict zones.

Current Elephants in the Room at Global Summit End Sexual Violence in Conflict

There seems to be a consensus on the following words & concepts being no-nos:

1. Male violence
2. Capitalism and conflict
3. Arms trade
4. Consumerism
5. Human trafficking
6. UN troops as perpetrators
7. Patriarchy
8. Women

End Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones : The Necessity of Women

Two years ago The American Political Science Review published the findings of a study on violence against women that looked at work in 70 countries over four decades whose conclusions were not unexpected for women working within the field of violence against women and whose lack of press coverage was equally unsurprising. The study’s conclusion is that the best predictor for change is “the mobilization of feminists” rather than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians. Really no feminist needed a longitudinal, global study to demonstrate this. In the UK, feminists, especially radical feminists, have been essential to the founding for rape crisis centres, refuges, equal pay, the right to vote, women being allowed to get their own bank accounts, mortgages and retain custodial rights of their children.

Today is my second day at Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in conflict and I have yet to hear the word feminism. In fact, I’ve heard very little from women or grassroots organisations. I was at the summit all day on Tuesday for the fringe events focusing on youth. Yet, there were very little youth present. I was worried in advance of attending of the possibility of the exploitation of survivors of sexual violence, but actually their voices were conspicuous by their absence. On the one panel I attended, the sole young woman, Princess, who grew up in post-conflict zone was spoken over and for by a male member of a NGO (and by two white women on the panel).

There were numerous young people represented via art work, film and photography* but many were represented in person by staff of NGOs – who, at least on Tuesday, were uniformly white. I had the privilege of hearing the spoken word artists Mell Nyoko and JJ Bola whose poetry is so very powerful yet the media and other attendees were far more interested in chasing Angelina Jolie and Lynn Featherstone about the building than listening to the reality of lives of women, children and men living in conflict zones.

If feminism mobilisation has been proven to be the best indicator of the permanent change in the status of women, where are the women? Where are the grassroots women’s groups? Why aren’t Million Women Rise, a UK organisation who have been raising awareness of the mass rape of Congolese women here? Where are all the local groups who work in the UK with survivor of sexual violence in conflict zones?

Why is there only one fringe event on the issue of consumerism and capitalism when we know it is responsible for perpetuating the war in the Congo so that the West can have a new iPhone every 12 months? Why isn’t this conference addressing the issue of conflict itself. Or, the mass rapes perpetrated by so-called peacekeeping troops sent in by the UN as happened in the former Yugoslavia? Why is the word patriarchy being limited to those living in the Middle East and South East Asia as if patriarchy doesn’t exist in the UK?

The word culture is being bandied about to mean ‘other’. Sexual violence happens ‘ over there’ because of their culture. The elephant In the room being ignored is that 1 in 4 women between 16-59 are raped in the UK during their lifetime. This conference is ignoring the reality and complexities of sexual violence in conflicts. It is ignoring the UK government deporting women back to areas where mass rape is common or where they will be forced to undergo FGM -which is a form of sexual violence. Why aren’t talking about the migrant women raped at Yarls Wood? Or, the women raped in the UK as a punishment for a ‘crime’ committed by their family? Where are the women’s organisations, like Southhall Black Sisters, who are pointing out the UK governments failure to support women migrants. Why aren’t we talking about our governments destruction of women’s services within the UK -services which support women and children raped here every single day.

Why aren’t we talking about the hypocrisy of William Hague, who I’m listening to right now, standing on a stage asking the international community to help those in conflict zones build a victim-centred justice system to support rape victims when his own government has cut funding here to the justice system? How can we not challenge Hague’s anger at women in the Congo being forced to see their rapist in the street every day when we know this is a reality of the vast majority of rape victims in the UK? Sexual violence in the UK is increasing and victim blaming in the media is worsening. Numerous members of our ‘specialist’ police forces have been investigated for their abject failure in policing rape by no-criming reports and labelling victims liars. Rape crisis centres are closing because there are no funds and wait lists for accessing support are over a year long in some areas. Justice for rape victims does not exist in the UK. Yet, Hague stands on a stage demanding the international community do what his own political party has refused to do.

Sexual violence in conflict zones isn’t new. British, American, Australian, Canadian, German and every other country who fought in World War II had troops who committed mass rapes, yet we only talk about the rapes committed by Russian and Japanese troops. Punishing ‘rebellious’ populations and exerting authority by those in power has always been made on the bodies of women. It does a great disservice to women to pretend that sexual Violence in conflict zones is a recent phenomenon. Or, that conflict ends for women with the formal end of war. The war in the DRC supposedly ended more than 10 years ago yet women are still raped every day by combatants -as are women in Sierra Leone and Chechnya.

We cannot end sexual violence in war zones until we start talking properly about male violence and entitlement. We won’t end it until we start talking about the real causes of sexual violence: patriarchy and capitalism. We need to talk about the arms trade, human trafficking, and the genocidal exploitation of people in order to make iPhones cheaper. We need to recognise that FGM is sexual violence. We need to recognise that street harassment is sexual violence. We need to talk about the toxic masculinity which exists in every culture. We need to talk about the sexual violence experienced by and perpetrated by child soldiers. We need to talk about racism and homophobia. We need to talk about misogyny.

Ending sexual violence in conflict zones requires us to take responsibility for perpetuating it by permitting the arms trade to go unchecked. We need to take responsibility for unfettered capitalism.

Most importantly, we need to listen to the women and children who have survived sexual violence in conflict zones. We need to listen to grassroots women’s organisations.We need to hear what they need. We need to support the work which has been going on for years or generations instead of walking in to ‘fix’ problems that we refuse to acknowledge our responsibility for.

Ending sexual violence requires women’s voices – not men and NGOs speaking for or over them: but women’s voices at the centre of the discussions.

This is the press release for the study:

The study in the latest issue of American Political Science Review (APSR), published by Cambridge University Press for the American Political Science Association (APSA), found that in feminist movements that were autonomous from political parties and the state, women were able to articulate and organize around their top priorities as women, without having to answer to broader organizational concerns or mens’ needs. Mobilizing across countries, feminist movements urged governments to approve global and regional norms and agreements on violence.

Strong, autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women and the key catalysts for government action, with other organizations sidelining issues perceived as being only important to women. Strong movements commanded public support and attention, and convinced the media the issues were important for public discussion. In countries that were slower to adopt policies on violence, feminist movements leveraged global and regional agreements to push for local policy change.

S. Laurel Weldon, co-author of the study, said: “Violence against women is a global problem. Research from North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia has found astonishingly high rates of sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, violence in intimate relationships, and other violations of women’s bodies and psyches. In Europe it is a bigger danger to women than cancer, with 45 per cent of European women experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence. Rates are similar in North America, Australia and New Zealand and studies in Asia, Latin America and Africa show that violence towards women there is ubiquitous.”

The scope of data for the study is unprecedented. The study includes every region of the world, varying degrees of democracy, rich and poor countries, and a variety of world religions – it encompasses 85 per cent of the world’s population. Analyzing the data took five years, which is why the most recent year covered is 2005.

Mala Htun, co-author of the study, adds: “Social movements shape public and government agendas and create the political will to address issues. Government action, in turn, sends a signal about national priorities and the meaning of citizenship. The roots of change of progressive social policies lie in civil society.”

*Images will be uploaded at a later date.

What is missing from the coverage of Boko Haram. (content note)

I’ve been following the Boko Haram story since it broke nearly 3 weeks ago. 200-300 girls abducted for the purpose of rape and sexual slavery which took 2 weeks to be covered by the mainstream media because the media doesn’t give a shit about girls.  Missing planes with men aboard get 24 hour coverage. Girls kidnapped for the intention of rape and sale: not so much.

I have tremendous respect for the activists, writers and journalists who’ve fought to get this crime international press and demand that the international community take responsibility. That they have managed this in face of a malestream media which cares little for women’s safety is nothing short of amazing.

The focus on Boko Haram is important but the media is missing the next obvious step. Boko Haram abducted several hundred girls to rape and sell their  bodies. This requires men willing to purchase the bodies of children. This isn’t just about Boko Haram abducting children to rape. This is about a world-wide market of men willing to buy children’s bodies to rape.

We need to start connecting the dots and stop referring to this as an “isolated incident” perpetrated by a group of extremist men in Nigeria. There is no doubt that Boko Haram are an extremist religious group but we need to be very careful in not reporting this story of abduction and  rape as something “other people do”. It isn’t.

Male violence is systemic and endemic. Men of every culture and faith buy the bodies of children to rape.  Slavery, for rape or work, is a global problem.

We need to bring back these girls. And, we need to save the life of every child currently living in slavery.

There are no “isolated incidents” when dealing with male violence.

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of many women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated in a discourse that universalised the experience of men; even though men also experienced sexual violence during the Holocaust.*  Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide, as seen in Bosnia, but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

It is an honour and a privilege to be a contributor to this text and I cannot thank Rochelle G Saidel and Sonja M Hedgepeth for their tireless work in ensuring that Jewish women’s experiences aren’t forgotten. It is a testament to their work that  Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust was one of the key pieces of research that led to Gloria Steinam to founding the Women Under Siege online project. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive patriarchal  military-industrial complex.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka 

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. SinnreichRape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)