The risks of gender-based violence increase in crisis affected settings
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Doing "bad things to women” in Sudan
Mura is a 65-year-old woman who fled her village in Sudan and arrived in Bahai, Chad, with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and six grandchildren. She explained in a quiet voice how the Janjaweed stole all their livestock and that the Sudanese government soldiers shot at her and her neighbors and burned their village. Her sister was killed and the family lost five other children during the chaos of flight. She estimated that 25 young women around 20 years old were taken by the Janjaweed. "The Janjaweed always do bad things to the women," she said.
Overcoming rape through counseling and support
Dominique, a 40-year-old woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was raped by a soldier when her village was invaded by Rwandan military forces. She fled with her three children to Zambia for safety. Upon arrival she discovered she was pregnant. She also found her husband who had left her alone to care for their children three years earlier. They had become separated when he encountered rebel forces while traveling and then fled to Zambia. He was already remarried and would not speak to her seeing that she was pregnant. When she encountered the counseling services of Hodi, a local NGO committed to improving the life of poor communities, she was despondent with grief and did not want the baby. Through counseling, however, she accepted the situation and decided to use antenatal services. She has started to focus on her baby and is now rebuilding her life.
Addressing domestic violence among Palestinian refugees
Huda is a young Palestinian refugee woman who lives with her husband and five children in Rashidyeh camp in Tyre (southern region of Lebanon). Her husband is unemployed and drinks alcohol excessively. He treats Huda badly, hitting and beating her and the children on a daily basis. Whenever things get out of hand, Huda leaves home and takes refuge at her parents’ house. Her husband had forbidden the children to leave with their mother as a way to pressure Huda and punish her for leaving the house. Huda always goes back to him for the sake of the children. Every time she reconciles with him, he forces her to have sex without protection, often resulting in a new pregnancy. Although the family needs the money, the husband forbids her from working whenever they fight because of the evident signs of beating on her body and his fear of her talking to other people and exposing his behavior.
After hearing a lecture on sexual and reproductive health sponsored by a local NGO working with Palestinian refugees, Huda started talking about her domestic problem to the NGO’s staff and asking for support and advice. The last time she left home, her husband had forced their eldest daughter to quit school in order to take care of her siblings and other domestic matters. The NGO’s social worker intervened, convincing the husband to allow the daughter to return to school. The social worker then persuaded Huda to return home under a set of conditions established to ensure her security. The social worker discussed the possibility that the father may behave aggressively toward his daughter, and attempt to sexually assault her while he is under the influence of alcohol. The mother’s presence at home could help deter such behavior. The social worker also spoke to Huda’s relatives, charging them to monitor the situation daily and intervene to provide security for Huda and her children.
A pioneering program helps survivors of GBV
During the influx of Burundian refugees to Tanzania in 1993, many women and girls were raped or otherwise abused. Due to the breakdown in the traditional system that ensured their protection, the women were suffering in silence and were not reporting these cases to anyone for fear of being further victimized or isolated. In 1996, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) carried out a survey to determine the extent of GBV in the camps. This led to the establishment of a GBV program to protect women and girls by community awareness-raising and involving the community in the prevention of GBV. In addition, the program provided a forum in which women and girls could discuss their problems and provide each other with support and advice. As a pioneer in this area, IRC met with great resistance from some members of the community. Nevertheless, raising awareness and involving both men and women to prevent GBV increased support for the program over time. Many other organizations have now followed in IRC's footsteps by establishing similar programs in other refugee camps. IRC Tanzania has since increased the scope of its GBV projects by training NGO staff, the police, Tanzanian government leaders and officials and community-based leaders.
In 1999, the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized the contribution the GBV program was making to prevent GBV in the camps and provided additional funding for the program. With this funding, IRC Tanzania was able to continue conducting awareness meetings and community trainings, greatly improving the community's role in preventing GBV in the camps. In 2001, upon the request of IRC, UNHCR and local authorities of the Tanzanian legal system established mobile court services in all camps. The community support groups now offer awareness training, a reporting and referral system, counseling and health services, and a drop-in center that is open 24 hours a day. This program has now become a community concern and has given confidence to women to "raise their voices" and be proactive regarding issues very important to them. In this environment, success in fighting GBV depends on how well both men and women are involved in the design and implementation of the programs and that a woman-only focus will limit the success of the program.
IDPs in Burma
Taken from The Women’s Refugee Commission Thai-Burma Border Reproductive Health Assessment, April 2006.
Gender-based violence has a long and horrible history for Burma’s ethnic minority women. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are well documented as widespread weapons of war viciously used by the Burmese army against women. 128 Women flee Burma because they have been raped or to escape being raped and women in flight are often survivors of rape. Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as a method of war by the Burmese army against Burma’s ethnic minority women for more than 50 years and have been integral parts of the SPDC’s campaign to “Burmanize” and subjugate the ethnic minority population. Women tell of rape during flight, in the course of incarceration in military camps, during forced labor and while farming. The Shan Human Rights Foundation and SWAN documented 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, perpetrated by soldiers from 52 different battalions of the Burmese army in the Shan state from 1996 to 2001. Rape survivors are often shunned by their families and communities or flee to Thailand where, due to their illegal status, they have no access to humanitarian aid, may be deported or are often further victimized by trafficking or other forms of exploitation.129 The report on abuses against Shan women led to a fact-finding mission by Refugees International (RI) to broaden the scope of the research to other ethnic minority groups and to support and build upon the activities of the Shan groups. From 26 interviews, RI documented 43 cases of rape or attempted rape against women from five different ethnic groups, with 23 confirmed by eyewitness testimony or physical evidence.130 RI was unable to verify any case of rape being prosecuted. Most survivors were afraid to report abuses for fear of retaliation and some who did step forward were indeed killed. The issue is taboo among the Burmese people: women who have been raped are seen as “unclean,” men feel impotent to protect their families, and communities are reminded they are oppressed by their country’s own military. The SPDC has refuted the reports of rape against ethnic women and despite the number of international human rights instruments to which it is obligated to comply, no action is expected to be taken to end the widespread violence against women.
GBV in Kosovo
Taken from: UNFPA, Gender Based Violence in Kosovo: A Case Study, July 2005.
Official state propaganda in Yugoslavia in the decade preceding the war served to dehumanize and stereotype Kosovar Albanian women. Albanian women, nicknamed “washing machines” and portrayed as “stupid, uneducated women ready to have sex” by the Serbian forces, were not only expelled from work and deprived of basic health care and gynecological services but also used as an instrument to carry out ethnic cleansing and to terrorize and degrade families and society. Kosovo’s women participated actively in the non-violent opposition to Serbian repression. The security situation was extremely fragile. Women and girls lived in constant fear of threat to their lives and dignity. One activist recalls: “When there was no electricity, only boys could go outside in the streets. Girls never dared venture out.”
In a study on the prevalence of multiple forms of gender-based violence in Kosovo during and after the conflict and displacement, respondents most frequently identified Serbian soldiers as perpetrators of incidents occurring during the conflict as well as during displacement. Human Rights Watch found 96 verifiable accounts of sexual assault in Kosovo during the period of the bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 24 March to 7 May 1999. Research efforts also provided a general picture of the nature of the abuses: brutal and systematic rape of women, including pregnant women and children. Most cases involved gang rapes and were
often associated with “the use of drugs, cutting of breasts, genitals and faces and placing Serbian nationalist symbol tattoos on victims’ bodies.”
Definitive statistics of the number of women and girls who were victims of sexual violence during the war are unavailable. One expert noted that few women admit to having been raped because of the fear of ostracism from the family and community. Fear of stigmatization compounded by inadequate support services is believed to be a major obstacle to disclosure. According to Albanian tradition, to touch a woman amounts to a slight on the honor of the family; this is why Albanian women were targeted, not just to inflict shame and humiliation on them, but in the process to destroy the social fabric of the society as well. The effects of rapes are felt not only by the survivor but also by her family and society. The attack also has the effect of emasculating and humiliating men, because they feel guilty at having been unable to defend the honor of their women relatives.
Updated December 2010. Please note: while this site is periodically updated, it is up to the user’s discretion to verify that the facts provided are the most current.
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