The Changing Landscape Of War: Violence Against Women
Nicolas Kristof, Journalist and NY Times Columnist, recently wrote a column for NYTimes.com titled “On Top Of Famine, Unspeakable Violence.” He describes the horror of “mass rape” that many women fleeing Somalia, in pursuit of food and water, are currently facing. He challenges the reader to “IMAGINE that you’re a Somali suffering from the drought and famine in that country. One of your children has just starved to death, but there’s no time to mourn. Depleted and traumatized, you set off on foot across the desert with your family, and after 15 exhausting days finally reach what you believe is the safe haven of Kenya. But at the very moment when you think you’re secure, you encounter a nightmare broached only in whispers: an epidemic of violence and rape.”
Nicolas Kristof is not the only public figure currently putting their voice behind the issue of mass violence, often in the form of rape, being inflicted on women around the world. PBS has also recently launched the 5 part series Women, War & Peace airing Tuesday nights starting October 11th, and running through November 8th. Consider this quote from the series, “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.”(Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, 2008, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DR Congo) The general’s words are not meant to take anything away from the danger and sacrifice that soldiers make, but illustrates how truly dangerous it is for women in war-torn areas of the world these days.
One of the features on the Women, War & Peace website is an article entitled “The War Crimes Investigator” which includes reflections from Cherif Bassiouni, an international war crimes investigator, whom some refer to as “the father of international criminal law.” He has headed up war crime investigations around the world, including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. He has been exposed to much and is quoted as saying “I’m in my 70s, I’m a Muslim, I come from the Arab World, I’m from another generation. And yet I have to tell you, I’m absolutely shocked and dismayed and amazed by the total lack of sensitivity to the plight of women in war, and particularly the raping of women, in war, after war, after war, and how little attention is paid to it.”
Horrific violence against women, particularly in the context of war is real, is currently happening, and not enough international attention is put on the issue. An important point that Nicolas Kristof raised in his article is what he has termed “Compassion Fatigue.” He notes that in response to a previous column written about a father of 8, who lost 2 children to starvation, people responded that “when men have eight children, it is pointless to help.” Kristof says, “We mustn’t turn away from starving children because their mothers had no access to education or contraception. It would be monstrous to allow Somalis to starve to death because they lost the same lottery of birth that all of us won.” This quote can be applied to the famine, to mass rape and violence against women, and all other humanitarian injustices. We must never grow weary of feeling compassion and then acting on it, to effect change for women (and humankind) around the world.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.