Film Confronts War Rape Trauma

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By Violeta Krasnić, Program Director for Europe and Central Asia

In theaters now, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war that killed 100,000 and displaced half of country’s four million people in the early 1990s. The film tells the story of two Bosnians from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict, bringing into focus the use of rape as a weapon of war.

While war rape has been recorded throughout the history, it was the Bosnian war that opened the eyes of the world to the scale of sexual violence crimes inflicted on women because of their gender.

Like the main character, Ajla, an artist and a Muslim, women of Bosnia and Herzegovina have suffered horrific crimes of sexual violence that left long-lasting scars. It is estimated that up to 50,000 women of all ethnic groups, the majority of whom were Bosnian Muslims, were raped by members of military, security and paramilitary groups.

Justice Not Yet Achieved

Underreported even in peacetime, and notorious for being the cheapest war weapon, rape was used to tear families and communities apart. It is because of the courage and resilience of women survivors who came forward to testify that the international civil society campaigned for the recognition and prosecution of war rape under international law. As a result, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) became the first tribunal ever to prosecute war rape as an independent crime against humanity.

Nevertheless, nearly 20 years later, justice is yet to be achieved for many women living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. War rape remains a taboo issue. Survivors are stigmatized and lack adequate social and medial assistance; it is estimated that over 90 percent of war rape survivors do not receive treatment. Despite prosecution in international and domestic courts, impunity reins in place of meaningful justice as perpetrators walk freely in the communities from which survivors were displaced.

When State Institutions Falter

Further, as women’s organizations have documented, the continuum of violence and discrimination against women the years of war and military conflict have proven that violence against women precedes wars, escalates during, and increases in the aftermath of such conflicts. When state institutions falter in efforts to provide for safety, human security, and justice, civil society and women’s organizations, many of them Global Fund for Women grantees, step in to provide needed services and political platform.

Global Fund has been grantmaking in the countries of former Yugoslavia for close to 20 years. While relief aid is the traditional philanthropic response to conflict, Global Fund takes a different approach. By strengthening women-led civil society, including movements to protect women’s human rights and support women leaders, Global Fund uniquely meets a critical need in conflict regions.

Recently launched Women’s Court for the Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia is an example of groundbreaking effort in achieving gender justice, accountability, and peace. A network of seven women’s groups from four countries, Women’s Court intends to establish a new, alternative, and safe political space for women’s vision of justice in communities to become reality.

Learn more about crimes against women during the Bosnian War and the efforts of women's organizations to achieve gender justice:

 

How will Egyptian Election Results Impact Women?

egypt_elections_2_heroWith the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections drawing to a close, we asked Mozn Hassan, who’s based in Cairo, for her feminist perspective and analysis on results to date.

Mozn, who will vote in the second round, is an Egyptian activist and executive director of grantee-partner, Nazra for Feminist Studies. Since the January uprisings, Egyptian women and girls have taken center stage in the country’s democratic revolution, challenging the common stereotype of Arab women as being powerless, submissive and isolated from political events. Nazra embodies the spirit of the Egyptian revolution. The group is bold, fearless, and hungry for justice and equality.

Global Fund: Are women turning out in higher numbers to vote?

Mozn: My analysis is that women in rural and Upper Egypt were used to vote, and that men mobilized those women to vote. This time, the number [of women voters] was higher in these places. While there is no gender analysis yet for [why] they went to vote, or who they voted for, it is significant that middle and upper middle class women went to vote for the first time.

Global Fund: Did Nazra receive any news from people who protested voting, or had difficulty voting?

Mozn: Some people did boycott the elections after mass violence happened in Tahrir Square days before the election, but this was not a huge number. Women human rights defenders who answered Nazra’s hotline [received calls about voting] violations and [complaints about] people handing out [campaign] materials.

Global Fund: It looks like the Muslim Brotherhood will come out strong in the election. What does this mean for women’s rights in Egypt?

Mozn: Islamic groups like the Muslim Brothers and Salafists will get a high number in parliament. Salafists are more radical, and I think this could be dangerous for women on social levels. People who voted for these groups are going to put moral and social pressure on women in the public space and on a political level.

I don’t think we will lose the laws we’ve gained [such as divorce rights, custody rights and inheritance laws], but we will definitely not gain more. [These groups] are also creating legal discourse against women, civil liberties and human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders.

Global Fund: You were recently quoted in Al Jazeera by saying, “I'm worried about the kind of women that will join parliament. Many of them are women who are against women." What is your opinion of the quota for female parliamentarians?

Mozn: This is about not seeing women’s participation as only numbers. It is important to see their discourse and engagement on a political level. This will make people trust women to represent them [in regards to] women's issues… It is always harder to have women against women' rights than men who are doing so.

Global Fund: How does Nazra's Women Political Participation Academy support female candidates?

Mozn: Through training, empowerment and capacity building, we supported Sanaa Al Said, a woman from Upper Egypt who has won in her district. She now has a chance, through the proportional representational electoral law, to gain a seat in parliament on behalf of the labor contingent. This work is an added value to the feminist movement.

 

Amplifying their Voice

tam_web1The challenges facing Palestinian women living under occupation are often obscured by political talk, but thanks to Palestinian feminists at Women, Media and Development (Tanmiyet wa i'lam al-mar'a – TAM) women in the West Bank and Gaza have a chance to express their voice.

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To shed light on the impact of Israeli military checkpoints and local government corruption, this Global Fund grantee partner teamed up with researchers to gather almost 100 stories from women in the West Bank who faced discrimination and hostility because of their religion or politics. These interviews were aired on local television stations and screened at community centers and NGOs, reaching over 2,500 people.

“There is a great opportunity to use media as a tool to give women a voice, a face and complete representation of their lives,” says TAM.Interviews conducted by TAM show how violence resulting from the ongoing occupation and war, coupled with patriarchal restrictions and religious policing, directly affect women. To fight back, TAM trains both men and women to produce media - such as video and blogs - that show women as equal partners in society. In fact, in 2009, young women trained by TAM launched the first blog created by women journalists in Palestine.

 

Looking to a Weapon-Free Future

dagropass_web112 guns, 11,206 rounds of ammunition, 4,961 grenades and 1,907 mortars destroyed. International human rights documents translated into local languages. Women experiencing less aggression from men, and married women reporting more respect from their husbands once they had begun asserting their rights.

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These are the results of a group of 30 women breaking the silence surrounding the link between small arms and gender-based violence in Bujumbura, Burundi. With the support of Global Fund grantee partner Développement Agropastoral et Sanitaire [Agro-pastoral and Healthy Development] (DAGROPASS) trained these women educators to conduct a multi-stage campaign to address the roots of gender-based violence in their communities.

Due the abundance of small arms, armed conflict prevails in the rural western Burundi. In fact, DAGROPASS estimates that 80 percent of households in Bujumbura have small arms. These are the very weapons that facilitate intense rates of violence against women in Burundi. Women’s groups recognize that women’s rights won’t become a reality until the region addresses arms-related violence. DAGROPASS is leading the way by empowering rural women – often excluded from positions of power – to lead a rights-based movement for the elimination of small arms.

 

Rebuilding Communities

forum_web2In June 2010, longstanding tension between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks erupted into violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, resulting in more than 470 deaths, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people over the span of a few days, and the rape and sexual assault of women and girls. With a government slow to react, the leadership of our grantee partners was critical for the safety of women and girls.

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What would be the best thing about living in a world without violence?


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Grantee partner Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan called an emergency meeting of women’s groups from around the country, and facilitated the development of a comprehensive six-month peace building process. By empowering Kyrgyz and Uzbek women to lead hundreds in their communities through a series of 27 meetings, they fostered dialogue that has helped quell further ethnic violence and created realistic peace building strategies.

El Agartuu, another Kyrgyz grantee partner, coordinated emergency, long-term psychological, and medical support for dozens of women and children who experienced, or witnessed violence, including group therapy and individual consultations through five-day retreats. Anonymous interviews with more than 30 women and children were conducted during the retreats, and their experiences will be published in Russian, Kyrgyz and English to raise awareness about the effects of conflict on women and girls, and to promote their agency in the recovery process.

 
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