RHRC: “The Launch of “Women Under Siege:” A Journalistic Megaphone For Victims of Sexual Violence
February 8, 2012
Jessica Mack on RH Reality Check
This week, Norma Andrade, a well-known women’s rights activist in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was attacked. Her face was slashed as she walked her grandchild to school in Mexico City, just two months after she survived being shot near her home. Andrade’s offense that has drawn such violence against her? In 2001, she founded May Our Daughters Return Home after one of her daughters was killed – a crime that remains unsolved.
Femicide and violence against women have reached epic proportions in Mexico and Central America, making the reality very near impossible to ignore. In December, the Peace Corps made the decision to pull volunteers out of El Salvador, and to stop sending new volunteers to Guatemala and Honduras – a strong statement on just how bad things have gotten.
Last month, the Nobel Women’s Initiative led a delegation of 20 journalists and advocates – including Nobel Laureates Rigoberta Menchu and Jody Williams – to Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico to meet women like Norma Andrade and many others, with stories of sexualized violence and abuse, and names far less known.The group held press conferences and meetings, hosted by local women’s rights groups, to bear witness to the pain and suffering, but also the fierce efforts of activists there (defensoras) working to counteract what must seem like a tidal wave of odds against them. “Our purpose was really to listen,” says Lauren Wolfe, a member of the delegation. “In each country, we meet with about 50 women, and listened to their stories of their own rapes, of their sisters’ murders, or their family members’ disappearances.”
For these women to risk their safety to attend these meetings, the importance of simply telling their stories must have been tremendous. Nearly all asked that their names and images not be used, and some requested that, even despite anonymity, their stories not be repeated for fear of repercussions, says Wolfe. One woman was beaten by police upon approaching the gathering, and showed up with a black eye. As she left, Wolfe said, she was again picked up by the police and thrown in jail. The freedom to speak about abuses is in as much jeopardy as women's rights themselves.
While many of the stories gathered can be found on the Nobel Women’s Initiative website, many will find a home at Women Under Siege, a brand new initiative launched today, which Wolfe will direct. An innovative effort of the Women’s Media Center, Women Under Siege aims to broadly publicize – in the hopes of combating – violence against women, serving as a megaphone for the voices of survivors themselves and a clearinghouse for their recorded experiences. It will feature personal accounts from the likes of photojournalist Lynsey Addario, reporter Lara Logan, and survivors from Bangladesh to Bosnia, and Darfur to Democratic Republic of Congo.