WMC Women Under Siege

Can we end rape as tool of war?

We first thought about starting this piece with the story of Saleha Begum, a survivor of Bangladesh's 1971 war in which, some reports say, as many as 400,000 women were raped. Begum had been tied to a banana tree and repeatedly gang raped and burned with cigarettes for months until she was shot and left for dead in a pile of women. She didn't die, though, and was able to return home, ravaged and five months pregnant. When she got home she was branded a "slut."

We also thought of starting with the story of Ester Abeja, a woman in Uganda who was forcibly held as a "bush wife" by the Lord's Resistance Army. Repeated rape with objects destroyed her insides. Her captors also made her kill her 1-year-old daughter by smashing the baby's head into a tree.

We ran through a dozen other stories of women like Begum and Abeja, and finally realized that it would be too difficult to find the right one -- the tale that would express exactly how and in what ways sexualized violence is being used as a weapon of war to devastate women and tear apart communities around the world, conflict by conflict, from Libya to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is because of this complexity that we must understand how sexualized violence is being used. We must understand in order to stop it -- just as, when seeking to defuse a bomb, it is crucial to know its components. Both the World Health Organization and the U.N. Security Council have recognized that there is a lack of research on the nature and extent of sexualized violence in conflict, even as there is increasing demand from U.N. bodies, donors, and others for better analysis to work toward prevention and healing.

All of this is why we have begun a new project at the Women's Media Center that breaks down the specifics of sexualized violence into areas such as its motives and patterns, its fallout, and the gender and cultural attitudes that may have led to it. We're calling our project Women Under Siege, because with four women being raped every five minutes in Congo alone, we can say it is nothing less than that -- an ongoing siege. And it's time we began to put an end to it.

(To read the rest of this op-ed, please click over to CNN.com.)

More articles by Category: International, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: War, Genocide, Military, Rape



Gloria Steinem
Co-founder, Women's Media Center, writer, activist
Lauren Wolfe
Director, Women Under Siege
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