WMC Women Under Siege

Just a few weeks into 2015, we're already missing big stories on violence against women

While the news cycle in January was dominated by reports on Japanese hostages held by the militant group Islamic State, clashes between the Nigerian military and militant group Boko Haram, and the Paris attacks on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a number of important stories stories were overshadowed.

This month, an Egyptian doctor was sentenced to prison for manslaughter after he performed female genital mutilation on a girl who died. Two Christian teachers were gang raped and killed in Burma. Other stories, like these, didn’t get the attention of the global public. (“Why” is a debate for the ages.)

Below, a roundup of just a few of the stories affecting women around the world that we think should be on the front page of U.S. and global newspapers. It's not too late to make such stories a priority in 2015.


Residents in Kachin State, Burma, where two Christian teachers were gang raped and killed this month. (Shannon Holman)

Two Christian teachers in Kachin state were gang raped and killed allegedly by soldiers of the Burmese Army, according to news reports. The murders sparked international condemnation, with groups calling on the Burmese government to halt its military offensive in ethnic areas. The Burmese army has long been accused of abuse in clashes against ethnic rebels, reports said.

Rape has historically been used by the military to instill fear and humiliation in women and to subjugate communities of various ethnicities, studies have shown. The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, a collaboration between advocacy organizations (of which WMC's Women Under Siege is an advisory member), reported in 2012 that violence against ethnic groups had flared in Burma, with Burmese security forces violating human rights, including rape. 

Between the 2010 elections and January 2014, the Women’s League of Burma, an umbrella organization in exile that pushes for the advancement of women’s rights, documented more than 100 cases of sexualized violence, mainly linked to military offenses. The number, they say, is only a fraction of the abuses they believe are being perpetrated against women. But an amnesty provision in the Burmese constitution prevents the military from being prosecuted for crimes of sexualized violence and rape. The constitution, shockingly, guarantees the military immunity for crimes that include using rape as a weapon of war.



Girls in Gazipur city in Bangladesh protest against sexualized violence against women and girls. (Plan Asla)

January report by Reuters renewed the spotlight on a “two-finger test” employed by Bangladeshi authorities to investigate rape cases. In the examination, a doctor inserts fingers into a rape victim’s vagina to determine whether she is “habituated to sex.” Human rights experts have called on Bangladeshi authorities to reform the law, which dates back to the British colonial era, calling it “unscientific” and “degrading.”

India outlawed the test in March 2014, according to reports.

In further news on violence against women, Bangladesh currently has two tribunals overseeing trials on charges of war crimes, including rape, that stemmed from the country’s war of independence in 1971. Hundreds of thousands of women were raped during the war—in a span of just nine months, the Bangladeshi government has estimated, 200,000 women and girls were sexually assaulted. Even more staggering numbers have been suggested elsewhere.


South Sudan

A camp for internally displaced persons in Bentiu, South Sudan. (UNMISS)

report on South Sudan released by UN investigators in early January found that attacks against civilians in two specific events in 2014 represented the “nadir of the conflict”—even though the entire conflict has been marked by violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The atrocities, including rape and sexualized violence, documented in the attacks on civilians in the towns of Bentiu and Bor, “may amount to war crimes,” the report said.

Hundreds of men, women, and children were killed when rebels seized the northern oil town of Bentiu in April 2014, news reports said. The attacks, which included raids on a hospital, mosque, church, and even a UN World Food Programme compound, resulted in piles of bodies lining the streets, according to UN officials, who also said the violence continued for days and that rebels used radio stations to incite ethnic sentiment.

The next month, the anti-poverty organization CARE International issued a report on the violence women faced in South Sudan. On the day of the report’s release, CARE South Sudan Country Director Aimee Ansari said, “The things happening here to women and girls are evil. Women tied up, raped, and then shot. Women attacked in hospitals and churches where they had fled seeking safety with their families. There is no safe place for a woman today in South Sudan.”



Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world. (Walwyn)

An Egyptian appellate court this month convicted an Egyptian doctor of manslaughter of a 13-year-old girl and sentenced him to more than two years in prison, according to news reports. The doctor had performed female genital mutilation on the girl, who died in 2013, news reports said. Local experts hailed the move, calling it a “triumph for women” and saying the ruling could deter families and doctors from employing the practice, according to news reports. Egypt outlawed female genital mutilation in 2008.

The past few years have seen many of Egypt’s disturbing acts of violence against women coming to light. In early 2011, during the violent crackdown on demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, police detained women for days in a military detention center. Many of the women said they were forced to strip for military doctors who performed what Egypt’s military council (SCAF) called “virginity tests.” In May 2011, Gen. Ismail Erman confirmed the practice. “We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place,” he said. “The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine.”  



An April 1964 photo shows the military coup that began the dictatorship that lasted for more than two decades. (Public Archives of the State of Sao Paulo)

The National Truth Commission (CNV), which was formed to investigate human rights abuses during the military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985, presented its final report this month. The report, which detailed how sexualized violence was used as a weapon against those considered to be against the dictatorship, included testimony by rape survivors: “I want to forget,” one woman said. “I want this chapter to be over for me. Because I’m still living it as if it had happened yesterday.”

Last month, Maria do Rosario, a Brazilian Congresswoman, spoke at the national legislature, praising the CNV’s documentation of human rights violations committed during the dictatorship. After she spoke, Rio di Janeiro representative Congressman Jair Bolsanaro told her not to leave before he spoke his turn, news reports said.

“I wouldn’t rape you because you’re not worthy of it,” Bolsanaro said. “Stay here and listen.”

Bolsanaro, who has served in the military and has often defended the dictatorship, has a track record of making misogynistic, racist, and homophobic comments, the reports said.

More articles by Category: International, Media, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Rape, War, Sexualized violence



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