Thursday, August 21, 2014

IWHHR: Week 6 (Women in War and Refugee Settings)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.
Photo from our course material

It is clear that violence against women increases during conflict and post-conflict periods. In the context of the video interview with Zainab Bangura, do you think that it is inevitable that conflict will result in increased violence against women? Do you think that anything short of eliminating war will eliminate the problem of violence against women in conflict and refugee circumstances? Is peace possible?

Zainab Bangura, of Sierra Leone, is the current Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. In her interview she discussed the concept of command and control. If rape (as a weapon of warfare) is commanded, it can be controlled. Based on her interview, it is not inevitable that conflict will result in increased violence against women.

Ms. Bangura spoke of interventions and conversations she has had with military personnel. These men are human. Certainly, there are some monsters who will just commit rape and violence no matter what. But the majority of these men, she believes, are true human beings and have a conscience which can be appealed to. She spoke with them about the injustice that is done against women. By asking them what they would do if this woman was their mother or their sister or their daughter, she was able to put into perspective the great atrocity that is occurring to women.

As is often said, and something with which I completely agree, education is the key. Men are people too. Despite the fact that they are the perpetrators of the vast majority of sexual violence in war and refugee settings, they are still people. If we can educate the military or other group leaders that rape is a crime and how it can completely destroy a woman and her family, then I believe many of these men will stand up for what is right. The leaders need to not only believe that rape is a crime, but they need to be prepared and dedicated enough to swiftly investigate and prosecute these crimes so that others will begin to learn and accept that it is a crime and should not happen. This is how the culture will change.

Ultimately, education and gender equality are what is needed to highlight rape as a war crime and begin the process to eliminate the problem of violence against women in conflict and refugee circumstances. "If you don't respect your women, you can't protect them during conflict," Ms. Bangura stated. Elimination is possible. Peace is possible. The military and leadership who took her advice in the DRC drastically reduced the rate of rape by the following year when they went back into battle. Not only were the perpetrators held responsible, so was the commander. So the commander had an invested interest in ensuring that his soldiers knew, understood, and followed his orders NOT to commit rape or any other type of gender-based violence during warfare.

Elimination or at least drastically reduced rates of gender-based violence is possible. Peace is always possible. With buy-in from powerful leaders, peace can be brought about.

If you are interested there are some great documentaries in a series called Women, War and Peace on PBS. I've watched a few of them. Individual stories always help me to understand history and its effects on communities and the world.

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