From the Rape Capital of the World: Stories of Survival

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Violence against women takes different forms: physical, sexual, emotional and economic. These forms of violence are consistent and distress women’s life. Yearly, millions of women and little girls worldwide suffer domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, killing, trafficking, sexual violence in conflict zones, and abuse.

Women and little girls who are subjected to violence suffer a severe range of health and psychological problems which diminish their civic engagement in their communities. These different types of violence against women harm families; generations and nations, in additions strengthen other forms of violence to occur in the society.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular the east of the country, has a long history of rape and violence, it was named the “Rape Capital of the World”. Although sexual violence has always occurred in the country, but the region has faced increased rates of sexual violence at the time of the armed conflicts.

This report has lifted the lid on the sexual exploitation of little girls aged between 6 months to 12 years old, along with government failures to deal with the issue.

The Club des défenseurs des droits de la fille/HPT visited the victims on the 17th of this month in Kavumu, SOUTH KIVU, DR CONGO; the families of the victims shared with us their harrowing feelings.
The daily stories of Kavumu, group of men come every night, break into the houses kidnap and rape little girls. Then in the morning they bring them back to their beds or leave them at the door house. If the girls are lucky enough to survive, they are taken to the Kavumu health center. We have covered 42 severe rape cases of young girls and one of them did not survive, sometimes the little girls get pregnant. Several survivors received the first care in local clinics then were sent to Panzi hospital, the victims are aged between 6 months to 12 years. Relatives of the victims cannot sleep because of the criminals, as they don’t know when they are back again. The poor construction of the homes in this neighborhood, -that are often built of mud- due to lack of financials resources of the families; makes it an easy target for the criminals to break in and rape the little girls.

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A mother testified that neither she nor her husband had heard when their daughter (Elysée) was abducted at their side. The following morning, while bathing her daughter, she realized that she was raped and then took her to the hospital.

Elysée is a 3 year old from Bushumba who was raped at the age of 2 years, she said she saw a civilian and a soldier “I thought it was our landlord”, they injected a syringe in her body and then rapped her. She only felt the pain when her mother took her to the hospital.

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Bénite, 12 years old, was raped at the age of 9 years. She loves her grandmother and lived with her for a while, one night her life changed completely, when she heard someone broke into the house, he prevented her from screaming. He was a man whom she knows very well, he took her by force to his place and raped her and then brought her back in the morning to her grandmother’s house. Her mother realized that something happened to her daughter as she was crying for no reason, then she took her to the hospital when she found out who rapped her little daughter, she prosecuted the rapist, who unfortunately was released the same day because of his financial power. Whenever Bénite sees this man, she starts crying, stop eating, and then remain silent, she told her mother she wants to leave Kavumu.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, four women are raped every five minutes. Impunity sways within the country, and despite that government’s acknowledges that its own security forces constitute one of the main groups of criminals, effective restructurings to the security sector have not been endorsed. The country faces a mass of human rights violations which remain dangerous for women and little girls, whom are subjected to all kind of violence every day.

Nowhere is more dangerous for women than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women and girls suffer excessively from high rates of violence and extreme poverty during times of conflict since 1996. Even though peace has been established in most regions of the country, but the eastern provinces, still suffer from gender-based violence.

The use of rape and sexual assault to terrify -women and little girls, their families, and their communities- continues until actions are taken to save their innocent lives.
Special thanks go to:

  • To the parents of the victims for their cooperation with us, and for sharing their stories with us.
  • To the Kavumu hospital nursing center for the care provided to the victims
  • To the “Club des défenseurs des droits de la fille”, for their support in the fight against sexual violence and for their continuous promotion for women’s rights.

This report was written in collaboration with Jocelyne SACERDOCE and “Club des Défenseurs des Droits de la Fille/ HPT”

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The Forgotten Frontline: Women at War Zone: Nigeria’s case

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Soon after taking control of some Nigerian towns, Boko Haram would assemble the population and declare new rules with restrictions and limits to follow, particularly on women. Suffering, rape, forced marriage continuous stories of women tortured by this terrorist group.

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The 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok captured widespread global attention with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Though the missing school girls tell just a small part of the women and young girls torture by Boko Haram.

Following the shocking event of the missing girls, Amnesty International has elevated concerns on the countless number of cases when Nigerian security forces are not doing enough to defend civilians from human rights misuses and abuses committed by Boko Haram.

Girls and women abducted by the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram were forced to unwanted marriage and obligatory labor, rape, torture, psychological abuse and pressured religious conversion.

According to Amnesty International report, more than 2000 women and girls have been abducted and seized and held in militant camps of Boko Haram since 2014, some of them have been targeted because they are Christians and others because they didn’t follow the extremists religious rules, these women were victims of sexual slavery and were trained to kill.

Human Rights Watch collected testimony of the women who escaped Boko Haram’s camps, whom told about the extreme violence terror happening there. Many of the victims expressed that they were subjected to physical and psychological abuse; forced labor; forced participation in military actions, enforced marriage to the abductors; and sexual abuse and rape.

Most of abductions cases by Boko Haram were against Christian women and girls, and many of them have been threatened with death if they refused to convert to Islam.

More than 300 Nigerian women rescued by the Nigerian soldiers from Sambisa forest, where they were forced to witness the public execution of their husbands before whipping into the forest, where they were fed with dry ground corn once a day.

They were also raped, forced into unlawful marriages and stoned to death, some of them were killed unintentionally by the military during the rescue operations, and the soldiers did not recognize that those women were not the enemies but the victims.

Boko Haram forced its laws with harsh punishments on those not following the rules; women who failed to attend daily prayers were punished by public flogging.

The situation over Nigeria calls on the Nigerian government to adopt stronger strategies and measures to protect women and girls, provide help for the victims. The government must provide security forces to prevent abductions and respond more quickly when they happened. The Nigerian authorities have to investigate and prosecute those who commit these inhuman crimes, they need to protect schools and the right to education, and ensure access to medical and mental health services for victims of the abductions.

Sana AFOUAIZ

The Forgotten Frontline: Women at War Zone: Syria’s case

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The civil war has destroyed Syria and dominated the news; there is a noteworthy aspect of the conflict that endures to go mostly unreported: the dilemma of women and girls who take the flak of the war.

They are bearing the greatest burden, yet their voices and stories are often left unheard.

Syria is undergoing the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world of today. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, the human rights activists and organizations claimed that the situation has persistently worsened. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the UN Human Rights Council have been reverberating the warnings of the grave violations committed by Syrian government and other parties of the conflict.

Violent and aggressive fighting have increased between Bashar al-Assad’s followers and armed rebellious groups; in July 2012, the fighting was qualified as internal armed conflict caused humanitarian damages on civilian citizens; including random arrests and detention, extra-judicial executions, rape, different forms of sexual violence, kidnapping, enforced disappearances and torture by Syrian authorities and pro-governmental militias called “shabbihas”.

As of June 2015, more than half of all Syrians have been enforced to leave their homes; 7.6 million people were exiled within Syria and 3.9 million people displaced as refugees in neighboring countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, according to UN refugee agency.

Women and girls are among the most vulnerable, about half million Syrian women, those in refugees and those who still in Syria, are sexually injured, pregnant and need maternal care services.

Countless UN bodies and representatives, international and national NGOs and journalists, have documented the crimes attacks and the sexual violence cases committed during the Syrian crisis. Still, it remains tremendously difficult to measure the extent of crimes of sexual violence and to draw conclusions on patterns; however, there have been several reports of crimes of sexual violence committed by anti-government armed groups. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, stated that “Civilians already caught in a vicious cycle of violence are also the target of sexual violence by all parties to the conflict”.

Most accusations of rape and the other forms of sexual violence reported were said to have been executed by government forces and shabbiha during house searches, at checkpoints and in imprisonment.

In some cases, women were assaulted and beaten in public in front of family members.

We caught up with Karam Yahya “Syrian Refugee in Germany and human right activist” who told us :“Women suffer differently according to the region they live in, suffering in Damascus is not the same in north of Syria, every region is controlled by regime and group, which makes women subjective to different suffering experiences”. He added: “There is a social disorder in all these regions, women struggle to feed their families as their husbands go to fight, and outside Syria the suffering is even enormous, the case of Zaatari Camp in Jordan where I worked, there is violence, discrimination, and the cultural conservative traditions enforce women to stay home”

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Thousands of Syrian women are objects of sexual violence, but their conservative cultural and religious environments, especially in rural and southern areas of Syria, prohibit women and girls from talking freely about their suffering from sexual violence and other forms of violence.

This is the reason that makes it very difficult to find rape cases because of the dominant culture and the refusal to talk publicly about these subjects.

Furthermore it is hardly anyone makes complaints about such crimes because nobody will marry a woman who has been raped. The social stigma and family pressure influence the psychology situation of these women, which in some cases can lead to suicide.

In other cases, families forcibly marry raped women, including to relatives and foreign, for the “sake of the honor”, which makes it hard to help these women who are in critical situations, as their parents block any assistance that could be provided to them.

Bashar al-Assad forces are not the only enemy to Syrian women, ISIS (criminal group) is disrobing them of their human rights, as well. “Marry me or be my slave”; this is how ISIS group threats innocent women; whether they accept or refuse they are subjected to various forms of deprivation, threats, solitary imprisonment, as well several forms of torture, rape and sexual harassment. Other women were forced to divorce their husbands and enforced to practice “jihad sex” with different rebels of ISIS.

The media has widespread the case of the young mothers who have been savagely maimed by ISIS for breastfeeding in public. The Members of ISIS’s enforce strict barbaric sharia laws concerning on how women should dress and act, breastfeeding in public is not accepted act according to their rules.

Distressingly, they use a spiked, metal device known as “The Biter” to wreak harsh punishments on women deemed to have shown too much skin and those who breastfeed in public. They take the “Biter”, which is a shrill object that has a lot of teeth, they hold the women, and place it on their chest and pressing it strongly, this could damage and destroy the femininity of these women. Thousands of Syrian women are slaughtered silently.

In other cases women are being stripped naked and forced to take “virginity tests,”  then they are taken to slave markets where the attractive virgins are sold off to the highest buyers, those who refuse to perform an extreme sex act are burned alive.

Outside Syria women face further challenges and depressed situations; some parents force to marry off their daughters as child brides and push them to work as prostitutes in the camps. Several reports stated that men from Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries take the advantage of families’ desperation to seek young brides.

While many countries have strictly constrained border crossings and closed their borders completely in response to the fear that terrorists could enter to their lands.

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on women’s rights; Syria is ranked 19th out of 22 Arab states to some extent better than Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, where women face gender violence, degrade reproductive rights, economic exclusion, lack of necessary health services, depraved treatment of women within the family and the society, in addition to elimination attitudes towards women in politics and society.

Five years into Syria’s civil war and with no end in eyesight, it is somehow hard to see what the future of Syria will look like, and what women’s place will be in it, the war has devastating impact on women’s rights, putting millions of women and girls at risk of trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual violence.

 Sana AFOUAIZ