In the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, we see how ordinary, war-worn women subjected to daily violence against men and boys fought bravely through peaceful protest. The tyrannical rule of Liberian President Charles Taylor oversaw and perpetuated this oppression. Nobel Peace Prize Award winner Leymah Gbowee formed the Liberian Mass Action for Peace (which included Muslim and Christian women alike) to bring attention to the atrocities women had endured. With a push from LMAP, Charles Taylor was indicted for war crimes.
However, Charles Taylor’s regime has left a seemingly indelible mark on Liberian society. Violence against women and girls is the most frequent crime committed in Liberia today, even though it is less frequent than it was during Taylor’s regime.
Mary-Wynne Ashford in her article The Impact of War on Women outlines the ways to end the “vulnerability” of women during and after war. Ashford says we must,
- “prevent war”
- “ratify and implement existing agreements”
- “address the role of women in responsibility to protect”
- “address women’s needs when planning peacekeeping and humanitarian operations”
- “increase the number of women in decision-making bodies”
- “establish or restore justice systems, education, health care and economic opportunities for women immediately after war”
Acquiring the data of rape and sexual assault in zones of conflict is the first step in providing aid. The gender based violence information system, started by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, should recruit more organizations (currently the UNOCHA, UNHCR, IRC, UNFPA,UNICEF, UNHCR, IRC and the WHO are members of the GBVIS committee). Being in control of data will make violence against women a starker reality (though it should be noted not all attacks are reported) and may prompt more action to be taken to combat it. Storing statistics of GBV (gender-based violence) would also protect the “safety, respect, dignity and consent” of the victims.
With information in hand, we take action.
Expanding on Ashford’s points, we need to provide safety for those who have suffered already, first and foremost. Providing health care, especially sexual care for the women who have been raped (a percentage as high as 90% in Liberia) and impregnated. Rape is a common tactic for control of women and asserting patriarchal dominance during war. Jobs for unemployed women would provide independence, empowerment and relief from poverty. Electing women into positions of power would increase the statistical likelihood of more rights for women and peaceful agreements. After providing aid to those who had suffered, one must turn to educating the future generations in order to provide a richer and more gender-equal society.
If the issue of women’s rights is still a contentious issue in [the US], and if the women who these issues are affecting are silent or almost silent on it, the trend is that we will see some of these things rise up in our own communities.
Meaning, if we do not do not gain equal rights for ourselves in the US then the universality of having justice for all women is challenged. Humanitarian effort cannot solve all the worlds problems in one go, but it can try to make the situations more bearable. Justice for one is not justice for all.
Today violence against women is increasingly
recognized for what it is: a threat to democracy,
a barrier to lasting peace, a burden
on national economies, and an appalling
human rights violation.
-Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women