Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Stop Destroying Women

Almost ten years ago, I had the privilege of working with the event production company that coordinated a special international video conference at the United Nations. It was sponsored by UNIFEM, the UN agency devoted to women’s issues around the world. It was the first such conference of its scope and status exclusively about the many forms of violence against women and girls, and the first to be held in the UN’s majestic General Assembly.

Hundreds of women attended in New York and thousands more at participating sites on every continent. Political celebrities and brave survivors spoke, live or via video messages. They talked about honor killings, rape as a tactic of war and terror, sexual slavery, female infanticide, suicide, genital mutilation, and the societal ingredients that facilitate these behaviors: longstanding social/political conflicts, poverty, lack of opportunities for education, and a lack of access to contraceptives, abortion and health care in general.

The conference was a great success, which is to say it generated a lot of attention in the circles of “civil society” (the UN’s core audience of non-profit charities and non-governmental social service organizations). But as far as attention by the mainstream media was concerned, it didn’t even raise a blip on their radar.

So it’s not particularly surprising that women in virtually every country on Earth, but most especially in countries twisted by war and destitution, are increasingly the victims of the most vicious kinds of brutality, the sort that when you hear about it is simultaneously unimaginable and unforgettable. Man’s capacity (and I do mean man) for indescribably sadistic violence against women is demonically ingenious and apparently boundless.

Against this backdrop, I draw your attention to an article by Jeffrey Gettleman that appeared in the 10/8/07 New York Times, “Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War.” I beg you to click on this link and read it:


As this article explains, the thousands of female victims range in age from three to 75. Many of the perpetrators are former members of Hutu militia forces who fled Rwanda in the 90s after torturing and murdering 800,000 Tutsis. The rest are home-grown forces known as Mai-Mai, who, armed to the teeth, stalk the countryside. The 17,000 UN Peacekeepers are no match for them.

Gettleman goes on to say that horrified medical personnel, social service providers and humane government representatives are non-plused by the quantity and ferociousness of rape that has been ratcheted up to an unprecedented level – even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide. He quotes a Congolese doctor who works in the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic, South Kivu Province:

“Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair. We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear, they are done to destroy women.”

Destroying women has been S.O.P. since the dawn of time. At the dawn of the 21st century, things are much better in some places than in others, but nowhere on Earth are women free from the possibility (or probability) of rape and other violence – from fathers, brothers, sons, boyfriends, husbands, neighbors, strangers and soldiers.

What can we do in the face of such heartbreaking, overwhelming destruction of women? Nicholas D. Kristof, in a 6/25/07 op-ed in the New York Times that he wrote while in Congo, offered some good suggestions:

“There’s no simple solution to the conflict, but we can lean on Rwanda to stop supporting its proxy force in eastern Congo, and also to work harder to repatriate Hutus who have destabilized Congo since they fled here after the genocide in 1994. We can push a peace process. We can support the U.N. peacekeepers. We can help with the reform and training of Congo’s security forces. And a six-hour visit by Condi Rice would help put the crisis on the map.”

I’m writing to Secretary of State Rice asking that she make such a trip and specifically speak out against what many are calling Congo’s “rape industry.” Won’t you please join me?

Unfortunately, emails for the Secretary and other staff members at State are not available to the public (!). However, you can snail-mail or fax as follows:

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice
U.S. State Department
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: 202-261-8577
(no street address necessary)

In addition, I’m sending a copy of my Rice letter to:

Ambassador Jendayi E. Frazer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 “C” Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Tel: 202-647-4000 (24-hour service)

I would welcome receiving any further information about this issue and what others are doing to address it.

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