Why has it taken 65 years to recognise that rape is a weapon of war?
Outrage over history's failure to acknowledge the devastating legacy of sexual violence in conflict zones has inspired a brilliant new online project
It took generations for the extent of sexual violence against Jewish women in the Holocaust to be fully documented in a book published just over a year ago – a period of time which horrified activist and journalist Gloria Steinem who said: "Why had it taken 65 years to reveal these facts. Why were they ignored at Nuremberg? If we'd known, might it have helped prevent rape camps in the former Yugoslavia? Or rape as a weapon of genocide in the Congo?"
Her outrage has directly inspired a brilliant new website, womenundersiegeproject.com, which launched this week and aims to document sexual violence as a tool of war. In an interview with the project's new director Lauren Wolfe, Steinem explains the thinking behind the site, which allows victims of sexual violence to bear witness: "For me, inspiration comes from seeing positive results. For instance, a woman survivor of brutal rape in the Congo is rejected by her family, but learns she's not alone or at fault from the story of a Jewish woman who survived rape and the Holocaust only to be shunned as if she had collaborated. Each example illuminates another."
The idea is to stop the silencing of victims in a weapon that is being increasingly used in war. The focus, to start with, is on seven conflicts including those of the Democratic Republic of Congo, still the "rape capital of the world", Egypt and the Holocaust.
The site includes not only the interview with Steinem which first ran in The Atlantic but also a moving first-person piece by Lara Logan, CBS News' chief foreign affairs correspondent, who writes that being able to speak about her own assault in Tahrir Square has brought her strength.
Asked how such a project can help raise awareness, Steinem says: "This project is not trying to create a competition of tears. It's wrong whether men or women are suffering. It's just that the suffering has to be visible and not called inevitable or blamed on the victim before we can stop it."
With both the silencing and shame of rape victims a global phenomenon, I found this project moving and inspirational. Go and have a look.
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Why has it taken 65 years to recognise that rape is a weapon of war? | Life and style | The Guardian