When Rape is a War Game: Sexual Violence and Women's Wounds

November 30, 2018
By: 
Misty Kiwak Jacobs

The days between November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and December 10th, Human Rights Day, mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

“Civil Unrest,” “Violent Conflict” or “Internally Displaced People,” are terms we hear often without fully grasping their impact on human well-being. Unfortunately, civil unrest by any name is concomitant with gender-based sexual violence. “Violence Against Women” is often personal, as with the #metoo movement. It is always global.

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to be invited to a lecture at the Church Center for the United Nations hosted by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Rev. Dr. Elieshi Mungure, a Lutheran priest who serves as the LWF Area Secretary for Africa, spoke on the “Contemporary Challenges in West and Central Africa” from a church perspective. She shared that Africa is a hotspot, both good and bad, a path of trade, but also of trade conflicts and security issues impacting the entire region of West and Central Africa.

Rev. Dr. Elieshi Mungure, The Lutheran World Federation Area Secretary for Africa

Photo: The Lutheran World Federation

Rev. Mungure related a story told to her by a Nigerian woman had fled violence with her family. As they were struggling to escape, the woman asked her husband to help her carry their small children. He answered, “We will have more babies.” Unwilling to leave her children, the woman pulled her children off the path and into the bush. Her husband kept running. Nervously quieting her children, she waited for her pursuers to pass. She and her children survived. Many are not so lucky.

Violence in Nigeria made international news in in February 2018 when Boko Haram abducted 110 school girls in Yobe, a state in the Northeast of the country.[1] Boko Haram’s mass kidnapping in 2014 drew national attention via the social media campaign #bringbackourgirls. We may not initially equate kidnapping with violence. But the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports, “[Boko Haram] uses women and girls as a tactic of war. We don’t have to imagine that many of these girls have been subjected to sexual- and gender-based violence.”[2]

The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari declared February’s kidnapping a national disaster. Most of the girls were returned, save five who did not survive the ordeal, and one, a Christian, is still being held for allegedly refusing to convert to Islam. By United Nations estimates, 7,000 girls have endured abduction and rape in the war with Boko Haram. [3]

Wherever rape is used as a weapon of war, surviving women frequently find their suffering compounded by traumatic vaginal fistula. A women’s health issue in developing nations, vaginal fistula is often a result of difficult childbirth without the proper obstetric care. It can also be the unfortunate consequence of rape.

Vaginal fistula involves tearing of the vaginal wall between the bladder or rectum, allowing the leakage of urine and/or feces from one’s body. The resulting incontinence and foul odor make personal hygiene unmanageable, and the condition is often accompanied by infection. A woman with vaginal fistula carries an increased risk for STDs, including HIV.[4] With personal hygiene impossible, social stigma keeps women isolated within their homes.

Photo: West Africa Fistula Foundation

The UNFPA estimates that over 2 million women worldwide suffer from vaginal fistula. In 2009, the UN established the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict. This year, the Nobel Prize for Peace went to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their work in ending gender violence in conflict. Nadia Murad, herself a survivor of human trafficking and rape, became an activist for the Yazidi people after her escape in 2014. Dr. Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, uses reconstructive surgery to heal women who have been sexually brutalized in war, caring for 3,500 women per year.[5]

We know that war is violent, regardless of gender. Grenades and missiles and suicide vests are not selective about their targets. But women who find themselves in the middle of violent conflict throughout the world suffer a particularly brutal violation, often with permanent consequences.

Pray for an end to war, work for peace, and consider joining in the effort to help women around the world heal from vaginal fistula.

Dear God, whose incalculable power unleashed the pulsing stars into the cosmos, whose fathomless healing raised Christ from the dead and whose care and gentleness knit us together within the quiet of our mother’s womb, please remedy the violence which infects the human heart, please enfold wounded women everywhere into your embrace and nurse them back to wholeness in body, mind and spirit. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

More information about vaginal fistula and about the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign can be found at the sites below:

Campaign to End Fistula 

http://www.endfistula.org/

Fistula Foundation

https://www.fistulafoundation.org/what-is-fistula/fast-facts-faq/

End Violence Day

http://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/

Human Rights Day

http://www.un.org/en/events/humanrightsday/

16 Days of Activism against GenderBased Violence Campaign

http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-...

 

[1] Nigeria Dapchi abductions: Schoolgirls finally home. BBC.com. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43535872 Retrieved November 19, 2018.

[2] Two years since the Chibok girls’ abduction: Providing support for women and girls surviving Boko Haram. UNFPA.org. https://www.unfpa.org/news/two-years-chibok-girls%E2%80%99-abduction-pro... Retrieved November 19, 2018.

[3] Boko Haram Militants Raped Hundreds of Female Captives in Nigeria. NYTimes.com. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/world/africa/boko-haram-militants-rap... Retrieved November 19, 2018.

[4] Traumatic Fistula. FistulaCare.org. https://fistulacare.org/what-is-fistula/traumatic-fistula/ Retrieved November 19, 2018.

[5] Nobel Prize Winner: Dennis Mukwege from DR Congo. BBC.com https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45759304.Retrieved November 19, 2018.

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