Nobel Laureates, Activists Mobilize to End Rape and Gender Violence
The Women’s Media Center (WMC) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) hosted a conference at the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. Panelists hailing from Africa, Iran, and South America addressed the dire need of political leadership in preventing violence against women in conflict — and to prosecute those responsible.
Robin Morgan, a feminist leader and co-founder of WMC, discussed the global inequality confronting women as well as the great advances they have made over the years.
“Women coming to voice … and fighting up against an intolerable situation is part and parcel of saving the planet,” said Morgan, stressing that this initiative is a great step forward for an organized effort toward change.
Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of PHR, and Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace laureate, both said that now was the time to build collective pressure on international officials and political leaders. After successfully banning antipersonnel landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), they are leveraging their momentum to push forward the campaign to end gender violence and rape.
“The silent crime is now visible,” Sirkin said. She explained how violence and rape against women go unpunished and as a result, continue to escalate in conflict zones. She also narrated an account of her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rape is consistently used as a means of terrorizing communities. She observed a trial where 29 women faced their offenders and demanded justice for the crimes that were committed against them.
The women told Sirkin that they want their story to be disseminated so that others would be moved to assist women in need. Sirkin said that despite the dangers, stigma and isolation women face through their public cry for justice, they continue to come forward, and it is at this moment when they need support. She implored the international community and advocacy organizations to join forces and to bring perpetrators to the International Criminal Court to be punished for their crimes.
Dr. Dennis Mukwege, founder of The Panzi Hospital in the Congo, and Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the impunity that national governments and the international community grant criminals is one of the driving forces of why rape and gender violence pervades on a global scale. Dr. Mukwege leveraged his experience working in Africa and said that rape is no longer only a weapon of war, but has evolved into a strategy of war that is planned and methodically carried out. Factions rape and humiliate women to terrorize and display power, as well as to send a message to the enemy by objectifying women as tools to win battles.
He went even further by equating rape with weapons of mass destruction: Both affect numerous generations, induce massive demographic displacement and demolish countless communities. After treating over 40,000 rape victims, he is advocating for a greater change — to send a message to the international community that would prevent the thousands of rape incidents that occur every year.
Patricia Guerrero, the director of the League of Displaced Women, addressed the struggle for justice of displaced women in Columbia who have suffered from violence. She called them “escondidas” because of the secretive lives they lead. These women are a marginalized demographic, as there is no public policy that gives voice to their issues. Williams emphasized the initiative’s mission, addressing the need for the audience’s participation in kindling a social media wildfire to support the campaign and to put a screeching halt to gender violence. #
Mohammad Ibrar is a recent graduate of The City College of New York and an intern at Education Update.