BLOG POST FROM OLIVIA WARHAM, DIRECTOR OF WAGING PEACE
It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in a modern conflict. (Major General Patrick Cammaert, 2008 – former UN peacekeeper)
There is nothing accidental about the surge in the incidence of rape in war zones. Leaders aiming to ethnically cleansing a population know rape destroys the fabric of traditional societies. Be they Bosnians, Rwandans or Darfuris in Sudan, women give strikingly similar accounts of sexual violence and humiliation.
Accompanying this ruthless tactic is the increasing violence toward women shown by societies that have endured oppression. Research by the Small Arms Survey and others indicates that when men and boys resort to violence to settle scores, in disputes such as cattle raiding, they are more likely to turn on women. Violence becomes accepted as normal. Add to this the relative ease with which small arms are obtained in the wake of conflict and the dangers to women are awfully clear.
Yet, it is unfair to categorise women as passive victims – they often hold their family together in the face of adversity, rebuilding shattered communities in the wake of war. Anyone who has visited a refugee camp understands that it is women who get everyone up in the morning, trying to maintain normality.
Working to combat the human rights abuses perpetrated in Sudan – from the government’s systematic ethnic cleansing to the suffering of refugees – Waging Peace knows that even in the camps many women are not safe. Whenever they venture out to collect firewood, they often face attack by the same militias who burnt their villages and killed their men. Despite the presence of international peacekeepers, there is almost no protection for women. Welcoming the Foreign Office’s commitment to highlight such violence, we urge the UK government to provide practical help, like firewood patrols and solar ovens. Action must now follow words.