Ending the war against women
Two exceptionally brave individuals, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, have received this year's Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end rape as a weapon of war. Their courage and persistence deserve to be applauded.
Their recognition has shone a harsh light on ingrained and institutionalised violence against women. Government indifference and corrupt justice systems in many countries mean the savages that commit such crimes enjoy impunity.
My heart sank as I read about the horror of sexual abuse in warfare. The laureates tell of rape so brutal that it eviscerates a woman's insides, ripping apart reproductive and digestive tracts. Many survivors need colostomy bags and vaginal surgery just to keep on living.
Dr Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist, recounted how he could tell where a rape occurred based on the injuries he saw. "In Bunyakiri, they burn the women's bottoms," he told the New York Times. "In Fizi-Baraka, they are shot in the genitals. In Shabunda, it's bayonets." Some victims were as young as 3 years old, he said.
As a woman, a daughter and a sister, I commiserate with the victims and wonder how such barbarism could possibly exist in this enlightened century of technological and economic advancement.
Countless incidents in the past have sparked international condemnation but little has changed -- the 2012 Delhi gang rape, the 2014 Chibok kidnappings, and the endless debate over whether rape victims, some less than 10 years old, can have an abortion.
Rape and other assaults against women are a complex crime to analyse. Equally horrific incidents can occur in least developed or most advanced countries, depending on women's circumstances, cultural factors and economic status. Globally, more than one-third of women report having experienced either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner or someone else.
Patriarchal attitudes that have developed over centuries, when taken to extremes, excuse violent exertions of "masculinity". Violence against women and misogyny remain rampant in outdated social systems that oppress, discriminate, ridicule and prevent women from having access to basic human rights.
The perception that women are less valued is still widely ingrained in many societies. When a boy is told to "be a man", it means not to display weakness, and implies that macho strength is more desirable than female qualities.
Behaviours that fall under sexual assault can range from invasion of privacy, sexual jokes, unwelcome messages, inappropriate touching and sexual favouritism, to forced marriage, domestic abuse, rape, incest, sexual slavery … and the list goes on.
However, women continue to struggle with sexual assault culture by denying its existence. Despite suffering physical and psychological trauma, sometimes women refuse to view the treatment they endured as abusive due to social stigma, fear of reprisal, or fear of being ostracised by their families. Many have no faith in the justice system, where the victim seems to be blamed as often as the perpetrator.
The president of the United States, no less, recently mocked and ridiculed the survivor of an assault said to have been perpetrated by a man who now sits on the US Supreme Court. The crowd cheered and laughed along with Donald Trump's revolting comments.
A few years ago, Indian politician Mulayam Singh Yadav declared that rape by four persons is not "practically possible", referring to the epidemic of such crimes in his country.
It is beyond distressing to see anyone, especially those with power, display such ignorance or downplay the need for policies to reduce gender-based crime.
While more victims have come forward recently as the movement against sexual violence gathers momentum, reported figures are still the tip of the iceberg.
In the wake of the #MeToo, #Whyididntreport or Time's Up movements, many high-profile figures have been brought low by allegations of sexist behaviour and worse; however, many women still downplay and minimise assaults.
In the bigger picture, men are still perceived in many places as the undisputed family heads and wage earners. Women receive fewer educational and career opportunities, which simply perpetuates dependency upon men. These opportunities are basic human rights and are the keys to social liberation, economic independence and equality.
Governments must prioritise this crime against humanity and firmly stand against any forms of gender-based violence. Barriers that impede progress toward a healthier and safer environment for women must be swept away. Leaders must commit firmly to equality, for women to have access to education, health services, career opportunities and ultimately the right to live free from violence.
Asia Focus Writer
Asia Focus Writer
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