500,000 women raped in Rwanda. 64,000 in Sierra Leone. 40,000 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 4,500 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Numbers are numbing,” warns Nobel Laureate Jody Williams. “There are women in here who have experienced sexual violence in conflict.”
Many heads nod somberly throughout the conference room. Women who have been forever affected by violence of the most violating kind. Women who work day in and day out with victims of unimaginable cruelty.
This is a gathering where horror and hope walk hand in hand.
Hope wins, or we wouldn’t be here. Hope–fueled by the rock-hard conviction that it’s possible to create a world where the atrocity of rape in war does not exist because societies have closed ranks to never again permit it. Hope and conviction that with concerted effort we can root out the causes, prevent new crises, stop the abuses and attend to the consequences.
We begin with some definitions of terms, laid out by the three conveners, Nobel Laureates Williams, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Mairead Maguire of North Ireland.
First, “This is not an attempt to make war safe for women,” Williams notes.
No disagreement there, since all of us share the implied assertion that war is by definition not safe for anyone and should not exist at all. The point is necessary, though, because it serves as a reminder that the fight against gender violence in conflict is a deep struggle against militarism–its logic and its manifestations. The patriarchal systems that use rape as a weapon in war form a pillar of that logic. When we resist and reject sexual violence in conflict, we are rejecting the logic of domination.
This logic is so deep-seated that upholding the law is also insufficient as a goal of this conference. Shirin Ebadi recounts the ways in
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