Reports from the Front Lines
The difficulties of protecting women and girls and preventing gender-based violence in conflict-affected areas were revealed in five case studies presented at the Bucharest workshop on implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
The case studies provided the texture of how complicated the implementation of Resolution 1325 can be, said one participant. They accentuate the difference between the language of institutional mechanisms and the messiness on the ground.
They gave us some flavour from the field. This work is not only theory, but practice, said another.
They illustrated the challenges of making policy real.
The case studies from five war-torn countries all underscored the strong links between armed conflict and many forms of violence against women and girls. They revealed that while patterns of gender-based violence vary from place to place, women and girls are at heightened risk.
Conflict and displacement traumatize whole populations, presenters said. Women are at great risk from all warring factions. The risks continue after the fighting stops. There was rape before the war, during the war, and, now there is still rape, said Mariama Diarra, the UNFPA Assistant Representative in Sierra Leone.
A large international presence has increased the demand for commercial sex in many places. In each of the post-war situations considered, trafficking increased dramatically. In each case study, domestic violence was found to be pervasive and widely accepted.
Impunity for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence is the norm. Feelings of blame, shame and dishonour complicate prosecution, and reporting of sexual and gender-based violence often leads to a re-victimization of those who have been injured.
In all five countries, community-based women's groups and NGOs have taken the lead in calling attention to women's issues and filling gaps in support and services for women.
The full case studies, along with the meeting report, will be posted on this website by the end of the year. The following summaries highlight some of the realities and challenges on the ground:
|A 13-year-old girl who was forcibly impregnated in Sierra Leone holds her baby in what is left of her arms. The baby has since died, and the girl was trafficked to the United States. Photo courtesy of Mariama Diarra.
Even before the civil war in Sierra Leone, both men and women accepted domestic violence as part of married life. Some see that legacy of violence as a contributing factor to the brutality of Sierra Leone's civil war, which was marked by widespread amputation, rape and torture. Much of the violence during the war was perpetuated by child soldiers, and children continue to be at risk of violence. Reintegrating young girls affected by the conflict is a continuing issue.
The destruction of Sierra Leone's health infrastructure and the mass exodus of health workers resulted in lack of basic health care. Maternal mortality is the highest in the world, and an HIV crisis looms, fueled by poverty, social dislocation, and the increase in commercial sexual activity.
Since the war, 85 per cent of gender-based violence is perpetrated by family members or acquaintances. Domestic violence is not a crime, although a law against it is being drafted. A medical examination report is required to process allegations of rape, but the associated fees are equal to a month's salary. Why should I go to the police, if the judicial system doesn't do anything, women ask.
Two thirds of people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory live in poverty, and a third are unemployed. The political situation is an obstacle to addressing gender-based violence, which is considered a private family matter, said Sanaa Asi from the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.
The Palestinians endure hardship and humiliation from the checkpoints, separation wall and military closures. These tensions have led to an increase in domestic violence -- 81 per cent of women reported that their husbands had attacked them with a dangerous implement. The restrictions in mobility have led to more than 70 deliveries at checkpoints in the last five years -- and 33 stillborn babies. Lack of mobility has also strained the strong family ties that bind Palestinians.
In addition to the effects of the military occupation, the patriarchal, conservative culture as an obstacle to preventing violence against women. The hardships of the conflict have also limited the public space in which women can challenge patriarchy and gender stereotypes.
Timor-Leste, the poorest country in Asia, is still struggling to recover from the destruction of 75 per cent of its physical infrastructure and institutions. With the highest fertility in the world (7.6 children per woman), the population could double in 15 years. During the war, Timorese women were subjected to systematic rape, torture and forced sterilization. After the war, domestic violence is seen not as a crime, but an internal family issue, and there is a backlash against women's organizations that are trying to end it. Some police and members of the church say women's NGOs are destroying families and fostering divorce by providing support to victims of domestic violence, said Karen O'Sullivan, a UNFPA project manager from Timor-Leste.
Institutional and legal structures imposed during the period when the UN was running the government are often at odds with local attitudes and customs. The formal justice system is barely operating, while the traditional justice system provides unsatisfactory outcomes for women. The UN-established Special Panel for Serious Crimes convicted just two men for rape.
In Kosovo, the war and peacekeeping operation are over, but violence against women continues. Commercial sexual activity is run by organized crime. In 2001, 80 per cent of clients of sexual services were foreigners. This number has decreased, but is still high compared to the number of foreigners living there.
With its central location and network of roads, Kosovo has become a hub for the transit, export and exploitation of girls. Domestic violence has increased, with few support services for survivors. Gender-based violence is not treated seriously by the criminal justice system. Since the acute emergency, the number of international and national NGOs has decreased tenfold. When international NGOs and donors left Kosovo, local women's groups continued to provide support and care, but with inadequate resources.
For a decade prior to the war, Albanian Kosovar women were excluded from educational, cultural and political life. During the war, some 20,000 women were systematically raped by uniformed forces, and so far none of the perpetrators have been prosecuted nationally. One teacher who was raped wanted to continue her career, but she was told she was unclean and should no be working with students, said Lumnije Decai, Director of the Women's Wellness Cenre, Kosovo.
Violence against women in Aceh Province of Indonesia was exacerbated by almost 30 years of armed conflict, the imposition and misinterpretation of Sharia law, and the social dislocations caused by the 2004 tsunami. Women are often blamed for behaving or dressing in ways that incite sexual violence, and the legal system is insensitive to survivors of gender-based violence. Since the tsunami, maternal mortality and trafficking has increased.