If, like me, you’re sometimes a bit too reliant on the mainstream media to spoon-feed you world news – then this month’s World Refugee Day may have passed you by without so much as a “How d’you do?” (It was on June 20th, BTW, so we’ll know for next year!)
I was thankful, then, to receive an email from One World Action about their Women Seeking Refuge campaign. With this campaign the charity is aiming to bring attention to the plight of women and children who experience violence and abuse in the refugee camps of northwestern Tanzania;
Over the past five decades, the Great Lakes region, which includes Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republis of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, have been swept by brutal conflicts which have caused the deaths of millions and forced many more to leave their countries in order to survive. For more than thirty years, Tanzania has been hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the most brutal atrocities.
Over 90,000 refugees remain in two camps in northwestern Tanzania. Despite fleeing the violence of their homelands, many refugee women have been met by a similar threats in the refugee camps, including rape, forced marriage, domestic violence and psychological abuse. The camps themselves have come under the close scruitany of the international community due to frequent abuses of refugees’ rights and many refugees face forced repatriation back to the homeland from which they fled.
One World Actionworks with the Women’s Legal Aid Centre to help refugees claim their rights and access justice.
To learn a little more about the campaign, take a look at One World Action’s video, below. You can also share the campaign with friends via the One World Action webpage.
Although BBC Three does churn out some rather under-nourishing (and yet, admittedly, rather damn tasty) junk food for the mind, it does occasionally come up with some really remarkable programmes. Two recent documentaries have really stood out, revealing the lives of women around the world in both an illuminating and accessible way.
The World’s Most Dangerous Place For Women followed Judith Wanga, a young London based woman who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as she made her journey back to DRC to visit the parents she hadn’t seen for 20 years. Whilst in Congo, Jude was determined to learn about the plight of women living in a country devastated by war where rape is used as a weapon. Judith ended her eye-opening journey at the V-Day meeting at the Royal Albert Hall, sharing her stories with the hopes for a brighter future and a world more enlightened about the situation in Congo.
Women, Weddings, War and Me ran along similar lines to Judith’s story, following 21 year old Nel who had been brought from Afghanistan by her parents when she was 6 to live in London. Aiming to address a cultural personality crisis, Nel returned to Afghanistan and, in doing so, uncovered the plight of women in the war-torn nation.
The personal aspect of these documentaries meant that they were easy to absorb, and yet the harsher areas that were covered were never sugar coated. These were ordinary women, most likely learning about the full extent of the situations they were discovering along with the majority of viewers at home. These docs were great entry points into learning more about the lives of women around the world, and I’d love to see more like them.
Watch The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women here and Women, Weddings, War and Me here.
Following on from my post last week about the V-Day meeting calling for an end to sexual violence in the Congo, I just wanted to share this video. In it Eve Ensler performs her piece, inspired by the women of the Congo, entitled ‘Teenage Girls Guide To Surviving Sex Slavery’. It will most definitely be triggering.
I absolutely loved the Vagina Monologues, and thought Until The Violence Stops was one of the most affecting films I’ve ever seen, so I am already an admirer of Ensler’s work. What I love about the way she writes is that you can hear all the fragments of other women’s voices in her pieces, all coming together to loudly speak one truth. You can bet this was the case in the above performance.
Other videos about the situation in Democratic Republic of Congo;
One hundred years on, violence and exploitation of a different but equivalent devastation grips the people of DRC. Although the war (which began in 1998, and is also known as Africa’s World War) was declared formally over in July 2003, women and girls remain targets for unimaginable violence. Rape is used as a weapon of war to torture and humiliate, leaving survivors with physical wounds, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and the fear of being ostracised by their communities. Between 300,000 and 400,000 women have been raped in the last 12 years (source: V-Day educational film) and it is estimated that 40 women are raped every day in South Kivu, eastern DRC (V-Day and Unicef educational leaflet)
A transcript, and more information about the video, can be found here.
In attendance at the Royal Albert Hall was Lynne Franks (Chair of V-Day UK), MP Eric Joyce, representatives from the Anglican Church and the wonderful Sandi Toksvig, who acted as a compere of sorts, introducing all the speakers. A young woman called Judith, who described herself as a ‘typical North London girl’, took to the stage to tell her story of how she left DRC with her parents at the age of 3. Judith was being filmed for an upcoming BBC programme and, like so many young Britons, had been ignorant of the situation in the Congo. Her recent journey of discovery opened her eyes; “I’d abandoned my mother-land.” Speaking of how DRC is suffering due to the western worlds ever-increasing demand for its minerals, Judith said “I felt complicit…as the minerals in this war are used in the mobile phones, computers and gadgets I use.”
Congolese anti-rape activist Christine Schuler-DeSchryver spoke with us of her experiences. She had just come from Bukavu to speak with us, where she had visited an 82 year old woman recovering from rape in hospital. Speaking out about the atrocities is a very brave action in the Congo, and elsewhere; “Sometimes I am even afraid of my own shadow” she said. After so many years of travelling and talking about the situation, she told us;”I don’t believe in politicians anymore. The only solution is a women’s revolution and the revolution starts here”
Schuler-DeSchryver is the director of the V-Day created City of Joy, “Our revolution centre”, which will be opening around May 2010. The V-Day action pack gives more information on the centre;
The City of Joy will be located in Bukavu, down the road from Panzi hospital, where it will support and train women to become community activists. They will have access to services including education and income generating activities, as well as a ditinct focus on leadership training. They will also receive programming in: group therapy, storytelling, dance, theatre, self defence, comprehensive sexuality education (covering HIV/AIDS, family planning), ecology and horticulture and economic empowrment. The City of Joy will provide women a place to heal emotionally as they rebuild their lives, turn their pain to power, and return back into their communities to lead.
“I will never forget something Jane Fonda said to me in New Orleans;” Schuler-DeSchryver said “‘Can you imagine if you woke up one day and saw on the news that a grandmother in New York had been raped? The whole world would stand up and fight’ But just because they are black and poor, nobody cares”
Introduced as ‘a power-house’ by Sandi Toksvig, Eve Ensler took to the stage. She began; “I am always on the tip of my emotions when I talk about the Congo.” Having been a campaigner for women’s rights for many years, Ensler felt like she had seen all the atrocities it was possible to see, and knew all it was possible to know. However, when she heard the stories of the women of the Congo; “I was forever shattered,” she said “But I don’t want to ever be the same.”
“These are the stories of people just like you and me” Ensler stressed. She then went on to tell us of an eight year old girl name Alisa who she and Schuler-DeSchryver had befriended in DRC. Alisa had endured two weeks of rape at the hands of militia, who had been keeping her captive. When Ensler and Schuler-DeSchryver met her, Alisa had fistula; holes inside herself from wounds caused by the guns and bayonets used on her. Because of there wounds Alisa no longer had control of her urine.
When they met, Ensler had tried to hug Alisa, but she shied away. It was then that Ensler realised Alisa had not been hugged since her ordeal because people were afraid of being urinated on. Determined to show her some affection, Ensler sat her down on her lap and hugged her…and was promptly ‘pee-d’ on. “It was an act of grace, it was a baptism” Ensler said of that moment.
“I don’t think it’s accidental that we’ve been relegated to the basement,” Ensler said sadly of our meeting place that morning, “It’s an indication of the problem that we haven’t filled the hall with thousands. We’re told to sit down here and be peaceful whilst one of the greatest atrocities of the world goes on as we speak”
“The way that the Congo will change is through a womans revolution,” Ensler went on. She spoke of the strong, resilient women of the Congo and said she was sure that “with a little support they can take back agency.”
As we left the space having heard from all the speakers Ensler urged us; “It’s up to all of us to stop being so polite. We need outrage, otherwise we will not penetrate this apathy.”
More things to go on and do;
Donate online to V-day; “We welcome any support or donations you are able to give us towards our campaign to prevent rape as a weapon of war in the DRC. Your donation will go towards the City of Joy: a safe house to help women and girls heal from rape, rebuild their lives and re-integrate into their communities.”