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March 4, 2016

Responding To: Human Security in the Face of Violent Extremism

Women in War Zones: Their Plight, Our Collective Political Responsibility

Patrice Ndayisenga

In 2008, the then UN deputy chief commander in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Major General Patrick Cammaert, said that “it is more dangerous right now to be a woman in Eastern Congo than it is to be a soldier.” Going by this declaration, we realize that women carry the bitter share of the atrocities that come along in war torn areas.  Abduction, abuse, sex slavery, and killings are unfortunately a normal lot that women suffer in times of insecurity and social uprising across the globe.

For illustration, we can recall the narratives from female journalists who were themselves sexually harassed during the Arab spring in Egypt and the many examples of Central African women who have been victims of sexual abuse by UN peace keepers, without forgetting the Nigerian women who are also constantly targeted by the Boko Haram militias.

The issue of sexual violence in war times is a very complex phenomenon and a regrettable experience that calls for multi-faceted responses from policy developers at both governmental and international community levels. The abusive treatments which women suffer are sometimes orchestrated by government soldiers, on one hand, and the rebels on the other hand, and other times also by the special forces mandated by the United Nations to keep security, safety, and order in troubled regions of the world. The most frustrating realization is the impunity with which the perpetrators of these atrocities go away without any form of justice for the victims.

Her Excellency Zainab Hawa Bangura does acknowledge these shortcomings and alludes to certain developments with regards to judicial processes that are taking shape to counteract this old evil of rape and sexual violence in war times. However, despite the remarkable steps the UN has taken to address the issue, certain additional considerations are worth pondering in this discussion.

First of all, rape and other forms of sexual violence are primarily conducted by armed individuals who abuse their apparent military status to oppress and dehumanize women. This is a clear sign that sexual violence and control of small arms’ proliferation is one area which should be studied clearly to put an end to this phenomenon.

Second, there is a need to conscientise women themselves on their rights and the way through which they can claim justice when they fall victim to sex abuses. This should be studied through the umbrella of women's empowerment. Many cases which go unreported are either due to women’s lack of knowledge about their rights or due to the shortage of proper legal frameworks through which women can seek assistance and protection.

Third, the UN peacekeeping mission should also be subjected to trial whenever their troops are mentioned in human rights violations such as rape and sexual violence. Rape incidences in which the peacekeepers who are accused are repatriated to be tried in their native countries normally do not adequately render justice to the victims; this leaves a huge gap of information between the place where the offense has been recorded and the place of trial, as the victims hardly get feedback on whether justice has taken its course. Arguably, UN peacekeepers should be either tried in the places where the offense has been committed or subject to the international criminal court.

In sum, the plight of women in war zones is a long overdue case that needs to be addressed substantially. The future of global security cannot be studied in isolation of the plight of women. For ignoring the atrocities and injustices that women suffer is failing the rest of humanity, and it is running short of our human responsibility towards one another. Indeed, there cannot be peace without women’s security, and there cannot be a functional society without women’s dignity and protection of their rights.

Patrice Ndayisenga is a Jesuit scholastic from Rwanda currently pursuing theology studies at Hekima College, a Jesuit school of theology based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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