Recent Resources for Feminists
Thursday June 1 2017
An open letter from Martina Navratilova to Margaret Court Arena
By Martina Navratilova
Dear Margaret Court Arena,
Sporting venues named for athletes, or any place, really, named for whoever, are so named for one reason. That reason is their whole body of work. In other words, it is not just for what this person did on the field, on the court, in politics, arts or science, for instance, but also for who they are as human beings.
When you were named after Margaret Court, it seemed like the right thing to do. After all, Rod Laver already had the big stadium and Court is one of the all-time greats. I had long ago forgiven Court for her headline-grabbing comments in 1990 when she said I was a bad role model because I was a lesbian.
What I did not know about until now were the unabashed racist statements she made in the '70s about apartheid in South Africa. Saying that South Africa dealt with the "situation" (meaning people of colour) much better than anywhere else in the world, particularly the US: what exactly did she mean by that?
Martina Navratilova says it's time for a name change to Margaret Court Arena. (AP)
Fast forward to today and Court's announcement of her boycott of Qantas because of its chief executive's support of same-sex marriage, which basically means support for the LGBT community in general. That was bad enough. Now she is doubling down with her ridiculous comments about older women luring young girls on the tour to parties to turn them into lesbians [Scroll down to read]. It's a good thing she didn't name anyone as I am pretty sure she would be sued for defamation.
It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe. Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too). She is demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere.
And now, linking LGBT to Nazis, communists, the devil? This is not OK. This is in fact sick and it is dangerous. Kids will suffer more because of this continuous bashing and stigmatising of our LGBT community.
How much blood will be on Margaret's hands because kids will continue to get beaten for being different? This is not OK. Too many will die by suicide because of this kind of intolerance, this kind of bashing and yes, this kind of bullying. This is not OK.
Court has said homosexuality was an ungodly "lust for the flesh" and that LGBT tendencies in young people were "all the devil". (AP)
We celebrate free speech, but that doesn't mean it is free of consequences - not punishment, but consequences.
We should not be celebrating this kind of behaviour, this kind of philosophy. The platform people like Margaret Court use needs to be made smaller, not bigger.
Which is why I think it's time to change your name. And I think the Evonne Goolagong Arena has a great ring to it. Now there is a person we can all celebrate. On every level.
Yours, Martina Navratilova
Wednesday May 31 2017
'The devil's after our kids': Margaret Court's second serve
By Greg Baum
Far from modifying her denouncement of gay marriage, tennis champion Margaret Court has broadened it, saying that it was causing huge problems in countries where it was legalised, that homosexuality was an ungodly "lust for the flesh" and that LGBT tendencies in young people were "all the devil".
"That's what Hitler did. That's what communism did," Court said, "get in the minds of the children. There's a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get in the minds of the children."
Radio rambling: Margaret Court says homosexuality is an ungodly "lust for the flesh" and that LGBT tendencies in young people are "all the devil". (Vince Caligiuri)
In the face of polls that show 65 per cent of Australians support gay marriage, Court said: "We know the statistics are very, very wrong. They're after our young ones, that's what they're after."
Court was speaking on Vision Christian Radio, elaborating on a previous letter to the West Australian and an appearance on The Project in which she said she would boycott Qantas from now on because of chief executive Alan Joyce's backing for gay marriage.
Court's issue has become Tennis Australia's problem. Calls for her name to be removed from the No.3 stadium at Melbourne Park after her first broadside had seemed excessive. But a series of players, when asked at the French Open, have criticised Court and Sam Stosur, Australia's No.1-ranked woman, has raised the possibility of a player boycott of Margaret Court Arena. Andy Murray, the world No.1-ranked man, said Tennis Australia would be wise to sort it out long before January's Australian Open.
Court, 74, is pastor at the Victory Life Centre in Perth. She said she was driven to speak out by an open, but little-publicised letter written by Queensland businessman Stuart Ballantyne, also condemning Qantas and Joyce for his gay marriage stance, linking it to Qantas' decline as a business on Joyce's watch, affecting "customer franchise and investor returns".
"This week, I have come off a Qantas flight from the US, and the plane is best described as old and shabby," Ballantyne wrote. "It needs to be clear that the personal crusade of the CEO has not impacted on the extraordinarily poor performance of the national carrier during his tenure."
Court's radio elaboration was rambling and syncopated. "It's very sad that they would use my tennis for something that is a now thing," she said, overlooking that it was her tennis that gained her a public platform in the first instance and that she was repeatedly acclaimed by the interviewer as "the greatest tennis player in history".
She said the gay lobby was a minority, yet somehow was bullying the majority. She said she had nothing against gay people, who could do as they pleased, except marry in the Christian tradition. But she also said homosexuality was a sin. "So is adultery. So is fornication," she said. "All those things are a lust for the flesh. We know it's not God. They know it, too."
In America, she said "92 per cent were abused sexually or emotionally when they were young even to be this way".
Tennis was full of lesbians, she said. In her day, there were only "a couple", but they were disproportionately influential. "They took the young ones to parties and things," she said.
Schoolchildren who struggled with their sexual identities must have been raised by parents who "don't care", surmised Court. She said she was a tomboy who liked to wear shorts and could kick a footy, prompting her mother to say: "You should have been a boy." But she never had any doubt.
"If you feel like being a girl, you can dress like a girl," mused Court. "What confusion to a child. I get confused talking about it. You can think, 'I'm a boy', and it affects your emotions and feelings and everything else. That's all the devil."
In her tennis-playing day, there was Renee Richards, a man who became a woman, "not a very good player".
Court said God's law on gay marriage was as clear and unambiguous as a policeman flagging down a car. "You pray there is enough people who will stand up and flag this nation down," she said. "And say, no, we are not going the way of some other nations, because they are having so many problems."
A caller hailed Court as "a prophetess, a judge", anointed by God, but "To link same-sex marriage champions to Nazism and the Holocaust is "profoundly offensive, betrays an utter lack of understanding of the historical truth and only fans the flames of hatred and demonisation", says Dr Dvir Abramovich, chairman of civil rights group the Anti-Defamation commission. "This absolute lack of compassion also insults the memory of the victims, which included gay people, as well as survivors and all those Diggers who fought against the Nazis," he said. "We urge Margaret Court to apologise for appalling and hurtful rhetoric."
London ~ Monday 29 May 2017
As Merkel knows, Trump’s rudeness and arrogance can unite Europe By Natalie Nougayrède
The US president’s tour was a stark reminder that he embodies everything the EU is meant to stand up against
Donald Trump shakes hands with Emmanuel Macron as other Nato member leaders pose before the start of their summit in Brussels on 25 May 2017. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)
Donald Trump’s visit to Europe has left the continent’s leaders both aghast and determined to make the best of a bad situation. There is, after all, nothing that brings people together better than having to confront a common problem. So goes the theory, at least.
Minute analysis of the man’s handshakes, pushing and shoving, and vocabulary (or lack of) brings to mind the excruciating efforts Europeans once put into deciphering the inner workings of the Politburo. Trumpology has become a European science, and it’s as much guesswork as Kremlinology was.
But it has a positive effect. Just like the Soviet threat forced Europeans to focus their minds on what they had in common and how they could protect it, Trump may be starting to help improve Europe’s ability to integrate. The continent’s interests lie in making sure the toxicity of Trump is somehow curtailed. That can only happen if it sets new ambitions for itself. Just weeks after Emmanuel Macron’s electoral victory in France brought a major moment of solace, Trump’s tour will have starkly reminded Europeans of the new world of uncertainties, and the need to pull together.
This is why, although not an entirely new message, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s words about Europe no longer being able to “ depend completely on others,” and now holding “its fate in its own hands”, rang as a logical conclusion to a dismaying three days of Trumpian diplomacy. Her statement no doubt served many purposes, ahead of Germany’s September elections. Casting yourself as the anti-Trump voice can only give your approval ratings a boost.
In truth, Trump’s mixture of vulgarity, arrogance, ignorance and rudeness makes Europeans secretly feel extremely good about their own sophistication and civilised manners. Contrasts can be soothing. Just as Europeans decided Brexit needed to be dealt with in unity (not to spite or punish the British, whose withdrawal is mostly a source of bafflement and sadness, but because the EU wants to limit damage), Trump is fast turning into a binding factor.
There were strong echoes of this when officials and analysts from Europe and the US met in Bratislava this weekend for a conference on transatlantic issues. One comment doing the rounds was that European leaders might want to wear “I survived 25 May 2017” T-shirts, in reference to Trump’s acrimonious comments about Nato budget contributions. Set against expectations that Nato’s article 5 (on collective security) would be expressly reiterated, Trump’s silence was a shock, but in Bratislava a common sentiment was, “well, what can one expect from him?” The notion that Europe might allow its fate to be entirely tied to a US president like Trump is fast dissipating.
What comes next, however, is much less clear. Europe hardly has a big stick to carry around, and its security will, for the foreseeable future, largely rest on US engagement on the continent. Merkel hinted at this in her choice of words: “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over.”
All the same, a few patterns may be emerging. First, there’s the notion that Brexit, however inward-looking it has made the British, will in fact bring more, not less, UK commitment to European strategic affairs. Some experts point to past experience: after Britain turned its back on joint western action in reaction to a mass chemical attack in Syria in 2013, its government scrambled to demonstrate that this wasn’t a case of isolationism nor a withdrawal from collective responsibilities. Indeed Britain went on to host the 2014 Nato summit, which led to deployments in eastern Europe to deter further Russian moves against its neighbours.
The logic goes like this: when Britain’s international reputation is severely damaged (which is the case with Brexit, whatever Theresa May’s posturing), it strives to show it remains at the centre of global affairs in facing common challenges – of which there are many facing Europe, such as Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdo an and Islamic State.
Second, the renewed Franco-German partnership has created a dynamic that others on the continent will have to adapt to. Officials in central Europe are paying attention to Merkel and Macron’s obvious closeness, and they will want to ensure they are not left behind in the debate on deeper European integration.
Central Europe is often seen as a single, homogeneous bloc of naysayers (especially after it erupted in opposition to Merkel over the refugee issue), but that perception is increasingly erroneous. For one thing, there is not much that unites Hungary’s Viktor Orbán with the Czech and Slovak governments, which are much more intent on demonstrating they are dedicated members of the European club. There is also talk of organising a Franco-German-Polish summit as a way of hopefully bringing Poland’s populist leadership back on an EU track.
After Trump’s tour, Britain will need to be increasingly mindful that he has become the living embodiment of everything Europe is meant to stand up against. Europeans have long known they need to get their act together, if only because their relative share of global wealth and power will continue to decline, especially with China’s rise – and as long as Russia remains aggressive.
The Obama years had already shown that Europe couldn’t afford to entirely outsource its interests to the US, especially when dealing with the turbulence from the Middle East. Trump has made that even more obvious.
There is no clear answer as to whether Europe can “make itself great again”, but Trump has made the question very vivid. “Our values are our strongest survival weapon against enemies,” the Slovak president Andrej Kiska rightly said as Trump was preparing to fly home. And after a tense meeting with Trump in Brussels, the European council president, Donald Tusk, warned: “The greatest task today is the consolidation of the free world around values, not just interests”.
More and more, it’s becoming clear that, for all Trump’s misgivings about the Old Continent, and for all his pro-Brexit and anti-EU rhetoric, reports of Europe’s death may have been greatly exaggerated. As Europe solidifies, Trump’s trip was indeed “a great success” (his tweet said) – only not in the way he reckoned.
Saturday May 27 2017
Manchester bombing was a hate crime against women and girls By Anne Summers
It's grim to have to say this but the facts seem inexorably to lead to the conclusion that the Manchester bombing was a hate crime against women. Especially against women and girls who want to assert their independence and their freedom, who will submit to no one and who want to shape their own lives.
Such women are antithetical to everything ISIS represents and are too subversive of its insane medieval views of women's roles to be tolerated by this terrorist organisation.
Ariana Grande, the 23-year-old American pop diva, epitomises this subversion, which seems to be why it was her concert and (mostly young female) fans that were targeted, rather than, say, another mass event such as the FA Cup final due to be played on Sunday.
The Manchester concert was part of Grande's Dangerous Woman world tour that is promoting her latest album, also called Dangerous Woman. It is an anthem of female empowerment, albeit one that celebrates sexual empowerment rather than economic or political freedom, and hence is highly provocative. Especially when you know its history.
Members of the public at a vigil for the victims of the terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. The victims were primarily girls and women. (Getty Images)
The album was originally going to be called Moonlight but, just before its release in February last year, Grande announced a name change. The new name, she revealed in a post to her 106 million followers on Instagram, came from the Egyptian feminist writer and physician Dr Nawal El Saadaw's 1975 novel, Woman at Point Zero:
"They said, 'You are a savage and dangerous woman.' I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous." – Nawal El-Saadawi
It was a bold move for Grande, formerly seen more as a bubble-gum sort of singer, to link herself to a book based on El Saadawi's imprisonment by the Sadat regime in Egypt for her political activities and to a woman who has spent her life fighting the oppression of Arab women. El Saadawi has opposed the veil, female genital mutilation and has been an outspoken opponent of Islamism.
"To me, a dangerous woman is someone who's not afraid to take a stand, be herself and to be honest," Grande told Billboard magazine in March 2016 about her decision to change the album's name.
Female solidarity: A woman lights candles after a vigil in Albert Square, Manchester. (AP)
Whether the Manchester attack was masterminded by ISIS or was the act of a "self-appointed witch-finder, to quote James Harkin of London's Centre for Investigative Journalism who is an expert on the Islamic State, the tragic outcome nevertheless stemmed from an ideology that is anti-West, especially its music, and against the freedoms enjoyed by women.
Islamic State noted, in its statement on Manchester, that it had taken place in a "shameless concert area".
"To them," Harkin wrote, "the empowered sexuality of a singer like Ariana Grande appears to have been a dangerous, godless combination."
Attacks on women and girls have been a hideous hallmark of radical Islamism, from the kidnapping of more than 2000 young women since 2014 in Nigeria by Boko Haram to the continual shooting of girls in schools by the Taliban in Pakistan.
These attacks are intended to stop girls acquiring the tools, such as education, that would enable them to have economic power and thus choices about their lives.
Instead, the model is one of female subservience and virtual imprisonment where women in the ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq are not permitted to leave their homes unless veiled and chaperoned. Or women deemed to be infidels are forced into sexual servitude to the returning fighters. As many as 3000 Yazidi women are reported to have been sexually enslaved by ISIS and women are bought and sold online and in an open bazaar in Raqqa, Syria, according to the United Nations.
At the same time, there is a large and apparently increasing number of women among the so-called Foreign Fighters who have travelled from Western countries, including Australia, to join ISIS. It has been reported that many of these women are trained to return to their home countries to instigate terrorist attacks.
But the targets of most attacks, regardless of the gender of the perpetrators, have to date appeared to have been chosen indiscriminately – unless we include the mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando Florida last June by a man who described himself as having pledged allegiance to ISIS.
If Manchester is indeed an example of specifically targeting women, this is a frightening development, designed to strike at the heart of the concept of women's equality that we like to think is central to our system of values.
The very existence of ISIS is a perversion of those values and the notion that it, or any of its disciples, would punish a young woman such as Ariana Grande and her fans for being "dangerous women", is totally intolerable. And should be called as such.
Thursday May 25 2017
Margaret Court's anti-gay rights stance deserves a boycott of its own
By Peter FitzSimons
The Margaret Court thing? Her comments that she refuses to fly Qantas anymore in protest at Qantas CEO's advocacy of same-sex marriage? Simply sad. She embarrasses herself. Her remarks are consistent with other homophobic comments she has made over the years - " To legitimize what God calls abominable sexual practices that include sodomy, reveals our ignorance as to the ills that come when society is forced to accept law that violates their very own God-given nature," – and no great surprise.
"I am disappointed that Qantas has become an active promoter for same sex marriage," Ms Court said in a letter to the editor published in The West Australian on Thursday. "I believe in marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible. Your statement leaves me no option but to use other airlines where possible for my extensive travelling."
Given Virgin Australia also is a promoter of Same Sex Marriage, that leaves her pretty grounded as far as I can see, which is to the good. (Still, can someone check if Greyhound Buses have a policy on this? I'll bet they are in the 21st century, too, so Ms Court might have to ban them, too?)
Meantime, though, what I'd love her to explain is how it is, if her God is so firmly against gays, why he made them in the first place? And if you're citing the bible, can you answer Dom Knight's question and explain why YOU, as a Pastor, get an exemption from 1 Timothy 2: "I do not permit a woman to teach?" Or is it OK to ignore bits that apply to you?
Margaret Court at the Australian Open arena named after her. (Vince Caligiuri)
And yes, yes, yes of course it is Ms Court's "right" to express those views. But it is equally our right to blow loud raspberries in her general direction. And one of the twitterati Phil Branagan, made an interesting point: "Using the same logic, Ms Court will surely understand if one was to boycott the stadium named in her honour due to her social intolerance . . ."
Tennis is an inclusive game, and ever more inclusive in the 21st century. Does Melbourne Park really want to have an arena named after someone who stands so firmly against such inclusiveness, who is becoming a byword for bigot?
Personally, I know of no finer person, no more generous and inclusive than Evonne Goolagong-Cawley. I run into her about once a year in airports around Australia and she is always on her way to do something to help someone. How bout the Evonne Goolagong Arena, as a name that tennis can be proud to put up in lights?
Friday May 26 2017
Casey Dellacqua responds on Twitter to Margaret Court's anti-gay marriage stance
Australian player Casey Dellacqua is fed up with Margaret Court's anti-gay marriage stance after her family was targeted for criticism by the tennis great.
"Margaret. Enough is enough," Dellacqua tweeted on Friday, posting a photo of a letter to the editor of The West Australian newspaper from 2013.
Calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed
Martina Navratilova has joined calls for Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne to be renamed after the Aussie tennis great said she would boycott Qantas due to the airline's stance on same-sex marriage.
In the letter, the 74-year-old Court laments the birth of Dellacqua's child in a same-sex relationship.
"It is with sadness that I see that this baby has seemingly been deprived of a father," Court, a Christian pastor, wrote.
Dellacqua is in France and has progressed to the doubles semi-finals of the WTA event in Strasbourg with compatriot Ashleigh Barty.She spoke out a day after Court announced she will stop using Qantas "where possible" in protest at the airline's promotion of same-sex marriage
"I am disappointed that Qantas has become an active promoter for same sex marriage," Ms Court said in a letter to the editor published in The West Australian on Thursday.
"I believe in marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible. Your statement leaves me no option but to use other airlines where possible for my extensive travelling.".
Returning serve: Casey Dellacqua. (Getty Images)
Meanwhile, nine-time Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova weighed into the debate on Twitter, with the retired star delivering a carefully-aimed jibe towards Court suggesting it is time to rename Melbourne's iconic Margaret Court Arena in the wake of the furore.
On Thursday, Tennis Australia released an official statement distancing themselves from Court's opinions, "As a legend of the sport, we respect Margaret Court's achievements in tennis and her unmatched playing record," it reads.
"Her personal views are her own, and do not align with Tennis Australia's values of equality, inclusion and diversity."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has commented on calls to change the name of Margaret Court Arena saying it should stay as it is.
"Whatever people may think about Margaret Court's views about gay marriage... she is one of the all time greats and the Margaret Court Arena celebrates Margaret Court the tennis player," he told 3AW on Friday.
"She's one of the greatest greats of tennis and that's why the arena is named after her."
Volume 389, No. 10083, p1967–1970, 20 May 2017
Famine in South SudanBy Sharmila Devi
Famine affects over 100 000 individuals in a country struggling through a violent civil war, where aid workers risk their lives to provide support, hindered by denial of access.
Asunta wiped the tears from her face with a blanket as she cradled her 4-year-old son Riak, who lay listless from malnutrition and suspected acute anaemia. The Al Sabah Children's Hospital, the only facility of its kind in the South Sudanese capital Juba, had run out of blood and Asunta could not afford to buy any. Mercy Kolok of UNICEF who had accompanied The Lancet to the hospital immediately got on her mobile to arrange for a blood donation. The life-saving transfusion was on its way but Riak died barely an hour later. This is a familiar scenario for South Sudanese and foreign health workers trying to help millions of people in a country where civil war broke out in late 2013.
The first famine in 6 years was officially declared by the UN in parts of South Sudan in February, affecting more than 100 000 South Sudanese, with a further 1 million on the brink of starvation. Food aid is acting as life support for many, but a shortage of basic drugs condemns others to death. Aid officials accuse both government and multiple opposition forces of using hunger as a weapon of war, since aid is routinely denied access to the thousands displaced. Added to this are ethnic atrocities and massacres, rape, and oppressive security measures.
South Sudan, together with Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria pose what the UN calls the biggest humanitarian crisis since 1945 as millions flee conflict and drought within their own countries or across borders ( panel).
- Famine in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and South Sudan
- Almost 20 million people are at risk of starvation because of war and drought10 million of whom are childrenacross Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and South Sudan. There is a short timeframe, estimated to last only until July, to prevent a catastrophe, aid officials say.
- More than US$5·6 billion is needed for the four countries, Stephen O'Brien, a senior UN humanitarian affairs official, told the General Assembly last month. But less than a quarter had been raised, he said.
- “The numbers are staggering”, he said. “Some 1·4 million children are severely malnourished. Over 21 million people lack sufficient access to health care, at a time when three out of the four countries are experiencing cholera outbreaks. And more than 20 million people lack clean water and sanitation.”
- The first official famine in 6 years was declared by the UN in parts of South Sudan in February. In the last famine in 2011, 260 000 people died of famine in the Horn of Africa, half of them children.
- “Peace is of course the key to ending these crises. But even in times of conflict, there is much we can do to fight hunger and avoid famine”, said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
- Aid workers say conflict is the common thread across these four countries and they face differing but extreme challenges in each while political settlements remain elusive.
- In Yemen, a Saudi Arabian-led and US-backed military intervention has been battling Houthi rebels for the past 2 years. About 19 million people out of around 27 million are now in need of some form of aid but the World Food Programme (WFP) says it can only afford to feed 3 million.
- “Men with guns and power inside Yemen as well as in regional and international capitals are undermining every effort to avert an entirely preventable famine”, said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, shortly after a visit to the country in early May.
- Somalia has been caught in civil war since 1991 and faces an Islamist insurgency. A recent increase in piracy off the coast is partially caused by famine, said the top US military commander overseeing troops in Africa. Some 1·4 million children in Somalia are projected to be acutely malnourished this year, an increase of 50% over last year, Unicef said.
- “The combination of drought, disease, and displacement are deadly for children, and we need to do far more, and faster, to save lives”, said Steven Lauwerier, UNICEF Somalia representative.
- In Nigeria, an insurgency by the jihadist group Boko Haram in the northeast has killed more than 20 000 people. Some 4·7 million people are facing severe food shortages but the UN said it could run out of money by June or July.
- “There are 47 000 people living there in famine-like conditions”, said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. “Another 5 million could experience famine in the next few months.”
- The overall threat is of historic proportions. “This is the first time that we are literally talking about famine in four different parts of the world at the same time”, Arif Husain, chief economist of the WFP, told Reuters earlier this year.
“The suffering in South Sudan is of almost Biblical proportions but it is man made”, a long-standing foreign observer in Juba, who did not want to be named, told The Lancet. “The UN and NGOs are doing what they can and they should. But there are also big questions that are impossible to answer about whether it's immoral to pay for salaries of health workers, teachers, and so on, when the government and militias are waging war and don't care about the people. It will likely get worse before it gets better.”
The surge of violence has fuelled Africa's biggest cross-border refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the UN says. In a few months, 5·5 million South Sudanesenearly half the countrywill be struggling to survive extreme hunger, it warns, in a country about the size of France. Opportunistic diseases such as cholera are on the rise.
Some 1·9 million people are internally displaced while 1·6 million have fled to neighbouring countries. A total of 830 000 South Sudanese refugees have fled to neighbouring Uganda and the UN expects this figure to reach more than a million by mid-year.
People waiting for the national flag to be raised at the official independence day ceremony, July 9, 2011 (Petterik Wiggers / Panos)
A resurgence of conflict to blame
After decades of war, mostly Christian South Sudan gained independence from the Muslim Government of Sudan in 2011, partly with the backing of influential US supporters and Christian groups during the administrations of presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama. There were high hopes for the country as investors and members of the diaspora flooded in. But tensions that existed within the liberation movement, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, returned to the fore. Rivalry between President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is from the Dinka tribe, and his then Vice President, Riek Machar, who is Nuer, descended into ethnic violence in late 2013.
Machar is now in South Africa, but a plethora of rebel groups, some of which have broken away from his faction, are now in conflict with Kiir's government forces across a country that is home to 64 tribes. Grievances range from disgruntlement against the Juba elite, held responsible for stealing millions of oil dollars, to local land and clan issues. Kiir himself said in 2012 that South Sudanese officials had “stolen” an estimated US$4 billion of public money. Critics meanwhile accused his government of doing little to clamp down on the widespread corruption.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has warned of a rise in hate speech and incitement to violence by some leaders. Last November, during a visit to the country, Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, reported the potential for genocide if violence escalates along ethnic lines. The UK secretary for international development, Priti Patel, said after a visit to South Sudan in April: “There are massacres taking place, people's throats are being slit…villages are burnt out, there's a scorched-earth policy. It is tribal, it is absolutely tribal so on that basis it is genocide.”
There has been an upsurge in violence, particularly in the last couple of months, documented by the UN and others, as the government tries to take tactical advantage ahead of the summer rainy season when the movement of heavy weaponry becomes impossible. UN officials say many atrocities including mass rape committed by government and rebel forces appear to be locally rather than centrally led.
A formal UN declaration of genocide has to meet stringent legal definitions under international law and would bring responsibility to intervene on the part of the international community. “As far as I can tell, it is genocide but it does need more investigation and evidence”, one UN insider told The Lancet. “I have emailed numerous reports to UN officials but some don't want to get involved because the issue could be career suicide [because of a reluctance to make unauthorised political statements]. We continue to monitor and try to do what we can to help people in an extremely dangerous environment.” A debate is now under way.
Threats to aid workers and civilians on the ground
Arrival at Juba's international airport is an immediate, sensory introduction to the country. The terminal consists of a tent above wooden planks mired in mud. Most of the planes on the tarmac are operated by the UN Humanitarian Air Service, International Committee of the Red Cross, and other agencies. A new terminal is under construction nearby but is months behind schedule, like so many of the other big plans made for the country after independence.
The Lancet observed two soldiers with their AK-47s bubble-wrapped for an internal flight to Renk in the oil-producing north of the country where fighting has displaced thousands. They were escorting a large, blue metal chest, which a local passenger whispered probably contained cash to pay troops. Three-digit inflation means even simple transactions in South Sudanese pounds entail wads of notes held in elastic bands. Photography and filming are strictly forbidden at airports and military installations. Taking out a camera in urban and other areas could also invite the attention of soldiers. Conversations with South Sudanese and international aid workers are often off the record amid real dangers. Smaller aid agencies in particular are afraid to be seen criticising the government for fear of being expelled from the country.
The government allows most reporting of the humanitarian crisis but delving into the political causes of it is difficult and dangerous. “We are seeing very tough limitations on freedom of expression that have worsened in the last year”, Jonathan Pedneault of Human Rights Watch told The Lancet. “Local journalists are bearing the brunt of this, but restrictions, such as expulsion or denial of visas, are placed on international journalists as well.”
Delivering humanitarian aid has become increasingly dangerous, with 82 aid workers killed since December, 2013, the UN said. South Sudan is “the most dangerous country in the world today for aid workers”, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, said in a statement on May 4.
During violence that erupted in Juba for 3 days last July, between 80 and 100 government soldiers killed approximately 300 people across the city. They attacked a hotel compound where aid workers were housed, where they raped at least five international aid workers after UN peacekeepers failed to respond to their telephone calls, according to a subsequent UN inquiry.
“You can't think about the dangers but just carry on with what you have to do”, said one female aid worker in Juba. “We take what precautions we can, like observe the 7 PM curfew, use only trusted drivers, and so on. And we remember that it's much, much worse for those South Sudanese women who are poor and have nothing.” In some parts of the country, NGOs estimate half of the South Sudanese women have been raped, but exact numbers are impossible to obtain given the taboo around the subject amid the political breakdown.
There are about 12 000 soldiers and 2000 police with the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), who will be joined by up to 4000 soldiers from east Africa later this year as part of a UN-authorised regional protection force with a stronger mandate to protect civilians.
UNMISS has come under much criticism for failing to protect people, but most observers say without them, the situation would be much worse. They have protected some 220 000 South Sudanese who have fled to UN bases across the country since 2013. These camps, known as Protection of Civilian sites, offer security but life is hard in the tents and shacks where the people live. There are two camps close to the UN headquarters in Juba where just under 40 000 people live and receive basic food and health services from agencies such as Concern Worldwide, the lead nutrition partner.
The Lancet sat with three members of the women's committee in one camp, each from a different tribe. They say they stay in the camp for fear of reprisal or revenge attacks by government forces. Since last July's violence, UNMISS has stepped up patrols to venture beyond the camp perimeter, particularly to protect women. 70% of women sheltering in UN camps in Juba had been raped since the conflict began, according to a UN humanitarian survey conducted in December.
Mary Syma Samuel, 28, of the Kakwa tribe, is from Lanya in the south and she arrived in the camp last year. She was almost raped when she was just outside the camp collecting firewood. “I was beaten up by the government soldiers but I managed to run away”, she said. “In the bush, soldiers search you and ask you where is your husband. If you say you don't know, they torture you.”
Mary Syma Samuel, Deborah Chan, and Ngaguong Gai, in the UNMISS Protection of Civilians site, Juba (Sharmila Devi)
Debora Chan, 38, of the Shilluk tribe, fled the city of Malakal in the north 2 years ago and took a tortuous journey partly by boat to Juba with her children. She has not communicated with her husband since and has no family in the capital. “I really want to go home, I want to feel free. We have security in the camp but services are very basic.”
Ngaguong Gai, of the Nuer tribe, fled from Malakal in 2013. Her husband was a militant and she does not know what has happened to him. “It's a big challenge raising kids here and I'm missing a lot of things that I need like cooking utensils, sugar, and milk. We have some security and food but that's it.”
David Shearer, head of UNMISS, told The Lancet that peacekeepers had stepped up the “robustness of their response” across the country. “For example, when they're denied access at checkpoints which are usually controlled by local forces, not central command, they now maintain pressure to get through.”
He referred to a small arms attack on the UN's base in Leer town on May 3, when Ghanaian peacekeepers returned fire and protected the displaced people sheltering next to the base. “This was the first time the base came under a direct attack and I was pleased to see the stepped up response”, said Shearer.
A desperate lack of resources
Meanwhile, a $1·6 billion UN appeal was launched mid-April. The South Sudanese response plan remains only 14% funded, the UN said. Shearer appealed for more. “The big issue is logistics and it's expensive. To get a truck from Juba to Bentiu in the north, a distance of 1000 km, can take two and a half weeks”, he said. “There are more than 80 checkpoints put up by armed groups and each has to be negotiated.” As we went to press, the UN urged donors to give a further $1·4 billion.
As for the prospects of peace, Shearer said unity in the UN Security Council was vital to push all parties towards dialogue. The 15 member council failed last December to get the required nine votes to adopt a US-drafted resolution to impose an arms embargo and further sanctions on Juba.
Shearer supported efforts by church groups, highly respected by the South Sudanese, to promote dialogue. The situation should not be viewed as hopeless or the South Sudanese as passive victims, said Vernon Burger, whose US church organisation, His Voice Global, has sponsored grassroots dialogue. “It's easy to look at the atrocities and see the vulnerable women and children and give up but we need to equip the South Sudanese to step back and talk”, he told The Lancet.
Abuk Deng, her son Parid, and daughter Amel, in the Al Sabah Hospital, Juba (Sharmila Devi)
Meanwhile, there remains a struggle to deliver aid. In relatively peaceful areas such as Aweil in the northwest, acute malnutrition is not hard to find. Dozens of women with children were seen waiting at the Maduanyi health clinic under the shade of a tree for health and nutrition services. Many had walked for hours through the countryside to get there. Only 40% of people are within reach of health facilities. WHO is starting a project called the Boma Health Initiative to train community health workers.
Anok Ding has four children. Five others have died. Her twin babies aged 8 months should weigh 7–8 kg but only weigh 3·8–4 kg. “My husband has no job and we don't even have a chicken or a goat”, she told The Lancet. She had spent 2 weeks at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Aweil town so her twins could receive regular nutrition. But pressure on space meant she had to be discharged to allow other even more acute admissions.
“With the onset of rains, we are expecting increased numbers of patients suffering from malnutrition and malaria”, Robert Pitia, emergency room supervisor at the MSF hospital, told The Lancet. The hospital takes referrals from the regional state hospital next door where Deng Gol, acting director, was in despair. “We can only do diagnosis and patients have to go outside to buy drugs. If they can't afford them, they die”, he told The Lancet. “For example, we have most instruments needed for general surgery but no oxygen.”
Teresina Athou Lueth, regional state health minister in Aweil, told The Lancet that her immediate priorities were combating malaria and pneumonia before the onset of rain. “I need everything. Women are dying. Kids are dying”, she told The Lancet. “With the rains, people will be cut off because the mud will make transport impossible.”
South Sudanese Government does not prioritise health
Government spending on health accounted for only 1% of the 2016–17 national budget, down from 4% the year before, Abdulmumini Usman, WHO representative to South Sudan, told The Lancet. Meanwhile, the security sector was allocated 60% of the budget, according to local press reports.
“After independence, the country had managed to achieve a lot, for example, in maternal and child mortality but conflict has meant a big rolling back. We are hoping the government will restore health spending to 4% in the next budget and then gradually increase it to 15%. Budget talks start next month [June] so we will see”, said Usman.
“We are also working to coordinate the emergency response in view of the famine. There are 57 partners in the health cluster [that includes UN and other agencies] and we need to decide who goes where and does what and monitor it all. The people need us.”
Back at the Al Sabah Hospital in Juba, Lilliane Kej cradled her 10-month-old baby girl. Aged 22 years, she has nine children. Her baby was dehydrated and a nurse had to scold her for not properly feeding her baby.
On another bed, Abuk Deng sat with her son Paride, aged 2 years, and her daughter Amel, aged 5 years. Both of the children are malnourished. Her son was also suffering from convulsions and her daughter from stomach and leg pains and diarrhoea.
Meanwhile, 2-year-old Daniel sat on a bed under a net covered with angry wounds that looked like burns. He was suffering from kwashiorkor, a condition caused by malnutrition and signalled by too much fluid in the body's tissues causing the skin to swell and split. He died less than a week later.
Two of Anok Ding's children, waiting at the Maduany health clinic, Aweil (Sharmila Devi)
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