Sexually Exploited Women In Conflict Print E-mail

Thursday, 24 March 2005


Sexually Exploited Women In Conflict

By Kamala Sarup

"Women have to suffer torture if they are not ready for physical contact with commanders or guerillas".

"Thousands of women were forced to join the insurgency and exploited sexually".

"I was beaten, raped, forced to go with them. Three men raped me".

"Women's bodies have become a battleground over which opposing forces struggle".

"Presently my husband is no more and I was sexually exploited".

"I am homeless, where can I get help to take care of my unborn child"?

Was the use of sexual violence based on ethnicity and gender paradigms? How the use of sexual violence during the war has challenged or reaffirmed gender paradigms in the aftermath?.

Do we have the answers to these questions? The consequences of the above and other unmentioned and unrecorded cases are many.

Sexual Violence in Nepal's Conflict, presents evidence of the horrific scenario during the war. Throughout the armed conflict in Nepal, thousands of women and girls of all ages were subjected to widespread and systematic sexual violence. Nepal's eight years long conflict has been marked by an extraordinary level of brutal human rights abuses, including sexual violence against women. Baburam Bhattarai has also stated that 50 per cent cadres at the lower level, 30 per cent soldiers and 10 per cent members of the central committee of the party are women.

Even news report in a Nepali daily said women had to carry guns and satisfy sexual appetites of the insurgents. According to a study conducted by the National Women's Commission, women Maoist cadres were sexually harassed and exploited by their male comrades. To date there has been no accountability for the thousands of crimes of sexual violence or other appalling human rights abuses committed during the Maoists war in Nepal. Killing of male members of the family by both parties (the Maoist and the police) is another way of women being victimized.

"Recent history has seen sexual violence and rape being used deliberately and strategically as weapons of war. If you see in Rwanda, Somalia Peru and Congo, HIV/AIDS has been called a weapon of war. Women who are already pregnant are forced to miscarry through violent attacks. Women are kidnapped and used as sexual slaves to service them and they are purposefully infected with HIV/AIDS. Even the areas of the country where civil rights were suspended and where the security forces found they could act with impunity, and took advantage of the situation to rape. The gender perspective argues that men and women have diverse experiences in conflict and peacetime, due to the heterosexual hierarchical hegemony.

We can not forget how countless acts of violence afflicting women and children in Nepal still persist, ranging from marital rape to pre-natal sex selection in favour of male babies, female infanticide, sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation, including trafficking and forced prostitution. I appeal, therefore, to Nepalese government, civil society organizations to promote respect for internationally recognized principles, norms and standards of women's rights". Dr. Neeru Sharma said while speaking with the People's Review in Washington DC.

Forceful recruitment of young women in the rebel force by the Maoist is another serious issue in Nepal. Many young women are displaced from their home and forced to stay out because of this threat to them at the villages. Killing of male members of the family by both parties (the Maoist and the police) is another way of women being victimized. The alleged sexual abuse of women by the Maoist in the camps and sexual violence against women by the police in the affected areas are new problems. There has been no accountability for the thousands of crimes of sexual violence, and a climate of impunity persists. During times of armed conflict, additional forms of violence are perpetrated against women by both enemy and "friendly" forces, including: Mass rape, military sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced "marriages" and forced pregnancies. Multiple rapes, sexual assault, resurgence of female genital mutilation are other problems.

She further said "Supporting the victims of sexual violence is very important. The Government should strengthen the capacity of its police force and judicial system adequately to address cases of sexual violence including rape and should work with the organizations and experts to establish gender-based violence reporting procedures that are effective, sensitive, and that protect victims. The program for Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration must emphasize the protection of women's rights as an integral part. We should know that in the context of war, rape and other forms of sexual violence are considered war crimes. Women always express fear that the war would not end and that they would experience future attacks and abuse.

The Government of Nepal should ensure that efforts are made to coordinate the various actors providing treatment to those who have suffered sexual violence. The Government and other INGOs and NGOs should support effective and culturally appropriate psychosocial programs for those who suffered sexual violence and should ensure that women are included in all aspects of planning for peace, demobilization, reintegration and rebuilding and support local organizations working to promote women's full participation and rights.

In a pluralist society such as Nepal, ensuring equal representation and participation of all communities and guaranteeing the rights of women and of minorities are among the most important tests of a democracy. The lack of women in politics impacts on the style and content of policies, which can lead to situations of conflict. Policies and programmes need to be sensitive to the quality of life and security of women within the camps or areas where displaced persons are concentrated. For women who survive conflict, widowhood and the loss of family support, for these women, peace brings no peace. Stopping the violence, therefore, is urgent and vital.

Gabriela Mischkowski, historian and co-founder of Medica Mondiale, Germany - a women's organization - initiated medical and psychological care and support for women subjected to rape in the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina said" Survivors of sexual violence have little access to counseling and issues relating to their sexual and reproductive health and rights are neglected. We found very little attention paid to issues relating to pregnancy, abortions and sexually transmitted infections as a consequence of sexual violence, and were appalled at the lack of safe spaces for women to recover and defend themselves."

In the absence of an international criminal court, major criminals like Pol Pot and Pinochet enjoyed impunity. Apart from the Physical consequences which range from contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and the damage of reproductive organ there are also the psychosocial consequences which if not addressed could prove even more damaging. Women experience many types of violence during their lives. These include: Pre-birth: Sex-selective abortion, Physical, sexual and psychological abuse, prostitution and pornography. Incest; sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment; forced prostitution and pornography; trafficking in women; partner violence; marital rape; partner homicide; forced pregnancy among others.

"In conflict and peace, in October 2000, the UN Security Council held a special session devoted to the issue of Women, Peace and Security. It was the first time that the Security Council had discussed the issue of peace and security from a women's perspective. At this session, Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was unanimously passed. In situations of humanitarian emergencies caused by conflict, environmental disaster, or by political or economic factors, attention to women's human security, including their physical well-being and protection of their human rights, is often neglected.

In many countries, women have already taken the initiative to reach across the conflict divide and foster peace. In Mali and Liberia, women joined together to collect arms. In Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant women have organized community peace-building projects together. War has displaced 35 million people worldwide; 70 percent of these refugees and displaced persons are women according to the United Nations.


Kamala Sarup is editor of