CW: sexual harassment, assault, rape, graphic violence, war.
By Senator Lee Rhiannon
As women and LGBTQI+ in Western countries speak out about sexual abuse and take the courageous step to name the men who have harassed, assaulted and raped them we need to take a stand against the use of rape in war and the abuse women continue to suffer in military actions.
On Anzac Day 1983 women did speak out about against such largely unrecognised crimes. We gathered in a park near Circular Quay behind a banner with the words that need to resonate today as they did then "In memory of all women in all countries raped in all wars”. There was about 300 of us, all dressed in black. Many were arrested.
If top Hollywood actors and directors can be named for crimes against women isn’t it time we revisited what was initiated in 1983 – speaking out about the armed forces using sexual assault against women as a weapon.
So often it is the women of low income countries, women who are disadvantaged and discriminated against and whose voice we rarely hear who are raped and suffer extreme sexual abuse in war.
It is a deliberate strategy employed by the state to instil deep and widespread fear and trauma.
The most recent example, and it is ongoing, is the tragic case of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
I quote from the official UN Report of the Human Rights High Commissioner in September 2017. The Report found evidence of a strategy to “Instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological, in the Rohingya victims via acts of brutality, namely killings, disappearances, torture, and rape and other forms of sexual violence.”
The Report also states: “Witness statements indicated that some previously abducted girls returned with vaginal bleeding, which continued for days.” Some girls were as young as five and some were pregnant. One statement in the Report "referred to a woman whose stomach was slit open after she was raped. Witnesses stated that her unborn baby was killed by the alleged perpetrator with a knife and her nipples were cut off."
These crimes are not an exception. Similar cases of brutal rape and sexual torture have been documented in many other conflicts around the world. Rape is designed not only to inflict enormous physical damage but equally to destroy the dignity and social standing of the woman, her family and often the wider community.
In many countries an unmarried woman shamed by rape, is unlikely to be able to marry. She may be seen as unclean and therefore available to any other male.
The women of Bosnia suffered horrendous crimes. The role of the state in fostering rape as a weapon of war was very apparent: “During the Bosnian War, and the Bosnian genocide, the violence assumed a gender-targeted form through the use of rape. The geographical, cultural, religious and political tensions that accompanied the rise of nationalism in the former Yugoslav created a breeding ground for gender inequalities, and more specifically a political climate that encouraged rape as a strategic wartime device. It is believed that the Bosnian War resulted in an estimate of 25,000 to 50,000 incidences of rape and or sexual violence between the years 1991 and 1995.”
The women of Kashmir have suffered sexual abuse perpetrated by the Indian Army. Amnesty International has called on the authorities in Kashmir to investigate alleged mass rapes of over 30 women in North Kashmir, in 1991, in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora. The women raped were aged between 13 and 70. Human Rights Watch has reported that between 50 and 100 women were raped by Indian Army forces on the night of 23 February 1991. At the time, Kashmir police stated that the case was untraceable and stopped the investigation in October 1991.
For many, rape is worse than death, and its legacy lasts indefinitely. Generally rape in war goes unreported at least at the time or until women break their silence and speak out.
In Australia what can we do? Isn’t it time that ANZAC ceremonies also commemorate the suffering of women raped and abused in war? Why not?
When the public is forced to acknowledge examples of mass rape in war we are horrified. We condemn the horror of “the other” without recognizing that ALL sides of war including “our boys” are guilty.
We say “never again”. But it happens again and again. Why?
Feminists have documented how the "naturalized, patriarchal concepts of gender" provide the foundations that foster wars and the conditions that effectively encourage rape or the threat of it.
Rape in war will not cease until patriarchy does not rule over women or over our society.