New charges that Muammer Gaddafi has ordered mass rapes of women in Libya are just the latest in an ongoing and unprecedented global assault on women, one that shows no signs of abating.
The charges against Gaddafi came from Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Since March 2011, the ICC has been investigating Gaddafi, some of his sons and members of his inner circle for possible crimes against humanity.
According to Moreno-Ocampo, Gaddafi ordered mass rapes and “bought containers of sex drugs for troops to attack women.” While reports of these abuses have been circulating for awhile, Moreno-Ocampo also added, “Now we are getting some information that Gaddafi himself decided to rape.”
Whether these allegations prove true or not is yet to be determined. However, what has been conclusively resolved is the ongoing and growing use of rape as a weapon of war against women. No where has this unpleasant fact been more brutally evident than in The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Since 1998 an ongoing civil war in Congo has killed more than 3 million people and led to staggering levels of sexual violence. It has been estimated more than 400,000 women are raped annually in the country at a horrific rate of approximately 1100 a day or 48 women every hour. It has made Congo, according to the UN, the “rape capital of the world.”
Disturbingly, Congolese women are often recruited as soldiers and then used as sex slaves. Moreover, as one UN worker pointed out: “Militia groups and soldiers target all ages, including girls as young as three and elderly women. They are gang-raped, raped with bayonets and have guns shot into their vaginas.”
It has also been found that in some Congolese villages every single woman has reported some kind of sexual abuse, usually inflicted by armed men from either the Congolese National Army or the myriad of local militias and rebel groups. According to one humanitarian aid worker, “I’ve worked in Angola and Darfur and the situation there was horrific, but in Congo the scale and brutality is at a whole different level.”
Unfortunately, the use of rape as a weapon transcends the DRC. In places such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Burma, mass rapes have been recently used as a deliberate and strategic tactic of war.
Of course, the widespread act of rape by armed forces isn’t a new phenomenon. Soviet Red Army forces were accused of raping hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and German women in World War II. In 1971 Pakistani soldiers were said to have raped 200,000 Bengali women during the Bangladesh secession. In the 1990s, more than 500,000 women were reportedly raped in the Rwandan genocide as were some 40,000 women during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Yet, rape is just one of the many manifestations of the global pandemic of sexual violence, one which the UN calls a “global scourge.” It’s a pandemic that also includes sexual slavery, forced prostitution, genital mutilation, forced pregnancy and sterilization.
This fact was disturbingly evident in the recent release of a global survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation which ranked countries by the severity and pervasiveness of dangers posed to women. The survey focused on such areas as rape, domestic abuse, female feticide, genital mutilation, and human trafficking.
Afghanistan won the dubious distinction as the number one most dangerous place for women, followed respectively by Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia. Afghanistan’s top place was earned by its staggering violence and poverty, as well as its cultural practices. As one survey participant said, women who do attempt “to speak out or take on public roles that challenge ingrained gender stereotypes … are often intimidated or killed.”
India made the list primarily because of its stunningly high levels of female feticide, infanticide and human trafficking. In 2009 alone it was estimated that 100 million people, mostly women and girls, were involved in human trafficking that included sex slavery, forced labor and forced marriage.
Pakistan’s inclusion on the notorious list came largely on the basis of its cultural and religious practices on women, which included acid attacks, forced marriage, and punishment by stoning. It has been reported that nine out of ten women in Pakistan experience some form of domestic violence. This includes over 1,000 women and girls who die each year as victims of honor killings.
While all these countries had compelling arguments for being ranked so high, Somalia’s Women’s Minister, Maryan Qasim, was “surprised” that Somalia did not earn top honors. As she explained, Somalia is “a woman’s hell on earth” given – among other things – its lack of healthcare to treat pregnant women, daily cases of rape, and female genital mutilation which she says is being done “to every single girl in Somalia.”
Of course, there are a slew of nations that didn’t make the top five but certainly deserve an honorable mention, like Russia where 50,000 Russian women and girls are forced into the sex industry each year.
Also, Saudi Arabia, which under Sharia law, concludes a female rape victim to be at fault for the illegal “mixing of genders” and thus punished along with the perpetrator. A recent example of such justice came in January 2011 when a 23-year Saudi rape victim was jailed and given 100 lashes.
That type of justice explains why most rape cases go unreported because victims, according to the US State Department, “face societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, possible imprisonment, or accusations of adultery.”
Finally, in Haiti reports have surfaced that a silent epidemic of rape and gender-based violence is occurring as the country struggles to recover from its devastating earthquake. According to a March 2011 survey conducted by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, 14 percent of households surveyed reported that, since the earthquake, one or more members of their household had been victimised by “rape or unwanted touching or both.”
A bitter irony to this onslaught came on the same day the Thomson Reuters survey was released. At that time, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe – the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council – presented that body a list of 14 countries it wanted the UN to hold accountable for alleged human rights violations. While there were the usual and justifiable suspects, none of the top five offenders in the Thomson Reuters survey were mentioned.
Jody Williams, the 1997 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize has said “Waging war on the bodies of women has got to stop,” Yet tragically, in all these cases of escalating abuse, the perpetrators rarely suffer any repercussions. It’s perhaps one reason the problem will not end anytime soon.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.