It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts on reports – most of the time by IRIN – on the deplorable conditions under which women and girls live in many parts of the world. However, the articles have been piling up in my Newsreader, so, it’s time for one. So here we go:
First stop, Liberia with the always painful topic of fistula.
"Of 600 rape victims recently interviewed by a Liberian non-governmental organisation, 90 percent of the women were found to be suffering from fistulas – a vaginal tear which results in loss of bladder control and social stigmatisation.
Aid workers say the statistic, provided by the Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET) from surveys conducted in April 2008, shows the horrifying prevalence of rape and of a phenomenon which Liberian medical officials say they are ill-equipped to respond to."
There are two types of fistulas that are prevalent in parts of Africa:
- Obstetric fistula , which is a vaginal tear resulting from prolonged obstructed labor. This form of fistulas is responsible for the appalling numbers of maternal death (deaths while in labor) in this area because of the increased risk of vaginal bleeding right after childbirth. And since a lot of women give birth at home, attended by a midwife, if they are lucky, they just bleed to death. Liberia has a particularly high rate of such deaths and this rate has been going up since the end of the war in 2003 as a result of the poor state of the health care system. With only 300 midwives when the country needs around 1,400, it is not surprising:
Maternal mortality has gone up by about 71 percent with 994 women dying for every 100,000 who give birth, compared to 580 out of every 100,000 women in the previous survey."
The situation is so bad that the Liberian government has put in place different programs to recruit health workers and re-train the existing ones to include more obstetrics and gynecology in their skills as well as get health workers and midwives to emphasize family planning with their patients.
- The other type of fistula is "traumatic gynaecologic fistula that is a vaginal injury resulting from violent sexual assault or when objects are forcibly inserted into the vagina." (Just typing that makes my skin crawl)
As with many societies in post-war transition, there has been an increase in violent crimes has the country’s capacity for governance, law enforcement and the economy are still in shambles. So, rape and especially rape of children is common in Liberia. And here as well, the infrastructure to deal with either types of fistulas is nowhere near sufficient: 5 doctors trained in the treatment of fistulas, all working in the one hospital in Monrovia, the capital and it is all funded though international aid, especially the UN Population Fund.
What is it like to live with a fistula?
"“While I was pregnant, I was always experiencing pain. My pregnancy lasted for 11 months. I suffered internal pain, bled profusely, and urinated uncontrollably.
“After a doctor diagnosed me and informed my husband that I got this condition, he recommended that I get to Monrovia [the capital] for treatment. However, my partner claimed that he could not afford money to transport me to Monrovia.
“My condition became serious about two weeks after my diagnosis. I was just urinating and bleeding and my husband could not stand it. He told me that he was leaving for another town in search of money to transport me. But after a month, he sent a message through one of my neighbours that we could no longer live together, because of my condition.
“I got frustrated and felt that there was no reason for me to live, because of the act of my husband. But thank God, another doctor living in our vicinity knew of my case and personally brought me in his vehicle to Monrovia for treatment at the John F. Kennedy Hospital.
“Since I have been treated here at the hospital, I am feeling much better and living with high hope based on the doctor’s advice that I can be cured and live a normal life again.”
I love it when husbands dump their wives because they no longer "work" properly and "fixing" them might cost money. This is actually fairly common for men to abandon and divorce their wives as a result of fistula. Hey, who wants to have sex with a woman who can’t retain urine and stools and stinks all the time? Better to divorce her and get another child bride, all mutilated and stuff so that she’ll be a virgin. Never mind that having sex with her and getting her pregnant before she’s fully developed is a major reason for the fistula in the first place.
And while I’m discussing this, let me plug, yet again, the great NOVA documentary, A Walk to Beautiful on the fistula hospital in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It is now available at a cheap price at Amazon. I got mine, get yours!
Next stop, Burundi where human rights group are trying to find ways to deal with the extensive sexual abuse going on there:
"Throughout the 15 years of conflict in Burundi, violence against women, especially sexual abuse and rape, has been a widespread phenomenon, according to international human rights organisations and the United Nations.
Between 2004 and 2006, for example, an average of 1,346 women annually reported cases of abuse to aid agency Médecins sans Frontières (MSF); 26 per week.
The war may have largely ended, but rape continues to be a major problem, according to aid workers.
"Sexual violence against women and children remains widespread," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a 15 May report to the Security Council. "A significant increase in the incidence of rape has been recorded since the beginning of 2008."
Do you see the pattern here? War, then the war "largely" ends, then transition to peace but relative impunity for the men who continue to commit mass rape as the government’s capacity for action is limited and women’s problems are not high on the list of priorities. Moreover, what the wonderful euphemism "largely ended" means is usually that parts of the countries are still controlled by non-governmental forces who still exercise their massive violations of human rights outside of all forms of governance and law enforcement.
And if you think it’s not bad enough…
"According to League Iteka officials [a human rights organization], the majority of cases of sexual violence reported to their offices involved 10- to 18-year-old girls, reflecting an increase in the number of child victims such as a 12-year-old victim whose father accepted 60,000 francs (US$60) from the perpetrator to drop the matter.
Cases of incest where children are raped by their grandfathers, fathers and uncles are also becoming more frequent; most of which are sorted out within the family. Many of these victims are exposed to a high risk of disease infection, including HIV/AIDS, despite Burundi’s relatively low prevalence of 3.3 percent.
"We have recently seen more and more cases of small children aged two to four years being raped," Kisamare said."
Warren Jeffs and his ilk at the FLDS would feel right at home.
And the pattern I mentioned just above is also present in Sierra Leone where, there too, rape is more widespread now than during the civil war. Moreover, many rapes committed during the war were committed by child soldiers who, even once demobilized, just continue on with a practice they were socialized into. This is why rape rates are the highest where there is the highest concentration of ex-combatants. The situation has been characterized by the UN as such "rape is endemic and pervasive."
In addition, being a rape victim is a stigmatized identity whereas rapists usually go unpunished, no sanction, formal or informal exercised against them. The stigma is so bad that parents often blame their daughters when they are raped:
"Kargbo works at the Rainbo Centre, a rape and gender-based violence counseling and health clinic funded by the International Rescue Committee. More than half the abuse victims treated at the centres are aged between 0 and 15.
“Most of the children that come here were not only raped but also physically assaulted by their parents.
“Parents tend to blame the children, saying they should not have let it happen to them. They don’t take into account the age difference – how is a four year-old child supposed to fight off a 40 year-old man?
“They think that they gave their children everything they need, so why would they go out looking for sex?
“The beatings are serious. They scald the children, shave their heads, and insert chili peppers into the vaginas. They beat them first to get an explanation of what happened, and then again as a punishment."
I bet James Dobson would see no problem with that form of discipline.
Next stop, Pakistan where we already knew women were treated as property, so, it is not surprising that to find that girls are being used to settle disputes :
"Even though child marriage, defined as under the age of 16 for girls and 18 for boys, has been legally limited through the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, and Pakistan in 1990 ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which bars the marriage of under-age girls, such unions between children take place regularly.
Marriages between children aged no more that 12 or 13 – sometimes even younger – are reported from time to time, whereas in other instances girls as young as seven have been "given away" to much older men, often to "settle" a conflict. (…)
Sometimes child marriages are not the result of an agreement between families, but the result of a ruling by a tribal council, most often to settle a feud or decide a dispute. Such a ruling was delivered late in May by a "jirga" (gathering of tribal elders) in the village of Chach, along Sindh’s western border with the province of Balochistan.
The gathering decided that 15 girls, aged between three and 10 years, from the Chakrani tribe, would be married to men from the rival Qalandari tribe to settle an eight-year-old feud."
What was the dispute? The dog of one of the tribe bit the donkey of the other one. Really. That was it. Some stupid dog bit a stupid donkey. 15 girls to settle the feud. The settlement came after twenty deaths as the tribes got into a blood feud. OVER A FREAKIN’ DOG BITING A FREAKIN’ DONKEY. Are these people insane?
Human rights organizations have asked the government to intervene but to no avail even though the practice is illegal.
Next, an interesting item as West African Activists take their fight against Female Genital Mutilation to France:
(Photo via IRIN with permission)
As many as 50,000 immigrant women undergo the procedure in France every year. And here comes the BS tradition argument yet again (how many times do we have hear this before we collectively realize that traditions are always invoked to justify oppression – mostly gender-based – and practices that violate our current standards and laws regarding the treatment of our fellow human beings?). Fortunately, these activists are not fools:
"“Immigrants have a tendency to cling to their traditions and customs – sometimes even more so than those who stay at home – for fear of losing them or of being socially rejected,” said Khady Koita, a Senegalese immigrant and president of a European network for the prevention of traditional practices harmful to the health of women and children, which operates in France.
Some parents secretly submit their daughters to FGM in ceremonies in France while others send their children home during the school holidays to undergo the excision. There are even instances where relatives or immigrant community members instigate the procedure without the knowledge of the children’s parents, as was the case with Koita’s two girls.
More and more activists in France are mobilising against the practice by raising awareness of its dangers to women and girls in the media, through conferences and debates, and in schools and health-centres in cities which have significant immigrant communities across the country.
Awa Ba, a Senegalese woman and the president of the association of African women in Boulogne-Billancourt, a western suburb of Paris, targets families directly. “Before children leave for home for their school holidays I warn them about the risk of circumcision and I tell the parents that if their daughter has not been circumcised before going and comes back circumcised, I will bring a complaint against her.”"
And apparently, it is working as the statistics show a decline (although there are issues of reliability, let’s not forget that children who go to public schools undergo physicals in the schools every year, whether the parents want it or not). And there is another thing that might help activists make their point: the 20-year prison sentence attached to FGM in France not only for those who carry it out, but also for the parents. And it is not for show, most of the cases that go to court end up with prison sentences against all the parties involved.