Gender Based Violence

Rape and Sexual Violence – It’s #TimeToAct

Rape is not something that people in my community talk about.

If a woman is raped, she is expected to somehow deal with it on her own. People will always find a way to blame the victim, not the perpetrator. Rape is a violation of a person’s human rights, an act of violence and an act that can have serious ramifications on a person’s life. Rape is an act of sexual violence, an act that we have silenced for decades and neglected.

Rape is not a woman’s issue or a humanitarian issue. It is a global issue.

Right now, women are experiencing sexual violence in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republic. Right now, women are experiencing sexual violence every day in Nigeria. In a recent post, I highlighted how the 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped had been sold into sex slavery for as little as USD $15.

The world sat and watched with their arms folded as 500,000 women were raped during 100 days of conflict in Rwanda. Globally, women’s bodies are being used as a weapon of war. Women are being abused, and we are doing nothing. Women are being beaten, and we are doing nothing. Women are being sold into sex slavery, and we are doing nothing. The consequences of our lack of actions means that whole communities are destroyed, and the pain of the victims are locked in their hearts, because they live in societies where speaking out is not accepted.

These women become powerless. My hero, Leymah Gbowee, commented on sexual violence during her 2011 Nobel Peace Prize address:

“Women had become the toy of war, for over-drugged young militias. Sexual abuse and exploitation spared no woman; we were raped and abused regardless of our age, religious or social status. A common scene daily was a mother watching her young one being forcibly recruited or her daughter being taken away as the wife of another drug emboldened fighter.”

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be raped. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be raped and to have to remain silent about it. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be used as an object for a weak man to express his power. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose my innocence.

The silence surrounding rape and sexual violence must be shattered and this cycle of injustice must be broken.

Men rape women because they know that the lack of law enforcement means that they will not be punished for their act. They know that a woman will be asked questions like “what were you wearing?” or “what were you doing at that time of night?” When I was recently walking on the streets of Lagos, I was aware of the fact that the man following me could decide to rape me if he wanted to, and he would probably go unpunished.

Rape is a serious human rights violation and the international community must wake up to the severity of this issue.

We can no longer remain silent. We must speak up for the women who experienced sexual violence in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Rwanda. We must speak up for the women who continue to experience sexual violence everyday.

Photo c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Photo c/o Flickr Creative Commons

At the recent Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit hosted by William Hague and Angelina Jolie, over 125 countries pledged their support to help combat sexual violence in conflict. This must now translate into tangible action, and we must stop this injustice occurring every day and destroying the lives of innocent victims. No matter what the situation is, rape and sexual violence is NEVER okay.

I heard one girl’s story of rape. Her story was heart wrenching, but her optimism was infectious. The women who experience rape and sexual violence have hope. They have suffered a great injustice and their bodies have been hurt in a way that we can never repair. But surely if they have the few remaining droplets of hope, we should have hope too? It is our job to ensure that we stop counting the numbers of women who have been raped. It is our job to ensure that sexual violence in conflict is completely eradicated.

It is not impossible to stop rape and sexual violence. As Audrey Hepburn said, “the word itself says I’m possible.” When we talk about our daughters being raped, we must also consider our sons who raped them. We must educate our men about how it’s never okay to sexually assault a woman. We must speak for change in our local communities, in our countries and around the world.

Now is the time to ensure that this grave injustice that has a ripple effect on all of humanity is stopped.

Now is the #TimeToAct

Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

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Category: Gender Based Violence    Politics
Tagged with: #TimeToAct    Africa    Angelina Jolie    Conflict    Injustice    Rape    Rights    Violence against women    war

June Eric-Udorie

June Eric-Udorie is an anti-FGM campaigner and activist working with Plan UK and Integrate Bristol. She has written articles for newspapers and magazines in the UK on, but not exclusively on, feminism and women's rights. She tweets at @juneericudorie

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