Gender Violence in Cote d'Ivoire
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Posted by Ann Jones on 28 November, 2007
Young women and old alike, like these villagers, are targets of violence during and after conflict. Photo: Ann Jones
The International Rescue Committee is working with writer, photographer and long-time women’s advocate Ann Jones to give women in war zones an opportunity document their own lives with digital cameras and make their voices heard.
Ann is blogging from West Africa, posting new photos and stories each day for 16 days, starting November 25 — the kick-off of “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.” You can catch her earlier posts here and sign up to get e-mail alerts about new posts at theIRC.org/join16days.
Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire I borrow the title from an Amnesty International report on Cote d’Ivoire, issued last March. It says:
The scale of rape and sexual violence in Cote d’Ivoire in the course of the armed conflict has been largely underestimated. Many women have been gang raped or have been abducted and reduced to sexual slavery by fighters. Rape has often been accompanied by the beating or torture (including torture of a sexual nature) of the victim . . . . All armed factions have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate sexual violence with impunity.
Human Rights Watch reports that “cases of sexual abuse may be significantly underreported” because women fear “the possibility of reprisals by perpetrators, . . . ostracism by families and communities, and cultural taboos.”
Human Rights Watch reports that girls as young as three were
raped during the conflict. Photo: Soro Rokia
The Amnesty report documents case after case of girls and women, aged “under 12” to 63, assaulted by armed men. The more recent and thoroughgoing report by Human Rights Watch records the rape of children as young as three. Women and girls are seized in their village homes or at military roadblocks. They are discovered hiding in the bush. They are too young or too old to run fast. Some are raped in public. Some are raped in front of their husbands and their children. Some are forced to witness the murder of their husband or parents. Then they are taken away to soldiers’ camps where they are held, along with many other women. They are forced to cook for the soldiers and repeatedly gang raped, in some cases by 30 or 40 men. They are beaten and tortured. They see women who resist beaten and murdered, their throats slit.
Women taking part in the GBV Global Crescendo project took these photographs
of violence in their villages. These photos are not staged. They document real attacks
against women as they took place. Men routinely use violence against women
with complete impunity. Photo: Goze Martine
The rapes result in lasting injuries and pain. The Amnesty report coolly says: “The brutality of rape frequently causes serious physical injuries that require long-term and complex treatment including uterine prolapses (the descent of the uterus into the vagina or beyond)”—one has to wonder what lies “beyond” the vagina—“vesico-vaginal or recto-vaginal fistulas and other injuries to the reproductive system or rectum, often accompanied by internal and external bleeding or discharge.” It notes that women can’t “access the medical care they need.” Some women still find it hard to sit down or stand up or walk. Some still spit up blood. Some have lost their eyesight or their memory. Some miscarried. Many contracted sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. Nobody knows how many died, or are dying, as a result.
And many are still missing, perhaps dragged across borders when rogue militias from Liberia and Sierra Leone were expelled from the country. Perhaps slaughtered along the way.
Where old customs approve the use of force against women, and tribal leadership
takes no stand against it, there is nothing to stop it. Consequently, violent attacks
often take place openly and undeterred in public, even in the presence of photographers.
Photo: Youan Lou Irie Jeanette
Women have long been counted among “the spoils of war,” free for the taking. But women in large numbers are also targeted as pawns in deliberate military and political strategies intended to humiliate the men to whom they “belong” and exterminate their ethnic groups. (Think of Bosnia.) The Amnesty report traces the wholesale violence against women in Cote d’Ivoire to December 2000 when a number of women were arrested, raped, and tortured at the government’s Police Training School in Dioula—because their presumed ethnicity and political affiliation allied them with the opposition. Human Rights Watch reports that the well-documented Dioula affair is only one of many similar cases incited at the time –before the war—by government sponsored racist propaganda.
Violence against women and girls always explodes during and after war. Rape and beating,
used as tools of war, become habits that continue long after men stop fighting
against each other. Photo: Seri Prudence
No man responsible for any of these crimes has ever been “brought to justice.” Amnesty calls that “a disturbing signal to future perpetrators of sexual violence in Cote d’Ivoire.” I’d call it a green light.
During recent years, such things happened