We Can’t Afford To Turn Away

31 05 2009
We pay a high price for refusing to look at the atrocities being committed all over the world. The atrocities continue…bodies, minds, and hearts are destroyed…and we bear a collective responsibility and guilt for allowing them to continue.
 
My family members and friends rarely visit my blog and read my posts. Most never have. They don’t want to read about what I write about…particularly the abuse and injustice toward women and children all over the world. I try and talk with them about it and they don’t want to hear.

To refuse to see and acknowledge what is going on winds up hurting all of us at a very deep level. We deny the humanity of others who have less opportunity and more injustice than we do. How can we live with that? By staying incredibly busy and tuning out the inconvenient and raw truth? How authentic are our lives when we constantly do that? How authentic is our humanity?
 
Here’s an excellent New York Times op-ed column on this posted May 30. What are your thoughts?

“Holding On to Our Humanity” by Bob Herbert

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder. Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.

There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:

“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”

The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.

“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”

Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”

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What the World Needs Now: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

10 12 2008

“It’s not my problem,” you say? Maybe you’d like to swap places even for a day with those with little or no basic human rights. We have lost respect for the basic human rights of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. We allow atrocities to continue or commit them against our fellow human beings: rape, slavery, human trafficking, starvation, torture, rendition, genocide, horrendous work conditions, refugee camps, battered women, child molestation, child abuse, less pay for women, “honor” killings of women, female genital mutilation, racism, sexual violence as an instrument of war, and so many more.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee that drafted these rights and they were adopted in December, 1948 as a response to the brutality of World War II. Here she is addressing the United Nations on the ratification of the UDHR:

So many of us bury ourselves in busyness and complacency. We are quick to express anger, to battle, to go to war. We are slow – or unable – to express love, acceptance, compassion, inclusivity, and peacefulness. Remember Dionne Warwick singing “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love”? Take a listen and  remember that every person on the planet is deserving of basic human rights. Do your part to respect, care for, and love your brothers and sisters on the planet.

 And if that doesn’t do it for you, take a listen to Aretha singing her classic “RESPECT”…that and love are what we all need.





One in Three…ONE IN THREE

25 11 2008

One in three women have been affected. It has affected my family and probably yours, too. Violence against women. Nicole Kidman, Goodwill Ambassador for UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, joined others in participating in several events at the UN today as part of today’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which has been marked since 1981. She handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over 5 million signatures of people who have joined Say No to Violence against Women. The United Nations, under Ki-Moon’s leadership, has a campaign called Unite to End Violence Against Women. Here is a statement released today by the Secretary-General:

We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity. We need to combat attitudes and behaviour that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women. And we need to increase funding for services for victims and survivors. I am determined to strengthen these efforts, including through my global campaign “UNiTE to end violence against women”, which aims to raise public awareness, increase political will and resources and create a supportive environment to make good on existing policy commitments.

Here is Nicole Kidman speaking about stopping gender violence:

Today also begins the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. This program is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and began in 1991. This year’s theme is “Human Rights for Women <–> Human Rights for All.” The Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University “…develops and facilitates women’s leadership for women’s human rights and social justice worldwide.”

Here is an UNIFEM video well worth watching about what the UN Trust Fund is doing to help women:

If you’d like to know more about what you can do, visit the Stop Violence Against Women website. StopVAW is a project by The Advocates for Human Rights and has a newsletter, which you can sign up for. Amnesty International also has a Stop Violence Against Women program.

Here in Austin is the nationally-acclaimed Austin SafePlace, which “works to end sexual and domestic violence and abuse.” I went through their training and volunteered on their hotline years ago.

Lest you think that violence against women happens in other countries, Amnesty International reports that one woman in the U.S. is raped every 6 minutes and one woman is battered every 15 seconds.  Let’s work together to eliminate violence against women all over the world.





Women Suffer Atrocities Silently in the Congo

23 11 2008

You see it in their eyes. Blank stares. Emotional and physical pain. Hopelessness. Witness to unbelievable violence and cruelty. Abandonment. Silent suffering. Tens of thousands of women of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being kidnapped, raped, mutilated, and tortured.

Emmy-winning filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson, herself a victim of gang rape, traveled to the Congo and interviewed women there who have experienced these horrors. She also spoke to armed itinerant gangs who are the rapists, doctors who help the women, and those advocating for the women and trying to help them. The result is a moving and unforgettable HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. I watched this documentary for the second time today. It is beyond comprehension what these women experience. Here are a few of the women featured in the film and the descriptions given about them on HBO’s website about the film:

congo-woman-marie-jeanne-mbweshe1

Marie Jeanne M’Bweshe, 42 years old, mother of 8
Raped and viciously beaten by the Interahamwe after witnessing the murder and dismemberment of her husband.

congo-woman-safi1

Safi, from Bunyakiri, 12 years old
Raped at age 11 as her home was being looted by soldiers.

[The film showed her with a baby, which was the result of the rape.]

congo-woman-alexandrine

Alexandrine M’Kajibwami, mother of 9
Raped by Rwandan soldiers, her husband was murdered trying to protect her.

A brutal war has raged in the Congo for ten years and over four million people have been killed as a result. Tens of thousands of women have been raped and brutalized. They are usually cast out by their husbands, families, and villages after being raped. They are often left with lifelong injuries that leave them incontinent and worse. They are also often infected with AIDS and/or become pregnant as a result of the rapes. Some women have been forced into sexual slavery.

The rebel forces – and often the Congolese Army soldiers who are supposed to protect people – justify the rapes by saying they have needs and if a woman won’t submit, they must take her with force. There is no consideration or thought about how their selfish acts ruin women’s lives.

You can watch the HBO trailer for the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo here:

congo-displaced-people-camp-nov-12-081Refugees have been forced from their homes and live in squalor in camps such as these due to the decade-old war. This photo and 38 others are shown on the Boston Globe’s website in an article about this on 11/21/08.

The Doctors without Borders organization has created their own initiative called Condition Critical to “bring global attention to the humanitarian consequences of the intensifying war in eastern DR Congo.” The Boston Globe reports that the UN Peacekeepers are unable to do much to help. This is the shortened form of the video put out by the Doctors without Borders organization. Go to their website to see the whole video.

There are many organizations trying to provide relief and help in the Congo. A partial list of them is located on the HBO documentary’s website. These women and children who suffer are continents away from us, but they are still our sisters. Their suffering is our suffering. Our hope for a better tomorrow can be their hope.

UPDATE: Associated Press tells more stories of these women in this March 16, 2009 article. The stories are heartbreaking, but also show tremendous courage on the part of the damaged women.