Last week, I wrote about the controversy surrounding the new film In the Land of Blood and Honey. Though the merits of the film are up for debate, the film (and the discussion surrounding it) brings to light a very important issue that is often ignored — sexualized violence in times of war and conflict. While In the Land of Blood and Honey may be a good first step in raising awareness about the prevalence of such violence, human rights organizations must also be a greater emphasis on public education and advocacy regarding this critical issue. Fortunately, a new project from the Women’s Media Center has just arrived to fill this void.
Today is the launch of Women Under Siege, a project with the mission of “documenting how rape and other kinds of sexualized violence are used as tools in genocide and conflict throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.” By exploring the ways in which sexualized violence has been used as a weapon during times of genocide or conflict, Women Under Siege will play a significant role in educating people about sexualized violence and developing strategies to prevent such violence in future conflicts.
1) A public education plan to demonstrate that rape is a tool of war (not only a crime of war, but also a strategic tool). This plan includes testimony from and partnership with survivors of modern wars in countries like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Congo.
2) An action plan to push for the creation of legal, diplomatic, and public interventions to ensure the United Nations, international tribunals, and other agencies with power will understand the gender-based threats as a tool of genocide and will design protocols to intervene and halt gender-based genocide.
Today on Women Under Siege, visitors will be able to read blog posts by women like Lara Logan, Lynsey Addario and Karestan Koenen about their experiences with and work to end sexualized violence. The site also includes testimonies from survivors of sexualized violence in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur and Egypt.
Gloria Steinem, a co-founder of the Women’s Media Center and one of the creators of Women Under Siege, is committed to stopping sexualized violence and sees Women Under Siege as a way to make that happen. In an interview for the project’s launch, she states:
In my lifetime, we’ve shown that rape is not sex but violence — and changed the laws that required a virginal victim and a bystander willing to testify. …Sexualized violence, in and out of conflict, has been named and punishments codified. Now we have to get this off paper and into life.
To learn more about Women Under Siege, visit www.womenundersiegeproject.org, check it out on Facebook and Twitter, or read the book that inspired the project: Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust.