Rape during conflict is not a new phenomenon. It's widespread and open use today, with zero accountability, should be a wake-up call for the international community to act.
While women are specially protected under a number of international and local laws this does not seem to have much affect on the crimes committed against women, specifically, rape.
While rape cases can be found in every single country in the world, the use of rape as a weapon has been increasing in recent years. Rape in war and conflict is not a new notion, however, to see it so blatantly used in 2021, without reprimand from the international community in any significant capacity is, and should be, a chilling fact to both women and men alike.
A recent report issued by the BBC highlights testimonies from rape survivors from China’s Uyghur ‘re-education’ camps in Xinjiang. The number of reported victims is alarming, in addition to women being subject to rape multiple times by different men. These so-called camps were allegedly set-up to curb religious, specifically, Islamic extremism and de-radicalise the Uyghur minority.
Reports have been consistently leaking out to indicate that the methods used in these camps are both extreme and violent and do not target suspects, rather anyone from a particular religion. Most recently, allegations of systematic rape have been brought forth by many who escaped Xinjiang after their release from these ‘re-education’ facilities.
Tursunay Ziawudun has provided testimony where she alleges rape, as well as gang rape, sometimes by up to 20 men/officers assaulting a woman, in additional to sexual torture was commonplace. Ziawudun also tells a disturbing tale that has been echoed by other women who have left, escaped, or released, regarding the use of electrical shock probes on women. She recounts hearing screams of anguish on a regular basis, as well as saying that the officers at the camp did the same to her, inserting the electrocution probe into her body and repeatedly shocking her despite suffering internal bleeding due to a prior beating from the officers.
Women and former female guards also testify to forced sterilization, which has previously been reported by Reuters, but the Chinese government denies all accusations.
More worrying is that this is not the only place in the world that women are being used so viciously as political tools. In Ethiopia’s Tigray region, an on-ongoing humanitarian crisis involves civilian casualties, displaced individuals, and continuous discrimination against Tigrayan people on a state level. Several international bodies are calling to enter to provide relief due to the restrictions from the federal government despite a large part of the military engagement having been settled.
While any conflict disproportionately affects women, in this instance, rape is once again being used as a weapon of war, after the fact. Women have been forced to engage in sexual intercourse for basic goods, raped in front of their families, misled into believing they were going to clinics and assaulted - the perpetrators have been described as men from a number of different parties including men from Sudan and Eritrea.
In a TV broadcast in January, one soldier said, “I was angry yesterday. Why does a woman get raped in Mekelle city? It wouldn’t be shocking if it happened during the war ... But women were raped yesterday and today when the local police and federal police are around.”
The UN reports that, as a result, there has been a dramatic rise in sexually transmitted infections, and as the government has imposed restrictions, aid groups are struggling to provide adequate care.
This targeted attack against women is so overlooked that even UN bodies have been accused of misconduct and it has not received much attention. In 2020 the Human Rights Watch issued a report on abuse in Central African Republic where UN Peacekeeping forces are accused of committing rape against women and children, sometimes using glass bottles, and impregnating women leaving them and their children perpetually impoverished.
The report highlights: “After we talked, she introduced me to her daughter conceived from the rape. The four-year-old had notably paler skin and hair than Badeau. I just tell people it’s none of their business … when they look at her funny, she said. Though Badeau loves her daughter unconditionally, the young mother’s depression deepened whenever the girl complained of hunger.”
In addition to bearing the brunt of conflict, women also have to battle a weapon used almost exclusively against them. These politically motivated rapes do not only point to the disturbing idea of creating ‘impure’ bloodlines; couple that with forced sterilisation and impregnation these women and these women often summer lifelong trauma - long after the recovery of the initial trauma caused by this deeply personal assault.
This systematic abuse is not only intrinsic to patriarchy but perpetuates it by destroying the quality of life of these women leaving them, oftentimes, in permanently vulnerable situations. While aid agencies do help in many cases, we also find that they can be the perpetrators as well. However, due to the fact that this weapon is actively being used against women today, calls for further intervention by agencies and states alike must be made collectively as an angry, concerned, and disturbed public.
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