Visions of hell from Africa
Two recent and deeply disturbing ABC Four Corners documentaries have me thinking about how much women suffer. About how common, even normalised, their suffering is, and how little is done to address it.
Late last month, Four Corners broadcast the documentary ‘Heart of Darkness’ about the systematic rape of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their rape is commonly accompanied by genital mutilation. So many women – and even little girls – require surgery to repair what was done to them. And even then, many are raped again. Justice stands at a distance: most of the violated women can never access it.
Heart of Darkness is described on the ABC’s website :
The Democractic Republic of Congo is the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. It’s a place where rape has become a weapon of war. Now a BBC film crew follows Judith Wanga as she meets the survivors of the conflict. She talks to women, children, and child soldiers who’ve been forced to kill so that they themselves will not be killed. To her horror, she discovers that the violence is fuelled, in part, by the need to mine the minerals that go into the manufacture of mobile phones and laptops.
Twenty-three-year-old Judith Wanga grew up in London and is proud to be British. But Judith was born thousands of miles away in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Twenty years ago, with the country in turmoil and fearing for their daughter’s safety, her parents sent her to live with relatives in Britain.
Now Judith is going back to Congo for the first time. She wants to understand the childhood she missed and find the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of her life.
Judith quickly discovers two things: despite the fact the civil war in Congo has officially ended, in the east of the country a bitter conflict between Congolese troops and rebels continues. She also discovers that women across Congo have a very different status to women in Western countries.
After the reunion with her parents, Judith visits eastern Congo, an area that has been devastated by conflict. There she learns that rape is an epidemic. Judith meets a radio journalist who conducts a one person campaign to expose the extent of the violence directed at women. She hears the stories of those who have been attacked and meets the children who are born as a result of the rapes.
As well as meeting the victims of this conflict, Judith also talks to some of the perpetrators. She meets a young woman who was forced to join the military to survive. The woman reveals how she was forced to kill and how she fled the armed forces only to find herself without money to support her child. Now she supports herself by working as a prostitute.
Amidst all the horror, Judith also glimpses a few signs of hope. She visits a centre that has been built to provide a sanctuary for women who have been assaulted, called ‘City of Joy’. In another part of Congo she meets the young men and women who carry out dramatic performances exposing the brutality they have seen and experienced.
On discovering the harsh realities of her homeland, Judith begins to understand why her parents sent her away as a child. Her experience also makes her determined to return home to Britain and encourage awareness of the plight of her country, and the women forced to endure unimaginable suffering.
You can see Heart of Darkness here:
If you survive that experience, and to get a bigger picture of the fate of women in this part of the world, have a look at ‘South Africa’s Lost Innocence’. It is a vision from hell. The ABC describes it as:
The story of three young girls living in modern day South Africa. Each of them has been raped, each lives in fear. Meanwhile, the authorities do little to protect them or punish their attackers.
South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world, and almost half the victims are children. On average, a child is raped every three minutes and yet there is apparently no concerted effort to stop this epidemic.
True Vision Productions takes us to the city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa to document how this war against women and children is being fought, talking with the victims as they try to go about their daily lives and revealing how little is being done to help them.
Reducing rape to a bureaucratic acronym
My friend and publisher, Susan Hawthorne of Spinifex Press, recorded her feelings while watching Heart of Darkness, on the Spinifex blog. She urges us not to reduce the term ‘Rape’ to a more mild bureaucratic term.
A Civil War against Women
Watching the ABC’s Four Corners programme, Heart of Darkness last night I was struck by the fact that this massive level of rape going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo is really a civil war against women. The DRC has been continuously exploited as a nation for its mineral wealth by Western countries and the minerals that make our mobile phones vibrate are just the latest theft of wealth (background reading on the Congo).
The DRC is not alone in its high levels of rape against women. In Nigeria women fear to use the communal toilets because they fear sexual assault. And what about our own countries where despite laws on the books against rape, it is a crime that occurs daily?
The UN is ineffective. They have reduced the word rape to a bureaucratic acronym that makes you feel nothing: GBSV. I’ve had many a friend scratch their head wondering what this might be short for. Amnesty has put out many press releases about violence against women all around the world. Still nothing happens.
In the meantime, pornography is sold on street corners and in milk bars and petrol stations. Girls and women are increasingly sexualised. So-called progressive males keep up their call for an end to censorship so they can get their rocks off. They call for legalisation of prostitution so women can be legally sold a hundred years after the end of slavery.
And that acronym: gender based sexual violence. Let’s call it for what it is. A perfectly good and understandable four-letter word: RAPE. It is violence against women. It is a war against women. On every level of civil society: between nations, within nations, within communities and families – it is a civil war against women.
If you want to make a difference in the lives of some of Congo’s physically and mentally traumatised women, here’s a group that could use your donations. I know some of the women involved. They are heroes.