I am sitting among over 25 delegates from Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and of course my beloved country Zimbabwe.
The venue is the Pan-African Hotel in Nairobi, and the event, the Regional Meeting on the Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. This is a first-ever powerful and coordinated global collaboration between Nobel Peace Initiative Laurettes, international advocacy organisations, and groups working at the regional and community levels in conflict.
Located under the rubric of the broader Women, Peace and Security agenda, the Campaign calls for: powerful and urgent leadership on the local, national, regional and international levels to prevent and stop rape and gender violence in war and conflict situations; a dramatic increase in resources for prevention and protection and for psychosocial and physical healing for survivors, their families and communities including concerted efforts to end stigma of survivors; and justice for victims, including prosecution of perpetrators at national, regional and international levels, and comprehensive reparation for survivors. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 (UNSCR1820) links sexual violence to war tactics, and calls for, among others, adoption of concrete protection and prevention measures to end such violence; while UNSCR1960 calls for the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and for ending impunity.
This Regional Meeting stems from the efforts of the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s efforts that brought together women activists from Liberia, Sudan and the DRC to meet with African Union officials during the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January 2013. This was followed by a Laurette delegation to the DRC to stress the urgent need to stop rape and sexual violence, and the current regional Campaign meeting here in Nairobi which is a runner-up to the June 10-13 2014 international summit to be held in UK, London. The London International Conference will be the largest ever and first of its kind to be attended by Government Ministers from 140 countries that have endorsed the 2013 UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict as well as by representatives from Civil Society, grassroots organisations, the military and the judiciary.
The Campaign stems out of the efforts in May 2012 when the UK Foreign Secretary and the UN Special Envoy for the UN Refugee Agency launched the preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). The goal of the initiative, which is an issue of fundamental importance to international peace and security and conflict prevention, is to end to end the culture of impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war worldwide. The initiative has since worked with many governments around the world, the UN and other multilateral organisations and a wide range of committed NGOs and civil society organisations to achieve greater global awareness of the scale of sexual violence in conflict, and to promote changes in how the international community perceives and responds to the issue. This culminated in the “Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict” already mentioned above, which was later launched in September 2013 with the support of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General.
The summit will seek to create impetus towards ending the sue of rape and sexual violence in conflict through delivering a set of practical covenants bringing together and focusing the efforts of conflict and post0conflict-affected countries, donors, the UN and other multilateral organisations, NGOs and civil society in an ambitious and goal congruent programme for change. The summit will identify specific actions by the international community in the four key areas viz: 1) To improve investigations/documentation of sexual violence in conflict; 2) To provide greater support and assistance and reparation for survivors, including child survivors, of sexual violence; 3) To ensure sexual and gender based violence responses and the promotion of gender equality are fully integrated into all peace and security efforts including security and justice sector reform. 4) Improving International strategic coordination.
The last time I attended a similar event was in 2005, in Addis, and the event was organized by Geneva Call. Here women were gathered from all conflict torn spaces in Africa to give evidence of how they were violated during conflict. What I remember then were floods of tears as recalled the demonic acts of rape and other acts of violence perpetrated on them. This is now close to a decade since then, but rape is still abound, and increasing too. The energising reality however is that in today’s gathering, here in Nairobi - women survivors stand bold and powerful, and are telling their testimonies with resilience and hope. They unwaveringly bring forward clear cut strategies to advance the campaign and practice to stop rape and violence against women now on the international agenda. The work of women has indeed not been invain, governments are now listening and turning words into action – 138 governments have signed the Declaration, hence the need for women to push some more. The Regional Forum is a strategic moment to plan together in Africa for goal congruency, ensure Africa speaks with a coordinated accent and to guarantee that our governments plan sensitively, and our Ministers go with tangible action plans. Of most encouragement is that women are not represented as objects of rape, but as subjects helping nations to chart the way to freedom. Survivors of rape are at the centre of our planning, and the initiative calls for member states to bring forward names of survivors of rape and sexual violence in conflict forward for inclusion in the planning process leading up to the London Global Campaign Conference. The Campaign is premised on three pillars of prevention, protection and prosecution. Using Feminist participatory methodologies, women share strategies of preventing sexual violence and rape, protecting the survivors and ensuring prosecution of perpetrators of such heinous crimes. Many other issues are also discussed, and they are key but most painful – and these range from the trauma of growing children of rape, rehabilitating and re-integrating both survivors and perpetrators into society, to realistic questions such as the one paused by Ruth Ochieng, one of the delegates representing Isis – Wicce, Uganda that, “If a humanitarian agency can remove a bullet from a wounded soldier or civilian and allow them to walk free, why can’t a raped woman remove an unwanted foetus from her uterus after a war rape?” Rape and sexual violence occurring in armed conflicts is not a new spectacle. It affects not only large numbers of women, but also men and children. When acts of sexual violence become systemic, and are used as a measured weapon of war like for example in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda, they prompt public outrage across the globe, especially amongst women, who are in majority of those violated, hence the reason for this gathering in Nairobi. Evidence from research carried out around the world demonstrates that conflict based sexual assaults are not an inevitable part of armed conflict. There are indeed many wars that have been carried out with a complete absence of gender violence. Acts of sexual violence are neither mere Machiavellian acts carried out by individual soldiers and civilians, but a deliberate military tactics used by state security forces and armed opposition groups and are aimed at extinguishing people, communities and entire nations. The worst part is that those who survive these acts are also as good as dead, as they are left with no access to services, protection or justice. With proper structures firmly in place within society and within institutions, preventing rape in conflict will be a reality. The discussions also highlight the many and diverse regional efforts to end violence against women in conflict in the region, some of which have led to the conviction of Charles Taylor, to mention just one. I sit in this room with a ball stuck in my throat, and threatening to chock me. It is a ball of pain because Zimbabwe, my country is among those states that have not yet signed the declaration to end rape and violence in conflict. Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1991. In February 2012, it presented the combined 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th reports, and CSO shadow reports to the CEDAW Committee for the first time. However, my country does not have a National Action Plan on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). Despite its often highlighted limitations, the special linkages that USCR1325 has with CEDAW cannot be over-emphasised, and are summarised below: 1) Resolutions 1325 and 1820 broaden the scope of CEDAW application by clarifying its relevance to all parties in conflict. 2) CEDAW provides concrete strategic guidance for actions to be taken on the broad commitments outlined in the two Resolutions.
Resolutions 1325 and 1820, and CEDAW share the following agenda on women’s human rights and gender equality: Demand women’s participation in decision-making at all levels; Reject violence against women as it maintains their subordinate status and so impedes their advancement; Require equality of women and men under the law; Require the protection of women and girls through the rule of law; Demand security forces and systems to protect women and girls from gender-based violence; Recognize that distinct burdens of women and girls arise out of systemic experiential discrimination and Ensure that women’s experiences, needs and perspectives are incorporated into the political, legal and social decisions that determine the achievement of a just and lasting peace. With all this reality in place, my wish remains for my Head of State to concede to the declaration. Zimbabwe cannot stand in isolation, especially in matters relating to women’s rights.
I sit with this pain, taking care however never to lose sight of my dream. My dream is to remain bold, and my resolution to continue working at different levels in my country and beyond, in both small and big ways to confront patriarchy(ies). We have just finished viewing a short movie compiled by the Laurretes who visited DRC, featuring Leyma Gbowee as leader of the delegation. Her final words in the movie will sit with me forever, and will be the basis for my continuous engagements with writing for women’s emancipation. Her words were simple and straight forward, and I read her loud and clear; “… Women, you really need to be mad to get any results from the work you do”, and full stop. This woman knows what she is talking about, and the globe truly witnessed her madness when she led, despite all odds, a women's peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. My resolution is adopt this libetory madness, to continue writing about rape and sexual violence and to do it in chic. When I write about rapists I will madly name and shame them, and give them the names they deserve. I will not call them perpetrators, or defilers, or offenders, NO, I refuse to give them that honour with my vocabulary. I will call them quadrupeds, ‘muumuu’, brutal, and all their synonyms. And when I write about the survivors I will not condemn them to victims, or raped, NO, I will call them powerful, transgressive, formidable, beautiful, resilient and unbowed survivors. My special gratitude goes to Just Associates (JASS) who made possible my participation at this highly important Regional Campaign meeting. Long live JASS, and onward!