Dr. Denis Mukwege

I want to tell you a story about Dr. Denis Mukwege; a man I consider to be incredibly inspiring and courageous.

When war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Dr. Mukwege had 35 patients killed in his hospital in Lemera. He fled to Bukavu where he opened a hospital with what he had available (made from tents) and eventually built a maternity ward with an operating theatre. In 1998 this was also destroyed, so he started again in 1999.

In 1999, he had a patient come into his hospital who had been a victim of extremely brutal sexual violence – bent on destruction – and he treated her, assuming this was an anomaly. Within three months, 45 more women came to seek his services each with an equally brutal story. He saw a pattern and realized this was not just sexual violence, but that rape was being used to destroy communities.

Dr. Mukwege instigated several stages of care beginning with a psychological examination to determine whether the women have the resiliency to undergo surgery and recovery. The next stage involves whatever medical care is necessary; this is dependent on the type of violence and can range from basic medical care to reconstructive surgery. He then connects patients with socio-economic care as many patients arrive with nothing (not even clothing). Patients require the ability to be able to care for themselves after they leave the hospital, so they undergo skills and jobs training while in recovery, they can access education, and they build strong support systems with those who protect their dignity. Lastly, patients are connected with legal services as in most cases they are aware of who their assailants were but might not be aware of their legal rights.

Dr. Mukwege’s work is integral to the safety, dignity, and well-being of women within the DRC, yet as sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war Dr. Mukwege became a target because he was helping women live. Because he fought for these women’s rights to live, because he provides them with the tools to live with dignity he was targeted. Dr. Mukwege and his family were targeted and very nearly killed. Following the attack he brought his family to Brussels, however he could not leave his work. He came back to the DRC. In his words,

I was inspired to return by the determination of Congolese women to fight these atrocities. These women have taken the courage to protest about my attack to the authorities. They even grouped together to pay for my ticket home – these are women who do not have anything, they live on less than a dollar a day.

These women formed groups of 20 and stand guard at the hospital day and night to ensure that those seeking and providing care are safe. To date, he has treated over 30,000 women for injuries related to extreme sexual violence and currently sees roughly 10 patients per day.

This week he was recognized for his extraordinary work with the Sakharov prize – Europe’s top human rights prize. It’s this man’s extraordinary work, it’s the dedication and resilience of the women who stand by him and seek his services that inspire me to pursue the research I’m interested in. It’s people like this and the people that he sees every single day that remind me of the importance of this.

Learn more and look up his incredible work at the Panzi Hospital (most of it’s in French so you can also message me and I’ll explain it in English).

Advertisements

One in Seven

Originally written for the International Women’s Initiative. See the original post here.

In light of the recent media regarding sexual assault and rape in India as well as the information presented via social media in the past month, I would like to remind everyone that sexual assault is not only a problem in developing nations. In fact, sexual assault occurs in every country in the world and globally between 15-71% of women ages 15-49 have experience sexual assault (the statistic shows the range of national averages). Yet despite the remarkably high number of women affected by sexual assault there is still a stigma associated with it, a stigma that exists in every culture and society I have ever been, seen, experienced, read of or heard of.

Women around the world are raised and told to protect themselves; don’t show too much skin, don’t walk around alone at night, don’t walk around alone, cover your drink at a bar, and the list goes on and on. Women are taught these things from childhood and it seems normal; I remember being thirteen years old going to my first school dance and reminded to cover my water or pop, never put my drink down, and to be careful. It may seem insignificant because actions like that were probably normalized for you as well. Like many people I grew up in a society where I had to constantly be on guard, there exists a fear of being drugged, or raped, or beaten; women receive information every single day about how to avoid a sexual assault, how to escape a dangerous situation, and what life changes should be made to be safer. Does it still seem normal? Does it seem normal to have to change aspects of every single day of your life to be safe, to be able to life out the same rights and freedoms as the male half of the population?

Canada, like all but six countries, (United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Palau, and Tonga) has signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women yet, like most countries, these policies have failed to result in significant societal change at this point in time. In Canada only 0.33% of sexual assaults result in convictions and many factors play into this; only 9% of sexual assaults are reported, only 33% of reported sexual assaults result in charges, and only 11% of charges result in convictions. Why is this? Canada, like many nations, places the responsibility and blame for a woman’s protection on the woman herself; why else would we be telling women to cover up and dress more ‘appropriately’? Women are regularly questioned regarding their conduct prior to the sexual assault and encouraged to not press charges, in many cases by the authorities tasked with upholding justice and the rule of law. Sound familiar? It should be, as this is the case in almost every country in the world.

When you read about sexual assault and rape do not ignore it, do not pass the information by, instead take it to heart and know that statistically a minimum of one in seven of your female friends have experienced sexual assault, although that number is likely much higher. So do not let this become a statistic, do not wave it off as something that will affect you because likely it already affects you and at least one person who is close to you. Make it personal and do something about it: you can be an advocate for women and victims of sexual assault, you can denormalize victim blaming, and you can do something.

Inequality will not be tolerated.

“This is the first time women have gathered to protest the kind of daily violence many of them put up with.”
Ravi Nessman

I find it both sad and empowering that this is the first time women have gathered to protest the kind of daily violence many of them put up with. Imagine putting up with sexual violence, harassment, rape, abuse, violence, etc. every single day and having no opportunity for recourse? No opportunity for justice or self-protection? Even worse, imagine having people tell you that it’s your fault you were raped? Imagine the very people who are supposed to promote justice and safety telling you its your fault you were raped?

It is empowering because this never has to happen again. It’s empowering because it is an opportunity for change – not only in India, but around the world. This is a chance to teach women and families that men and women are equal, that no person deserves to experience violence, and that such violence and inequality will not be tolerated.

We should not be scared of going out…

“We should not be scared of going out and we shouldn’t have to protect ourselves with cooking ingredients.”

-Kajol Batra, a 28 year old student in Delhi responding to a senior Indian police officer who told women to avoid rape by not going out at dark and carrying chili powder to throw at offenders.

Something I promised I would never do

You heard it. I’m going to do something I promised would never happen (but at this current time do not understand why I was so against it).

I’m going to go for a research degree. When thinking of grad school while still in school, it makes sense to avoid writing papers when all you do in your spare time is write papers that you may or may not be interested in. But in the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to choose the topics of more of my research papers and this enabled me to understand my research interests. I’ve also found that during this internship I miss doing research, I miss writing, I miss essays and papers and research papers. Enough so that I’m applying to research degrees for grad school.

I’m looking at programs that allow me to overlay studies in differing geographical regions with issues pertaining to women’s experiences. This is proving to be quite difficult. But I believe I have found two Geography programs that either have specializations in gender or have supervisors with extensive experience in gender.

This also means that I have to develop my research interests. This summer I had the opportunity to write a paper on how sexual assault constitutes an act of genocide using the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m still interested in this, and would like to explore it further, but may look at other case studies and situations that have had internationally recognized genocides or instances where genocide is not ‘officially occuring’ but sexual violence/assaults against members of the population is rampant (sexual assault against women and men). I’m also interested in the ways in which the forced transmission of HIV is used as a weapon of war.

Any ideas or suggested reading material would be great. Tell me what you think, is this a good program idea? What were your experiences with doing a research degree (or why did you choose not to do one)? Any suggestions for choosing a research area?

Abstract – Genocide: Perpetrated through Sexual Violence

I’ve recently finished a paper which examined the ways in which sexual violence can constitute acts of genocide and it’s a paper I’d like to continue to develop with additional research and additional case studies to better represent a variety of geographical locations. For the meantime, I thought I would share my abstract and once the mark from class becomes official I will share the rest of the paper as well.

Genocide and sexual violence are relatively new topics in the realm of international humanitarian law, yet their interconnectivity has caused some of the worst humanitarian crisis from the twentieth century into the present time. In understanding the ways in which specific instances of sexual violence have contributed to and constituted acts of genocide it can be argued that, in context, sexual violence can be a means and act of genocide. Through analysis of secondary sources and government reports this paper will examine the experiences of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to demonstrate the ways in which sexual violence has been used as a tool of genocide. 

Protest the Police: Have Safe Sex. . .

Who knew that simply HAVING some of those items in the image to the left could be grounds for being arrested? I sure didn’t, but it seems that authorities in several cities in the USA disagree with me.

When I saw in the news that aid and health agencies were handing out condoms to sex workers to help minimize the risk of HIV and STI transmission (as well as the risk of pregnancy) I thought; “that’s amazing! Finally moving past stigmas and making decisions based on basic human health needs.” Then I saw that police and public authorities were confiscating those condoms essentially giving women the option to hand the condoms over or go to jail and I was enraged. I was even more enraged when I found out that this was happening in the USA – which in my opinion is a country that is quickly and systematically removing basic health and rights from women. What is most sad about this, is that I wasn’t even surprised to hear about it.

What I find worst about this scenario is that possession of condoms isn’t illegal, yet authorities are making women scared to have condoms, scared to use them, scared to have safe sex. Instead of protecting women and allowing safe sex options and transitional methods to give women alternatives to sex work, authorities are making sex work even less safe and even harder to get out of.

People should be praising women around the world who make the effort and insist on condom use, yet women are being punished for trying to protect themselves. So everyone who has access and ability, use condoms, be safe. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you’ll be sending a message to authorities worldwide who seem to want to limit women’s access to safe and affordable contraception.

The irony of this situation is that Washington D.C. – one of the cities where Human Rights Watch has documented this ridiculous condom possession and jail scenario – is actually hosting the 19th Annual International AIDS Conference.

Vagina

Vagina.

Linking to the above post from my classmate and friend Kyla at A Day in the Life. I felt as though my best response is a quote from Eve Ensler, activist, playwright, and creator of The Vagina Monologues;  “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men‘s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”

I believe that the fear and stigma associated with using words like vagina come from a deep rooted belief that if people talk about it, they run the risk of losing their honour and self-worth, which is in itself a dangerous concept. But I also feel it important to note that the same people who are waging this war against vaginas are also those who are ‘against comprehensive sexual education that would teach young people age-appropriate information about their sexual and reproductive anatomy, including the correct medical and anatomical terms for body parts. Information on sexually-transmitted infections that would preserve and protect these body parts are also taboo.’

If we move past the fear and stigma associated with simply using a word then there wouldn’t be a need for invasive and demeaning discussions on the rights that a woman has over her own body: she would simply have rights.

For more information, I recommend checking out Vagina is not a dirty word.

Sexual Assault in Canada

This is an essay I wrote for Women and Law, I chose to put it up because it shows that sexual assault law in Canada is relatively new and still has a long way to come. It also shows the terrifyingly low statistics of sexual assault convictions. Only 9% of sexual assaults are reported, only 33% of those result in charges, and only 11% of those result in convictions.

That means that only 0.33% of sexual assaults in Canada result in convictions.

So read on and tell me what you think.

Sexual assault law in Canada has come a long way but still has many gaps (Tang, 1998), which become apparent when looking at the case of R. v. O’Connor, case law surrounding sexual assault and the production of records, and victimization statistics from Canada. With the introduction of additional reforms to increase the involvement of women and minorities in the Canadian legal system and to decrease the instances of sexual violence against women, hopefully the legal system can become a symbol of equality and women’s rights. In analyzing at the Canadian legal system, it is also important to understand that it is inherently gendered and has traditionally be developed, interpreted, and implemented by men, making it difficult for women-centered reform and equality to be included (Davidson, 2011).

The case of R. v. O’Connor provides one of the clearest examples of the ‘discriminatory use of personal records in sexual violence cases’ (Busby, 2009, p. 519). In this instance, four Aboriginal women brought their former principal, priest, and employer to court for sexual assault that had occurred while he was in a position of authority over them. These women had grown up from the age of six in a residential school under O’Connor’s direct supervision and had become victims of sexual assault from O’Connor when they were in their 20’s and working under his supervision (Busby, 2009, p. 520). When in court, this discrimination was continued when O’Connor’s defense was able to acquire and utilize the women’s records from residential school—many of which would have been in part created by O’Connor. The women were also forced to release any additional records from therapy, counseling, or other services they may have acquired. During this case, it was argued that O’Connor’s right to a fair trial required accessing the personal records of the complainants in order to make a full defense and argument (Busby, 2009, p. 520). This case truly set the standard in allowing the accused to access the complainant’s personal files and records and cause further discrimination against and emotional distress to the complainant.

Following R. v. O’Connor’s ruling in allowing production, reporting of sexual assault decreased dramatically as did the numbers of women seeking counseling following sexual assault (Busby, 2009, p. 526). Therapists were forced to inform women seeking their services that any notes or proceedings of their meetings could be subpoenaed in the event that charges were brought to court. Group therapy sessions could exclude women who had experienced sexual assault as any group member could be subpoenaed and forced to attend trial if the case went to court (Busby, 2009, p. 526). Many women were left with little options and felt forced to choose between therapy and justice (Dawson, 2009, p. 528).

Bill C-46 amended the Criminal Code and applied some limitations to the production of the complainant’s personal records to try to apply a degree of protection to the complainant’s right to life, liberty, and security of person (Dawson, 2009, p. 528). These amendments were also made as the Supreme Court came to recognize that the production of personal records was requested almost exclusively in cases of sexual assault (Busby, 2009, p. 525) and are used to try to cause disrepute to a complainant’s credibility, actions, and character (Busby, 2009, p. 520; Dawson, 2009, p. 528).  As production occurs primarily in cases of sexual assault and as women are the primary victims of sexual assault the production of records was discriminating against the privacy and rights of women and children as well as further discriminating and perpetrate stereotypes (Busby, 2009, p. 525; Belzil, 2009, p. 535). Bill C-46 was fought against in the case of R. v. Mills as the accused argued that in balancing constitutional rights he was being denied the right to a fair trial. In discussing the case Belzil (2009, p. 533) also stated that in sexual assault cases, the accused in on trial however, in utilizing personal records the complainant and their credibility is essentially put on trial. While Bill C-46 does provide some additional protection to women and victims of sexual assault, it also leaves the definition of relevance and its ability to further discrimination to be defined and interpreted by the judge (Department of Justice, Canada, 2011; Tang, 1998, p. 267), which allows for some elements of inequality to still be present.

As stated by Busby (2009, p. 523), when rapists select a victim, a trend is to look for vulnerability and availability and this has little to do with the actions of women themselves. Vulnerability becomes a key factor in the case of minority women as visible minorities in Canada face a higher instance of sexual assault and violent crime and tend to view the court poorly in terms of delivering justice (only twenty-two percent view it positively) and helping the victim (only twenty-nine percent believe the victim is helped) (Statistics Canada, 2008). As a result of this, visible minorities are less likely to report instances of crime and to instill their trust into the Canadian justice system. This idea of vulnerability rings true when analyzing the statistics surrounding victimization with 211 incidents per 1000 persons who are visible minorities and only 107 instances for non-visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2008).

The lack of faith in the criminal justice system seems understandable when only nine percent of sexual assaults are reported, and of that only 33 percent result in charges, and of that only eleven percent result in convictions, meaning that only 0.32 percent of sexual assaults result in convictions (Davidson, 2011; Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2008, p. 6). This leaves a staggering number of criminals walking free and leaves women and victims with a declining sense of trust in the Canadian legal system. The lack of trust in reporting sexual assault also makes it harder for women and victims to seek reparation and help for the acts committed against them; this cycle of thought leads not only to rape myths, but also to a stigma against the victim (Busby, 2009, p. 526). These beliefs further victimize the woman or victim in everyday life, and cause additional victimization regardless of whether the assault is brought to trial or not.

While the Canadian legal system has made substantial changes towards improving victim and complainant rights during sexual assault cases, additional reforms are necessary. Without changes occurring outside of the legal system, it is highly unlikely that legal reform will be realized to its full potential (Tang, 1998, pp. 266-268). Legal reform should be matched with education reform for all (potential victims and offenders) and additional support networks for victims should be developed—through sexual assault centres, health clinics, or support groups (Tang, 1998, p. 268) that would be developed outside of the reach of the court. Increased education would also increase the likelihood that women report all instances of sexual assault to authorities, as currently women are more likely to only report instances of sexual assault that they deem to be violent or have caused physical harm to them. Educational components would help to reduce the stigma associated with sexual assault and rape myths and these components should be developed with the support of groups catering to ethnic and religious minorities to help further the sense of community support (Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, 2009; Tang, 1998, p. 268).

Sources

Belzil, J. (2009). R. v. Mills (Alta. Q.B.). In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., pp. 532-538). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Busby, K. (2009). Discriminatory Uses of Personal Records in Sexual Violence Cases. In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., pp. 519-528). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. (2008). Sexual Assault in Canada, 2004. Statistics Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Industry.

Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada. (2009). No Stigma for Rape Victims in Islam. In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., p. 548). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Davidson, T. (2011). Women and the Law.

Dawson, T. B. (2009). Bill C-46, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (production of records in sexual offence proceedings). In T. B. Dawson, Women, Law and Social Change: Core Readings and Current Issues (Fifth Edition ed., pp. 528-532). Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Department of Justice, Canada. (2011, 11 22). Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) Sections 271-278.91. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Statistics Canada. (2008, 11 17). Visible Minorities and Victimization: Findings. Retrieved 11 25, 2011, from Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85f0033m/2008015/5002072-eng.htm

Tang, K.-l. (1998). Rape Law Reform in Canada: The Success and Limits of Legislation. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology , 42 (3), 258-270.