The Darfur Women Action Group (DWAG) recently held their 3rd annual Women and Genocide Symposium, which brought together prominent scholars, attorneys, activists, and concerned citizens from conflicts around the world. The extensive list of speakers included DWAG’s President, Niemat Ahmadi, Chair of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, Project Officer from UN Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, Marion Arnaud, President and CEO of United to End Genocide, Tom Andrews, the new president of Genocide Watch, Hadley Rose, ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and many, many more. The discussion focused on defining the challenges faced in addressing women’s experience in these tragedies and working toward bringing justice to the affected communities.
While it is only the third year for the conference, the Women and Genocide Symposium takes on a larger significance as part of a growing movement to recognize the connections between women and genocide. The problems women face in genocide have been historically overlooked in analyses of mass atrocities which focus almost exclusively on men’s experiences in conflict. Sexual assault, in particular, has historically been viewed as a trivial side effect of violence and a lack of security, rather than part of a genocide itself. However, this perspective is starting to change.
Abroad, activists are beginning to document the way that gender roles in the affected areas are played on in genocide, leading to strategies such as the use of rape as a weapon of war. In the United States, scholars are starting to discuss the way that policymakers’ perceptions of gender have been obscuring their perceptions of conflict, causing them to tend to overlook the ways that genocide uniquely affects women. This negatively impacts the solutions they create, leading to inaccurate policies that fail to properly protect women. And perhaps one of the most important observations has been the way that women have historically been kept out of the peace process, both by domestic and international forces. However, if the international community can actively work to include more women in negotiations and rebuilding, there can also be hope for women at the end of these tragedies.
A few highlights from the event:
Ikklas Abdelmageed, a Sudanese fellow at United States Institute of Peace, discussed the lack of action on women’s rights and the lack of protection women are afforded from sexual violence, particularly in the IDP camps. She noted that NGOs that aid women in Sudan are not doing enough – she recounted a story of a young woman who tried to get help from UNAMID (The United Nation African Mission in Darfur) and was told that their mandate did not include rape cases. Ikklas said that many women are also doubtful about being involved in the peace process because of a distrust of the government, but that she is working to improve this in the future.
Myra Dahgaypaw, an activist for Burmese women, discussed the sexual violence committed by Burmese security forces against Rohingya women, which she described as “widespread.” She made the point that it has negatively affected Rohingya women’s access to education, as their families often keep them home away from school in an effort to protect them from the sexual violence. President Obama recently completed his trip to Burma, so it remains to be seen whether the U.S. will be willing to play a role in halting the atrocities there, particularly for young women and girls.
Recovery in Rwanda:
Ambassador Mukantabana spoke about women in relation to the Rwandan genocide, providing hope for the future of other conflicts. Reconciliation and recovery in Rwanda has been held up as a success story and model for future recovery and women’s empowerment. However, while Rwanda made strides since the 90s, particularly by putting more women in the legislature, there were also critics who questioned whether these are legitimate changes capable of uplifting Rwandan women in the future.
Activists have made strides in changing the conversation, but the realities that women still face internationally are dire. In order to move forward, women and girls need to be protected from sexual violence and drastic changes will have to be made to ensure that justice is served to the perpetrators. However, the dedicated community of activists, scholars, and policymakers has the potential to make significant improvements. In her speech, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda discussed the challenges that the community would have to face in the future but also said that the these abuses could not go unpunished, and in her final statements, she warned: “Let the perpetrators be on notice.”
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This post was written by Carly Fabian, STAND’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer.