Since the 25th of November 2012, we have been observing 16 days of activism against gender violence, a vice that continues to penetrate our society preying among the vulnerable that are targeted because of their gender. This year I was particularly touched by the plight of one young girl I met during the course of my work. She represented the challenges women face during and after conflict situations. She made me realize that the battle against gender violence is not over and goes beyond physical violence. It should include breaking existing structural inequalities that often lead to vulnerability of victims in question.
Mary (not her real name) was abducted at the age of 12. During her life in captivity she worked as a porter and was forced to carry goods for long distances. She managed to escape from captivity after three years and upon returning home she found that her family had already moved to Internally Displaced Camps. While at the camps she was raped by a government soldier who asked her mother when she tried to stop him, why she was not willing to give her daughter to him yet she did so willingly to the rebels. Mary conceived out of the rape, powerless about her situation she decided to stay with the soldier so that he could take care of the child. She lived with him in an abusive “marriage” ending up with seven children, she decided to leave her husband and came back home with her children. Mary did not get a chance to go to school because of the war and neither did she have a source of income, she has to take care of seven children and she has no idea how to do so, she cannot afford to educate them let alone feed them. She currently earns a living from casual labourer in the village.
Mary represents what many women go through during and after conflict. The Lord’s Resistance Army did not only deny her a normal life but used her as a porter leading to her developing chest pains as a result of carrying heavy luggage. At the same time, the Government failed to protect her, leading to her abduction. While at the camp, the soldier was not a protector but an abuser, she was seen as a person who is readily available to satisfy sexual needs of a man with power at will. With her vulnerability she feared reporting the incident to her abuser’s colleagues rest she receives a backlash. With inaccessible reproductive health services to respond to such an incident, she was not able to stop a pregnancy. Stigma associated with children born out of wedlock and lack of means to take care of such a child, she opted to get married to her abuser who continued to abuse her and father her seven children. With no social economic empowerment, lost opportunity to go to school or get a skill that can help her provide for the family, she is left with the option of “living to survive”.
She and many others who have gone through worse experiences are the reason why the battle against gender violence especially in conflict situations must continue.