Red Cards to Stop Rape - The Borgen Project
Sexual violence can be addressed by two different questions:

1. How can we empower women to prevent sexual violence?

2. How can we empower men to change their attitudes and practices related to sexual violence?

Programs often tend to focus on addressing one question or the other. However, research organizations, such as the International Center for Research on Women, support both methods.

FHI 360, Family Health International, cites international data indicating, “one in three women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non-partner in their lifetimes.”

The red card program has been used in Ethiopia and South Africa to address the first question of female empowerment.

When women attempt to avoid unwanted violence or contact from men, the word “no” often does not work. A comprehensive study by the ICRW indicates that the high prevalence of rape in Croatia, Mexico, Chile, Rwanda, and India is partially due to the fact that for some men, “no means yes”.

The red card programs train young women to be assertive in preventing unwanted sexual behavior from men. The analogy of the red card in soccer is used because both men and women associate the red card with the notion to stop some kind of action. Young women are provided with actual red cards that can help them be more assertive when they want to say “no” to unwanted behavior. Of course, “no” should mean “no,” and sexual violence can never be justified by a lack of “prevention” on the part of the victim. The only way to end rape is to have rapists stop raping.

The idea is that because the word “no” often does not work, the action of displaying the red card can be more effective. In Ethiopia, about half of the students who received training on the red card program have used it to “say no to sugar daddies, to abusive professors, to avoid violence, to refuse alcohol and other substances, and to insist on condom use.”

In South Africa, the program was implemented through Sonke Gender Justice Network, Grassroots Soccer and other NGOs. Mass media forms such as television and radio were used to target many people. Over 1,000 people completed the red card training with Sonke and over 12,000 people completed the program with Grassroots Soccer.

While the red card programs are innovative approaches to provide women with the power to avoid unwanted behavior in the immediate time, the ultimate goal would be for “no” to actually mean “no,” and for men to recognize and respect this. This is why institutions such as ICRW also support research and programs that will change the attitudes and practices of men.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: FHI 360 1, FHI 360 2, HCRW Publications, Africa Entertainment,
Photo: FHI 360

sierra_leone_banIn 2010, Sierra Leone banned visibly pregnant girls from attending school. Schools were shut down for nine months during the Ebola outbreak, but reopened again on April 14, 2015, with the ban still in place.

The ban is in effect because visibly pregnant girls supposedly set a bad example for their classmates. Sierra Leone’s minister of education, Minkailu Bah, argued that “innocent girls” could be influenced by those who are pregnant and pregnancy rates could increase.

Bah’s statement is far from the truth. Having pregnant classmates would most likely cause a drop in pregnancy rates. NPR explains that teen pregnancies in the United States dropped almost 6 percent from watching the MTV show, 16 and Pregnant. Girls who see their classmates pregnant would be less likely to become pregnant themselves.

Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous places for expectant mothers, with high rates of maternal and child mortality. One-third of pregnant women in Sierra Leone are teenagers. The teenage pregnancy rates and incidences of maternal and child mortality were decreasing before Ebola, but have increased once again. Incidences of sexual violence rose during the Ebola epidemic, and girls, especially those who had lost a relative to Ebola, traded sex for supplies to help them survive.

The ban on educating pregnant girls is also detrimental because many girls see pregnancy as a turning point and are encouraged to work even harder to get an education because they know that they will have to support themselves as well as their children. The fact that girls who are inspired to get an education are not allowed to access it is extremely worrisome. If Sierra Leone lifts its ban, it will give these girls an opportunity to support themselves.

The ban also fails to acknowledge girls who are pregnant as a result of rape. Seventeen-year-old Isatu Gbanky was a student in Sierra Leone but was not allowed to return to school after it reopened because she was pregnant. Isatu said, “I was raped by a fellow student. He forced me to have sex while I was fetching water for my family. I hope the government makes an exception for girls like me.”

Isatu’s story is unfortunately not unique, but the government has yet to lift the ban on pregnancy for either rape victims or those who became pregnant through consensual sex. However, there is hope that the ban will end soon. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Irish Aid and the Department for International Development are working with Sierra Leone, and may be able to come to an agreement over a temporary solution which would involve pregnant girls getting a formal education outside the classroom. Since teenage pregnancy rates in Sierra Leone are so high, if this agreement is reached, it will be extremely significant for education levels throughout the country.

Pregnant girls attending school does not cause higher pregnancy rates. If Sierra Leone wants to lower its rate of teenage pregnancies, it needs to focus on making school cheaper and more accessible, rather than banning pregnant girls who want to attend. Girls who know that they can gain an education and have a future are less likely to get pregnant and more likely to focus on their schooling.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: The Guardian, NPR, VOA, NY Times
Photo: The Huffington Post

human trafficking

There are numerous causes of human trafficking, but the root of most causes is money. Reaping approximately $150 billion and victimizing close to 27 million people, human trafficking is the fastest-growing illicit industry in the world. It includes sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced child labor and the unlawful recruitment of soldiers. The common factor lurking behind the different causes of human trafficking is the victim’s vulnerability to exploitation.

Characterized by low costs and high returns, human trafficking is an extremely lucrative enterprise. Harvard’s Siddharth Kara discovered that the cost of today’s slaves is, on average, $420 and modern slaves can generate more than 500 percent in annual return on investment. In comparison, the cost of slaves in 1850, after adjusting for inflation, was between $9,500 and $11,000. During the time, the return on investment from a slave was significantly lower, around 15 to 20 percent in annual return on investment. Furthermore, traffickers face low risks, although more governments around the world are actively penalizing human traffickers, and have a steady stream of vulnerable people to exploit.


Poverty & Causes of Human Trafficking


Although the world successfully reduced global poverty by 35 percent in the past 27 years, 767 million people still live in poverty and make up a portion of the pool of those vulnerable to human trafficking. The structural causes of human trafficking are poverty, lawlessness, social instability, military conflict, natural disasters, weak law enforcement and racial and gender biases. These structural causes represent the broader, necessary requirement for human trafficking to thrive: vulnerability.

Many times, poor families will give their children away to traffickers posing as agents promising their children better lives. Refugee camps are prime locations for this kind of exploitation. Where displaced people lack many forms of proper care, shrewd traffickers build relationships with corrupt officials and freely prey on the weak.

In a more recent example, migrants who cross the Sahara to escape war and terrorism are often captured by traffickers in northern parts of Africa. The International Organization for Migration reported that many of these migrants are falsely promised jobs and then are sold publicly in Libyan slave markets. Many do not make it to Europe.

Human trafficking can happen anywhere, as long as the environment contains vulnerable conditions. The New York Times estimates that one-fifth of homeless youth are victims of human trafficking in the U.S. and Canada. In West Africa, traffickers pose as teachers and enslave optimistic students to become beggars. In 2015, the Associated Press discovered that young migrants and impoverished Thais were forced to catch seafood that later ended up in the world’s seafood supply, including on the shelves of America’s major retailers and supermarkets. Thai agents recruited children and the disabled, some of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in the world.

Today, many countries are collaborating together to reduce the causes of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department Trafficking-in-Persons Report is the world’s most comprehensive resource on anti-trafficking efforts, including 188 countries and territories. Countries that fail to meet the report’s minimum requirements fall to tier three status, which can result in sanctions on the country. In 2016, Thailand was recognized for making significant strides in eliminating human trafficking.

Locally, ordinary people and nonprofits are continually impacting their communities. Nonprofits, such as Mango House in Chiang Mai, Thailand or FOREFRONT in India, continue to address these structural issues that breed vulnerability.

– Andy Jung
Photo: Flickr

Uganda shares many of the same struggles most African countries have, including defilement. The Guardian states that defilement is a, “sex crime against juveniles that seems to thrive on widespread poverty.” Because of the poverty, many reported cases of defilement are dropped because parents are paid off with large sums of money so the defendant won’t face imprisonment.

Girls have to endure this abuse and so much more. Young girls are married off and have no control over who they marry, when they marry them and when they will begin birthing children. Wanting to put an end to this inequality, Ugandan Nargis Shirzai founded the Wo-man Foundation.

The Wo-man Foundation was created to empower women and girls of Uganda, “by working to improve their sexual and reproductive health and rights,” Global Citizen reports. One of the campaigns the foundation is initiating is providing girls with sexual and reproductive classes and providing girls with sanitary pads so that girls do not miss class because of their menstrual cycle and a lack of sanitization. When girls can stay in school, they’re more likely to graduate, marry later in life, survive pregnancy, and continue the trend of education.

Partnered with AFRIpads, Ugandan girls in rural areas who typically have to use rags or paper, now have access to reusable sanitary pads.

In addition to classes and providing sanitation, Shirzai intends to hold the government accountable to its commitments of FP2020, which will supply citizens with necessary supplies for family planning, increase the budget from $3 million to $5 in the next five years and be accountable for financial distribution. Holding to these promises will likely prove a vast improvement to the health and well-being of the country.

– Kori Withers

Sources: Global Citizen, Family Planning 2020, The Guardian, The Observer
Photo: Flickr

gender-based violence
In the wake of the release of Ray Rice’s assault on Janay Palmer, reports of the NFL’s lack of punishment for other domestic violence and sexual assault cases have flooded the media. Many are calling for a boycott of the industry; others demand the resignation of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

This has not been the only news in gender-based violence within the United States. Men and women on college campuses have called attention to the high rates of sexual assault at colleges and universities across the country. Increased exposure also revealed the lack of effective investigation or punishment for the perpetrator. Even after the federal government became involved, lack of action at colleges and universities continues.

The problem of violence toward women is not limited to the United States. In many cases, incidence of sexual violence is closely related to poverty.

In India, survivors of sexual violence often experience the same lack of investigation and justice that survivors in the United States do. Al Jazeera reports that, in India, many women are offered a bribe in exchange for the perpetrator going free. These bribes do not come free of fear. In some cases, women are intimidated into dropping the charges.

In Fugana, India, this was the case for a 24-year-old woman, who, allegedly, was raped by three men. For other women, religious riots incited gang rapes, but fear of further attack prevents them from reporting the crimes. Even if survivors file reports, the conviction rate is only 25 percent.

According to SN Chaudhary, poverty plays a role in the occurrence of sexual violence in India. Women in lower socioeconomic groups are more often victims of rape. Higher rates of rape victims were illiterate than literate, suggesting a higher level of financial and social vulnerability.

In Uttar Pradesh, high rates of women have been raped while going to their bathroom outside. Over 90 percent of rape victims were Dalits, or members of the lowest caste. Most of these victims were minors.

More than that, high rates of sexual violence are an indicator of a highly patriarchal societal structure, which contributes to high rates of poverty.

How so? Survivors suffer from a high level of shame because they feel that their honor and respect are lost. In some cases, this translates into a loss of respect and honor for the family. This can lead to a lack of economic opportunity and isolation from a community. If women targeted come from poor backgrounds, rape often locks them into poverty.

As of 2013, India ranked 134 of 187 countries on a United Nations measurement of gender disparities in education, employment, health care and political representation. Limiting women’s access to these basic rights reduces the opportunity for nearly half of the population to reach financial security.

Allowing women to escape poverty can contribute to entire families reaching a new socioeconomic level and increasing access to education, healthcare and other key components of poverty reduction.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Al Jazeera, PolicyMic, Human Rights and Poverty in India
Sources: EEA Grants

Female mechanics in the Congo
In a nation where rape is rampant and commonplace, women are taking matters into their own hands. Sporting blue jumpsuits and grease stained hands, women of the city of Goma are asserting their independence as female mechanics in the Congo.

A 2011 study from the American Journal of Public Health found that about 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC. The incidence of sexual abuse is pervasive in Congolese society, as it is implicitly condoned in the domestic sphere. Husbands have unyielding authority over their wives; women still need their husband’s permission to start a business or open a bank account. Matters are even more severe in the city of Goma, which has been given the title “ the rape capital of the world.”

However, this has not discouraged women in Goma. In fact, it has empowered them. Despite social censure and criticism, they are entering the workforce as mechanics, a position traditionally reserved for men. Natural disaster coupled with routine insurgent outbreaks has left the infrastructure of the city dilapidated and downtrodden. The demand for mechanics is therefore high.

The girls claim that as mechanics, prospects are more promising. When they arrive to the auto body yard they are simply expected to perform their tasks. They are not subject to discrimination or scrutiny; they are treated just like everybody else. This for them is a type of independence that they have never experienced. And it’s certainly uprooted traditional, patriarchal norms.

Two young female mechanics in the Congo, Kubuya Mushingano and Dorcas Lukonge, have been practicing at an auto body yard for about four months now, after a year of training at ETN, or Equipe d’Education et d’Encadrement des Traumatses de Nyiragongo. ETN in conjunction with CARE International, has been functioning as a vocational training program since 2013, pulling street kids, young mothers, sexual abuse survivors and former soldiers throughout Goma.

These apprentices are given the choice of seven different sectors of training. Though in the Congo females make up half of the labor force typically as seamstresses, cooks or farm laborers, trainers of ETN encourage females to pursue unconventional vocations. For Mushingano and Lukonge (and many others), this was mechanics. When their fellowships at the auto body yard ends, ETN will give them a mechanic’s kit to start their own business or join a current one and become self-sufficient.

Jeane, a female mechanic trainee at ETN, was a victim of sexual violence herself. She said that the skills she has learned and acquired as a mechanic have given her a new sense of autonomy. Like many acts of social defiance, female mechanics in the DRC are quiet, yet powerful. Their subtle defiance is in some ways making a loud statement.

– Samantha Scheetz


Sources: The Daily Beast, The Guardian, The New Africa
Photo: The Daily Beast

When a man in India was accused of assaulting a neighbor’s wife, the village leaders ordered a horrendous punishment: the rape of that man’s 14-year-old sister. The neighbor was instructed to carry out the rape, which occurred sometime after midnight on Sunday and daytime on Monday. The punishment–called revenge rape–is not uncommon in rural India.

In January, another council of village elders ordered the gang rape of a 20-year-old in West Bengal for being involved with a man from another community. She was beaten, raped and later died from injuries, as they had also raped her with a metal pole. And a year ago, a 24-year-old woman in northern India was forced to marry a man and was then gang raped as punishment for her brother’s elopement.

In most of rural India, women are still viewed as the property of their families and even their communities. Though rape outside of marriage is illegal in India, eye-for-an-eye revenge rape is still part of the tradition.

“If you want to hurt the husband, hurt the father or hurt the community, then you rape the woman to say, ‘All right, I’m soiling your goods,'” explains secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association Kavita Krishnan.

The rapist’s wife defends his actions. Her father was reportedly one of the village elders that ordered the revenge rape.

The mother of the 14-year-old victim told CNN that she had begged the council members and fellow villagers to stop the rape of her child, but no one did anything.

“We begged with folded hands but they would not listen. They dragged her away to the forest,” the mother recalled.

The young teen’s parents found their daughter bleeding an hour after the violent rape and took her to the police station. According to the police spokesperson, her clothes were smeared with blood. Later, she was admitted to the hospital because of renewed bleeding and difficulty walking.

The Indian police have arrested the rapist, his father-in-law and the attempted rapist from the week prior. However, securing a conviction and then keeping that conviction from being overturned is difficult in India. Only 1 out of 635 rape cases reported in India in 2011 have resulted in conviction. Though the Delhi attack has begun a reformation of women’s rights, the laws are not well enforced in rural India, and marital rape is still legal.

– Kimmi Ligh

Sources: NPR,  Daily Mail, The Wall Street Journal 1, The Wall Street Journal 2, RYOT, NY Daily News, USA Today, National Post
Photo: NY Daily News

reproductive health
Modern conflicts continue to uphold the old adage “when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” Women and young children are the most vulnerable members of society for a variety of reasons, meaning they must endure the hard end of the stick when conflict rolls through their communities.

Children are vulnerable for obvious reasons – they are physically weak, ideologically malleable and typically do not have nearly as many financial resources as adults. Their plight is apparent on the United States’ southern border, where thousands of Central American children are seeking shelter after fleeing rampant violence in their home countries.

Women also lag behind men concerning access to financial resources. Widows are left in a rough position after their husbands are killed during armed conflict, having to care for their children and make a livelihood in the absence of a male head-of-household. In addition, rape is a prominent consequence of war and can leave the victim physically, emotionally and socially scarred. Women are often the target of sexual violence, which leaves stigma, disease and unwanted pregnancies in its wake.

Women are most exposed to the setbacks of conflict when they are with child. The World Health Organization reports that out of the 10 countries with the highest maternal mortality rates, eight of them are experiencing conflict.

A recent publication by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that, “Conflict can negatively impact all aspects of reproductive health, directly through damage to services, gender-based violence and forced displacement of populations, and indirectly through reductions in the availability of basic health care and breakdown of normal social institutions.”

The RCOG report also states that humanitarian emergencies lead to 170,000 maternal fatalities each year, and that 15 percent of displaced women face life-threatening complications during pregnancy.

Conflict prevents women from accessing reliable contraceptives as well. An increase in unwanted pregnancies leads to a rise in dangerous abortion practices, which account for 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide.

In light of rising global migration and ongoing conflicts, humanitarian workers must continue to be particularly sensitive to reproductive health issues if they wish to help the most exposed victims of violence.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Tech Times,
Photo: Flickr


At the first ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended by over 900 experts, faith leaders, international organizations and survivors from more than 100 countries, sexual violence in conflict was addressed as a serious war crime.

Held in London and co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Angelina Jolie, the Summit built off the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was endorsed by two-thirds of the U.N. member states in September 2013.

The Summit aimed to end the culture of impunity and address the serious ramifications of sexual violence on a population. A new International Protocol was put forward to strengthen prosecutions for those who commit acts of sexual violence during war. The protocol also creates guidelines to train peacekeepers and soldiers who work in conflict zones to be better equipped to handle populations who are at risk for sexual violence.

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on the final day of the Summit, drew lessons from history to encourage the possibility of ending this type of violence in conflict. Advocating for a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual violence, ending impunity and providing more support for survivors, he stated, “we can establish new norms that respect women, girls, men and boys. And we can hold those who commit these acts and those who condone them – we can hold them all accountable.”

One important factor in addressing sexual violence in conflict is poverty. Many conflict zones today where sexual violence is most rampant are in countries with high levels of poverty, which affects women in particular. Women who have to walk home alone late at night, whose only access to a bathroom is outside of their home or who must walk long distances to collect firewood are vulnerable to attacks, both during times of peace and especially during times of conflict.

Countries that lack strong justice systems and where women, girls and men do not have access to strong education systems or who are not major players in economic activity are left vulnerable to these types of acts of violence, with no or little support after the conflict ends.

The Summit was an important step in beginning to address the issue and provide resources to women and men who are affected by sexual violence in conflict. As Secretary Kerry stated: “Acts of sexual violence demean our collective humanity.”

Therefore, ending impunity, providing resources for victims and eradicating poverty are all measures that will help end the practice of sexual violence as a tactic of war. Working to achieve environments where women and men are economically empowered, are able to receive an education and are more secure in their everyday activities are important factors that will contribute to a decrease in instances of sexual violence in conflict.

— Andrea Blinkorn

Sources: 1, 2, US Embassy, The Guardian, All Africa
Photo: Reuters

Since military conflicts erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the 1990s, rates of sexual violence have increased significantly and become a major issue across the region. Though conflict in the DRC officially ended in 2003, fighting has continued and taken more than 5 million lives since the war began almost 20 years ago.

Sexual violence in the DRC, along with related crimes, have been called the worst in the world, particularly in the eastern region of the country. A study from the American Journal of Public Health states that in the DRC, 1,152 women are raped every day, and an estimated 12 percent of the female population of the DRC has been raped at least once.

Research has shown that many of the sexual attacks are related to armed conflict, and thus, the United Nations Development Program is helping the DRC strengthen its military justice program to make it fair, just and constructive in helping sexual violence victims.

Across the regions, trials are taking place following years of conflict and acts of violence in the DRC. Many soldiers have not been punished for their actions due to their special treatment in the military system, but the civilian courts are working their way through cases with the support of the UNDP. Thirty-one convictions and 9 investigative missions into serious war crimes under the International Criminal Court have resulted from UNDP support.

“It was important that the case be tried here because it is the exact location where the incidents [of rape and murder] occurred,” said Captain Magistrate Bienvenu Muanansele, from the Tribunal Militaire de Garnison de Goma. “These trials held before the people of Bweremana show the people how justice does its job. The law prevails, even for the military.”

The UNDP is also supporting the DRC military in training soldiers to understand the law, the consequences of violent attacks against civilians and human rights. A total of 2,432 soldiers and officials have gone through this training process.

In addition to these steps to reduce violent acts by soldiers, many organizations are working to provide support and community for female sexual violence victims. Masika is a rape victim and founder of a rescue center for sexual violence survivors. After being exiled by her parents in-law, she decided to offer community and support to other women who had experienced sexual assault. Following an army attack in the nearby marketing town of Minova, 130 rape victims came to Masika’s camp.

The stigma against rape victims in the DRC is so severe that in many cases, women are exiled from their families and ostracized. However, women support groups are beginning to provide community as rapists are being brought to justice.

An organization called SAMWAKI, or A Voice to Rural Women in Swahili, works to provide information and training for rural women through community radio. The group aims to increase women’s knowledge on topics from health to farming, and provides listening groups for victims to share their experiences.

Similarly, AFEM (L’Association des Femmes des Médias du Sud Kivu) offers journalism training and a space for women to be a voice for sexual violence survivors. Founded by young journalist Chouchou Namegabe, the organization aims to increase women’s representation in the media.

While sexual violence in the DRC continues to be one of the worst cases in the world, both international and domestic groups are working to end the normalization and prevalence of rape. Gradually, soldiers and sexual assailants are being brought to justice, and women are coming together, speaking out and finding community.

— Julia Thomas

Sources: UNDP, The Independent, The Guardian, Washington Post
Photo: ICMHD