Rape and sexual violence are used as weapons of war because they are inexpensive and have longer lasting effects than guns or other weapons. UNICEF has noted that sexual violence “erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can.” Sexual violence and rape not only have negative, long-term impacts on women, but also their children, their families and their communities.

The effects are far reaching. Women suffer both psychologically and physically, as well as socially and economically.

When women are victims of sexual violence, they often suffer physically from persistent pain, fistula and infertility. Women can also contract HIV or other STDs, that put them at a severely disadvantaged position for the rest of their lives. In instances where women are injured so severely that they are unable to work, they suffer economically as well.

Psychological effects can emerge years later and have a long lasting impact including depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), low self esteem and suicidal thoughts.

During conflict, women are at risk for being victims of sexual violence, and in post-conflict societies, women are at risk of the social impacts resulting from being raped or experiencing sexual violence. Using rape as a weapon of war causes long lasting impact on the lives of the victims.

Due to the stigma of rape, women are often forced from their families or divorced by their husbands. This can be extremely problematic in societies where a woman’s economic security depends on marriage. When women are isolated, they are often forced into a life of poverty.

In instances where women become pregnant after being raped, they are isolated from their communities for birthing an “enemy child.” This is detrimental to a woman’s well-being in a multitude of ways, as they are cut from communities that once helped support them. The mental impact is equally severe, while it is even further enhanced by the economic impact of having to raise a child.

On the other hand, societies where a woman’s value is dependent on her ability to have children, infertility as a result of being raped or a victim of sexual violence can seriously affect a woman’s social standing and perceived worth.

Sexual violence and rape as  weapons of war damage entire families and communities whether women stay within them or are outcast. As women are isolated, communities are broken. If they stay, men are affected as they feel they have failed in their role as “protector.” The physical, mental, social and economic impacts felt by women, men and children can last decades and even multiple generations.

— Kim Tierney

Sources: Harvard, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, ODI
Photo: Woodmark

Overfull and varying widely in accommodation, Syrian refugee camps have become an international crisis. The United Nations has made the largest humanitarian appeal for aid ever at $5 billion to relieve the situation but has received less than $2 billion to date. Some 2.2 million refugees are currently scattered across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt while more Syrians are fleeing war at an alarming pace. Estimates say more than 3 million refugees will be in those areas by January.

Such numbers are startling given the Syrian population before the onset of war was only  22.5 million. Lebanon, for example, has no official camps despite having more than a million refugees in its borders and does not allow the building of permanent refugee structures. Those who can afford it rent apartments or rooms in the cities at an exorbitant rate while others share the homes of sympathetic civilians or even inhabit abandoned buildings in depressed areas. In the northeast region, an average of 17 people per household are packed together according to a study conducted by Doctors Without Borders last year.

Water, food and healthcare are rationed out slowly and insufficiently, with less to go around as numbers rise. Employment for refugees was around 20% last year in Lebanon, and the economies of Iraq, Turkey and Jordan are in little better position to provide opportunities for such a rapid influx of labor.

Dependency on humanitarian aid is heightened and the desperation of the situation has many refugees working for extremely low wages in poor conditions and engaging in child labor. Economic and physical insecurity in Jordan’s Zataari camp has led parents to arrange hurried marriages for their teenage daughters as young as 14. Matchmakers recruit young girls for Saudi husbands but often end up as prostitutes or victims of “pleasure marriages” where the suitor divorces them after consummation.

Though some of Syria’s displaced persons find bourgeois  housing in Cairo or end up in one of Turkey’s refugee camps that consist of metal trailers with access to satellite T.V. and air conditioning, most see basic necessities and sanitation as luxuries. The Domiz camp in Iraq is made up primarily of tents and has 45,000 residents despite being designed for just 30,000. In just two weeks between August and September, more than 1,500 people were treated for upper respiratory infections there by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Security is also an issue in these camps with reports of rape, theft, kidnapping and murder being common. In the Zataari camp, Jordan security forces restrict entry but lack the manpower to adequately police the camp’s 120,000 residents. Other camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey reportedly funnel arms and recruits back into Syria. In Lebanon, crime has increased by 30% and increased tensions between Hezbollah and Sunni refugees may be behind the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

Syria’s bordering nations are gradually increasing restrictions for entering refugees. Lebanon and Turkey are both planning to relocate some people to camps they wish to build within Syria’s insecure borders. Only about 25% of Syria’s refugees are actually in camps now, the rest are trying to survive by their own means. There are also an additional 3.8 million who are internally displaced.

Despite their faults, the refugee camps provide essential support and the need for more camps is evident, but where they can be built and how they will be funded is not so clear.

– Tyson Watkins

Sources: Medecins Sans Frontieres, World Health Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Arab Republic,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Moving Refugees, The Guardian, Integrated Regional Information Networks, BBC, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Syrian Regional Response Plan, Aljazeera, The Daily Star United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Stories from Syrian Refugees, The New York Review of Books
Photo: NPR

As teen pregnancies continue to decline in the United States, developing nations continue to see a disturbing trend of pregnancies in underage girls. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF,) nearly 19 percent of girls under the age of 18 will become pregnant this year and nearly 20 percent of them will occur in girls under age 14.

The greatest concentration of underage births occur in regions where women are seen as having less power than their male counterparts which is the case in West African, Latin American and Southern Asian countries.

Often girls become pregnant as a result of cultural traditions or economic hardship. For example, impoverished families may sell daughters for financial profit in areas where food and basic necessities are scarce.

Arranged marriages are still rampant in many cultures around the world and parents welcome the chance to lessen the financial burden of an additional child to feed. However, girls are often faced with physical or sexual abuse in addition to limited access to education and healthcare during their forced marriages.

UNICEF reports nearly 70,000 girls die from pregnancy and childbirth complications each year. In fact, pregnancies under the age of 15 significantly raise the risk of seizures, anemia, uterine infections and other life-threatening ailments.

In September, an eight year old Yemen girl named Rawan died from injuries suffered during her wedding night with her 40 year old ‘husband.’ She was rushed to a nearby clinic due to uterine rupture and bleeding, but was unable to be saved. Officials denied the event occurred, but local human rights activists are criticizing the cover-up. Despite efforts by human rights activists, over 50 percent of Yemen girls continue to marry before their eighteenth birthday due to societal and familial pressures.

The unfortunate trend continues to affect the lives of young women in India like Komol, whose plan to attend college was derailed when she became pregnant by her husband at age 16. The UNPF defines situations like Komol’s as human rights issues since girls are denied the freedom of governing their reproductive rights. UNPF executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin argues that such practices destroy the future of millions of girls.

As girls become pregnant, their severely limited access to education become non-existent as they become confined to running households. Moreover, other influences such as lack of reproductive healthcare, sexual abuse and poverty also contribute to underage pregnancies.

The extent of economic hardship and access to education are clearly related. In response to the practice, programs in Kenya and Guatemala have recently invested in raising girls’ access to education in order to decrease child pregnancies.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: CNN, Reuters
Photo: National Geographic

Did you know that…

1. An estimated 20-30 million people live in a state of slavery today.

2. 21 million people are in forced labor.

3. On average, each forced laborer generates $13,000. Some can make as much as $67,200.

4. After drug and arms trafficking, human trafficking ranks third as the largest international crime industry. On the whole, the human trafficking industry generates $32 billion each year, with $15.5 billion in industrialized countries alone.

5. In the U.S. alone, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are victims of this illegal trafficking annually.

6. In 46 percent of the cases of human trafficking, the victim personally knew the trafficker. Only 54 percent of all victims had traffickers they did not know.

7. Women and girls represent over 70 percent of all victims, and children account for half of the trafficked population.

8. Each year, 1 million children are exploited by the commercial sex trade.

9. In 2006, “there were only 5,808 prosecutions and 3,160 convictions throughout the world. This means that for every 800 people trafficked, only one person was convicted in 2006.”

10. Since Mauritania was the last country to decriminalize slavery in 2007, slavery is now prohibited in every country throughout the world.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: The CNN Freedom Project, Abolition Media

Gender Inequality Runs Rampant in India

In New Delhi, there are 13 times more toilets for men than there are for women. Specifically, there are 3,712 male public toilets, and a mere 269 female toilets. Women sometimes must resort to defecating in the open, which besides the obvious privacy violation, poses a significant risk of rape and violence.

Public Toilets in New Delhi are just one example of discrimination against women in India; it starts before women are even born, and continues throughout their entire life. Girls can be perceived as a financial burden in parts of India, as a result of their limited income opportunities and costly dowries; 500,000 Indian girls have died as a result of pre-natal sex selection and infanticide over the last 20 years.

If a bride can’t fulfill her dowry, she faces the risk of torture and death at the hands of her in-laws. In 2005, nearly 7,000 Indian women were killed for being unable to meet the financial requirements of their dowries, some of them as young as 15 years old.

Indian women are humiliated, abused, and killed every day. Before they are even born, their opportunities and experiences are decided for them. They will face violence and inequality at almost every turn; and even something as simple as access to public restrooms is not guaranteed for them.

There are ways to encourage gender equality in India, though they may be easier said than done. Laws that discriminate against women need to be amended; girls need to be educated to level the intellectual playing field, and India’s practice of perceiving men above women, needs to be addressed for change to last.

Dana Johnson

Sources: Trust, Advocates for Youth, Brookings
Photo: Asia News