By Emma Powell
We live in a world where there still exist places where women are arrested for driving; for choosing how they dress. We live on a continent where women are blatantly disregarded as commodities and traded for cattle; where cultural relativism trumps universalism even in the most economically developed and socially advanced of countries. We live in a nation where our leaders serve sushi on the bodies of naked females at their birthday parties; where one in four women will be raped in their life time; where some infants are raped before their first birthdays. We refrain from comment when our political commentators think that depicting both Justice and Free Speech as not only weak and oppressed concepts but albeit as women being raped, is humorous.
After reading Khadija Magardie’s Defending the Halal Hymen (M&G 17 June), an interesting commentary analysing the use of rape as a strategic weapon of war, I was left feeling breathless, outraged and somewhat defeated. It got me thinking about what it means to be a woman today. Have the tides of change genuinely washed over us, or are women merely privy to a different form of oppression? At first, my answer would be a resounding “NO! We’re free! Merci, Madame de Beauvoir!” Sadly, it seems I may be wrong. Our oppression has just taken on a new form, one so disguised by the transcendent façade of liberation and protectionism that the majority of us would never recognize it.
Now I’m no bra burner, and I shave my legs. Actually, until a few days ago when all these frightening realizations struck, I genuinely thought that Germaine Greer et al had exhausted what my more daring male friends like to call the feminazi debate during its Second Wave back in the 1970’s. Today, I am horrified. My realizations come crashing down on me as do NATO’s air strikes on civilians in Libya.
Rape during times of war is no new phenomenon. We all understand that when a territory is occupied by foreign forces, guerilla’s or armed militias, rape is used to gain control. We also know that the phenomenon of rape does this in a variety of ways. It deprives women the right to their bodily integrity and autonomy; it casts aspersions on ethnic purity; it deprives men the certainty of their own progeny; it leads to both physical and mental health problems and ultimately, it dehumanizes, humiliates and destroys both the victims of rape and the communities within which they live. We have seen it for over a decade in the Democratic Republic of Congo- a conflict so convoluted that even the United Nations is not quite sure what how to help. We have seen it in Rwanda, in Darfur and in Sierra Leone. Yet, with the exception of the deployment of MONUC (now MONUSCO) in the DRC a decade ago and a few weak and weary peace keeping forces sent into Rwanda and the Sudan, genuinely effective and honest foreign intervention is rare. Sustained civilian protection by NATO forces is even rarer. ICC indictments on ruling Heads of State- well they’re a holy grail of sorts, reserved only for the most brutal of regime leaders.
The question then begs answering: what is the real reason for this week’s ICC indictment of Gaddafi? Is it because the international community is ashamed of their previous reticence during times of civil conflict in Africa? If so, why not intervene now in Somalia or Ethiopia too? Is it because Gaddafi is putting the outcome of the Arab Spring in jeopardy, thus strengthening the position of other despots around the world? If so, what about Bahrain’s autocratic monarchy or Burma’s resistance to become a truly plural democracy? Is it because women in Libya such as Iman al-Obeidy, are becoming collateral damage in the conflict? If so, what about the female citizens of every single nation involved in a conflict since time immortal or at least the inception of the United Nations in 1945? Oh, silly me! It’s because like the dozens of brutal, chauvinistic, gut wrenchingly violent leaders that have gone before Gaddafi, his forces have also raped their women. Except this time, Libya turns out to be an economically strategic, geo-political stronghold for the West because it has very specific resources and because the influence Gaddafi exerts upon other post-independent African leaders is a major threat to regional ‘stability’.
So, because this particular despot did the unimaginable and allegedly ordered shipments of ‘Viagra-type drugs’ for his loyalist armed forces with the alleged intention of increasing the frequency of rape, his regime must be quelled, and quickly. It goes without saying the leadership of both NATO and the ICC known full well that a mass rape charge will spark outrage and horror amongst even the most politically uninterested of individuals and thus their campaign, the civilian casualties they have caused and their (France’s) blatant disrespect for the United Nation’s resolutions on the matter will pale into insignificance amidst such charges.
It seems that despite the myriad of protectionist policies, mandates and resolutions passed at the male dominated round table discussions of international organizations, the concepts of equality, freedom and protection are as nuanced and self-serving as the forms of oppression they seek to silence. The use of rape in any shape or form, whether the physical act itself or the strategic manipulation of the act for the purposes of retaliatory campaigns, is absolutely unacceptable.
Personally, I believe my feminazi horror is justified. Not only are women physically and emotionally violated during war by the criminals themselves, but these crimes then are strategically used, how and when it suits the international community to step up their strategic campaign to gain control, oust unwanted leaders and institute ideologically unthreatening moderates. It’s a double pillage, a more heinous form of violence, poignantly labeled Rape. It smacks of Western bias, it speaks of a greater disrespect than the crime itself.
Genuine rights for women, well, that’s a matter for another day. Tell me, how far have we really come?