(picture courtesy of http://www.unicefusa.org/hidden/women-of-drc.html Roger LeMoyne. Photo of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo awaiting emergency medical treatment at the overwhelmed Panzi Hospital)
A week ago, a female friend shared an experience that left me unable to sleep that night. My friend (who I’ll refer to as K) was awoken in her hotel room by the weight of a man on top of her, and a hand covering her mouth. K survived this rape attempt by screaming and alerting people, and by kicking him off. This happened a couple months ago, and K is thankful that the assault did not progress into an even more invasive nightmare. Understandably, K is still actively recovering from this trauma, the trauma of being assaulted when safety was assumed and she was most vulnerable. She has only recently gotten to place where the wind blowing a curtain in her house does not send somatic alerts through her body. And she is clear that she kicked ass. When she shares this story with women, she is usually met with empathy and support. And everytime... K receives another story of survival.
I too am thankful that the assault was not worse. As a part of my spiritual practice, I always ask for protection of my loved ones, family and community, and also more specifically for protection of female bodied people who i am connected to. I will never know the fear that is a part of growing up female around possibly being raped. I know that boys and men can be raped too, and that many male bodied people are carrying scars of sexual abuse. I also know that the numbers of boys and men who are survivors are significantly smaller than survivors who are girls and women- and for the most part, we don’t go through life with the ever looming spectre of possibly being sexually assaulted.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. The main theme for this year is “Women and and men united to end violence against women and girls.” What can men do? We can model for other boys and men what a mature, non-oppressive man is like. We can support institutions and support healthy, feminist masculinities, and not support institutions that support more oppressive masculinities. There are also organizations like Men Can Stop Rape and Men Against Sexual Violence that do good work. Supporting organizations like San Francisco Women Against Rape, and other support services for rape survivors is another thing that anyone can do.
Those are some ideas for the local level (please add more!). As for the global level, that is something we are all going to have to brainstorm and pool resources over.
My sleepless night replaying K’s experience over and over again sent me into a downwards spiral, agonizing over the larger picture of the global reality of violence against women. Recently another female friend of mine sent me the link for a New York Times article entitled The Invisible War. I thought it was an aptly named phrase for the violence against women here at home, where the battlefields are usually secluded away from the public eye, and court systems do not make things easy for survivors. But this article was referring to the shockingly underreported state of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (yet another elucidating article labels the relative media and activist silence a “Grotesque Indifference”). In the DRC, rape has become the main weapon of war. Rape of hundreds of thousands of girls and women. Hundreds of thousands. Hundreds daily. Control over the mining of tin, coltan, and other materials fuel this war, as the DRC is the largest producer of most of these materials. These ores are responsible for making our cellphones, laptops, and other electronic gadgets, which no one needs to be informed has an incredible global demand. Militias fight to gain control of the mines, and use rape as a way to psychologically, spiritually, culturally- violently traumatize and dysfunctionalize whole communities. It is staggering to the soul to read the accounts.
I am going to place a boundary for protocol here regarding discussion of this painful subject. Understandably, this is horrific and enraging. However, i must emphasize that any comment which uses the words “savage” “animal” or “barbarian” to describe the marauding soldiers will be deleted. This is not in defense of the soldiers. These words are steeped in a historically racist lens. Yes, the acts are monstrous, horrible, sick, unspeakable, effed up, wrong, hateful, a sin, crimes against humanity and tons of other descriptors. If we could stick to this type of languaging, I would appreciate it. Because the news does not report the Israel army as being savage barbaric animals for burning civilians with phosphorous, or even the soldiers who were in the Serbian rape camps as such. But most articles around the crisis in the DRC use the word “savage” in the first paragraph. Including NPR.
In Aaronette M. White’s book “Ain’t I A Feminist” (reviewed on my blog here), White refers to Sojourner Truth as a pioneer of Black Feminism (and a role model for Black Feminist men), because she was able to have an “intersectional outlook on race and gender” (pg. 13) and she refused to prioritize the advancement of Black men at the exclusion of Black women. I am hoping that the readers of this blog can also hold an intersectional perspective where we can speak of the rights of women without devolving into racist dialogue. I am hoping we can all move together, and not make one form of oppression more acceptable than the other.
So what can we do about women in the Congo? As we all know, President Barack Obama has a full plate, but a part of his platform is to Fight Gender Violence Abroad. Let us remind him of this pledge, and SIGN THIS PETITION. We can also do our part by not caving in to buy every single new permutation of the cell phone. We live in a time where new models of phones are showcased and given names like new models of cars. Me, i have a BlackBerry. I think that’s fancy enough. Adopting a green stance and a culture of re-use also helps. Some of us have a couple of cell phones lying around. Those can be recycled, and materials can go back into the industry without depending on “blood ores”. Click here for electronic recycle depots near you. And click the link for Green For All clips, focusing on green job initiatives that are creating new opportunities for fighting poverty, environmental racism, and by association, the very issues being discussed here. It becomes clearer to me that Green Jobs can be anti-oppression.
These are all strategies within the context of living under capitalism. Clearly, the horrible crisis in the DRC is one of the ugliest symptoms of capitalism. I contribute to capitalism and I am in it, but i am also aware that capitalism is rooted in causing harm to oppressed people. In the case of DRC, war, patriarchy and capitalism come together to create a living hell for women.
I pray for human evolution, humanity and healing. It is my hope that whoever you are, whatever faith you belong to, you can still send prayers, light and love to the DRC. And also send some to women and girls that you know, if only in the spirit of International Women’s Day. Much gratitude, respect and love to all the women and girls in my life who contributed to me being the man i am today.