Note: I wrote this for the org that I work for but they chose not to run it today so I run it myself with no mentions of who I work for.
Don’t let women suffer in silence!
The International campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence begins on November 25 and provides an opportunity for everyone to come together to speak out against sexual violence. Where I work is on the frontlines since we work where armed conflicts, breakdown of societies, disintegration of families and communities and disruption of services leave women and girls vulnerable to rape and domestic violence.
From the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Papua New Guinea, my colleagues witness and treat the consequences of sexual violence including sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion. Our mental health programs also help women with psychological trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or even suicide attempts. The women that we treat are only the tip of the iceberg. Sexual violence is underreported globally and many women suffer in silence because of the stigma around rape and the lack of healthcare services.
Dying from shame In western countries, women who have been raped can get healthcare at almost any clinic. Still, women don’t always go for fear of what people will think of them. This is also true in conflict zones. Many women jeopardize their health and do not seek urgently needed healthcare. Survivors would rather die than have their “shame” known. In the refugee camps in Chad, only 1 woman out of 215 interviewed by my colleague admitted that she had been raped - although many women talked about the problem. After the interview, our staff gave them the opportunity to speak with our mental health counsellors where more women acknowledged that they had been raped. Only then were they able to talk about this painful subject and start their healing process.
Demanding to be heard Not all rape survivors want to keep quiet, however. In the DRC( where sexual violence is reaching epidemic proportions), Women realise that by going to a healthcare clinic, the community will know that they are rape survivors. Yet, they try to get care, sometimes traveling for days to get to the few medical facilities that provide it.
Hardly available In most countries, it is still difficult for rape survivors to get specialized medical care. In Lae, Papua New Guinea, there are legal services available for survivors, but almost no healthcare. In July 2008, I visited our Women and Children’s Support Centre where in 6 months our team provided health and psychosocial services for over 1,000 men, women, and children. I am helping the team to advocate with the ministry of health to provide specialized health services throughout the country. In Colombia, violence against women occurs frequently, but only 20% of survivors seek medical care. Our teams in Colombia treat survivors of sexual violence and also urge authorities to insure there are health services available for all survivors.
Despite the many obstacles facing them, women all over the world struggle and fight to maintain their dignity after sexual assault. Join me for the next 16 days, in making sure that they do not suffer in silence.
More information about what other NGOs are saying:
UN Campaign to End Violence Against Women
25 November 2008