Women supporting women is a recurring theme and occasionally it is only women who can offer immediate succour. After rape for instance. Women tend to be soothers, nurturers and champions of a better life if not for themselves then their daughters.
But not always. Gullible young girls lured with the promise of a better life elsewhere, desperate mothers persuaded to part with newborns for a paltry sum, children groomed and kidnapped for the sex trade are all often approached first by women. Women in conflicts are not always heroines, and whether from fear, vengeance or just plain evil scout out and spur men and boys on to perpetrate heinous acts of rape and mutilation.
Evidence supporting the consistent and sanctioned use of rape during the Rwandan civil war of 1994 led to the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1820 in 2008 which stated, “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.
This message seems to have not reached those currently ruling the hell that is Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where rape is as normal as collecting water from a standpipe. Before the earthquake in January last year, an emerging and vocal feminine voice was being heard, and taken note of. KOFAVIV was formed by four women, themselves survivors of the rape-fest of 2004 during the notorious military regime that took office after deposing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the second time – himself not a particularly pleasant fellow. KOFAVIV’s major concern was to stop the seemingly systematic culture of rape, a culture that until five years ago was not even deemed a serious offense. Those leaders, the crusaders against rape as a daily occurrence, were crushed in the rubble that destroyed Port-au-Prince but their cause is slowly reemerging, again born of desperation at the plight of women subjugated.
Added to the psychological traumas of rape are the physical, over and beyond the immediate injuries often caused. Perhaps pregnancy, perhaps HIV/AIDS. Abortion is not an option in Haiti. It is illegal, with the punishment for both the victim and the person performing the procedure being anything up to nine years in jail.
Mothers, daughters and granddaughters. The latter two often the products of rape.
The children of rape from the Rwandan genocide are coming of age. Some are only just now learning of their vicious conception which might help them understand the cold hardness of their mothers, the ones unable to separate the baby from the violence. They are les enfants mauvais souvenirs, the children of bad memories. Other women have been able to love their children without rancour, but the memories are still there.
In 2008, after the UN Resolution, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said,
We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations. That message needs to be heard everywhere, and particularly in Haiti.
Other groups are forming from the rubble. FAVILEK and KONAMAVID are both grassroots movements working to help victims of rape and violence, as well as to encourage co-operation with, and the intervention of, the authorities in the lean-to shanties, the tents and the cardboard shacks that make up what is now most of Port-au-Prince.
If another generation in another part of the world, strangely also French speaking, is not to be remembered as les enfants mauvais souvenirs, should we not be doing more to highlight and stop the daily incidence of rape amongst the tented slums of Haiti?