Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rape is Rape

“It’s very off the cuff to say ‘rape is rape.’” Distorting rape language is a common phenomenon that is particularly popular on college campuses. They may try to mask it using language like “nonconsensual sex” but the truth remains: rape is rape.

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Boko Haram and the Abducted School Girls in Nigeria

untitledNews is continuing to pour out of Nigeria regarding the abduction of roughly 230 girls from the Chibok government school in Borno State. Since the story first broke over a week ago, reports on the number of girls taken have varied from 77 to 130 students. While the Nigerian government and military have at various times claimed credit for rescuing a number of the girls, the school administrators and parents are adamant that the recovered girls escaped on their own. This has called into question the effectiveness of the Nigerian military in securing the Northeast region of the country against the growing threat of Islamist extremism. The latest reports by news outlets like the BBC and CNN claim that roughly 187 girls are still missing.

The culprit behind these abductions in assumed to be the Islamist group Boko Haram (watch this 60 second BBC special), which has targeted Western educational establishments in the past. The name Boko Haram in Hausa translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden.” The group is dedicated to establishing Islamic law in Nigeria and fights to rid the Nigerian people of Western influences, which begins with abolishing the Western education system.

abubakarIn an online video posted by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, he exclaimed: “Everyone that calls himself a Muslim must stop obeying the constitution, must abandon democracy, must stay away from Western Education.” While in the video Shekau claims that Boko Haram was responsible for the Abuja car bombing which killed at least 75 people and left nearly 150 wounded, he said nothing about the abducted girls.

The abducted girls were taken from their school dormitories late in the night and loaded onto trucks. A number of girls made their escape by jumping from the trucks and hiding in the cover of darkness. However, those still in captivity are now believed to be trekking on foot through  the Sambisa Forest in Borno State, which is a known hiding place for Boko Haram fighters. A number of locals in the area claim they saw the girls unloaded from the truck and forced into the dense forest.

Confidence in the military and in the government is eroding as desperate parents wait for any news about their abducted children.  As J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center explains, “The failure of the government to even get a clear count further reinforces a perception of systemic governmental failure that plays into the narrative not only of Boko Haram, but also other dissident groups opposing Nigeria’s constitutional order.” This analysis is supported by the former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell (2004-2007), who said that these kidnappings show that Boko Haram’s strength “appears to be increasing. The government’s ability to provide security to its citizens appears to be decreasing.”

While the growing strength of Boko Haram is worrisome to say the least, it is important to note that Nigeria is not a predominately Muslim state. The country is actually split almost equally on a North-South divide between Muslims and Christians. That’s what makes this massive abduction so interesting. Boko Haram blatantly opposes the education of girls and has kidnapped a number of girls in the past and targeted schools…but never on this scale. As Oren Dorell for the USA TODAY writes, “…the massive kidnapping by militants who want to create an Islamic state in this oil-rich country that is half Christian and half Muslim is unprecedented.”

As this story continues to unfold it will be important to see to what degree the Nigerian government is able to regain control of Boko Haram-controlled areas. Looking to the region, we already have an example of what it means to have a powerful Muslim North in control of a weaker Christian South–this is the century-long story of Sudan. It would be devastating to say the least to see Nigeria repeat Sudan’s long and bloody history.

Broadcasting Hate: The Radio in Africa

This article was just published in The Africa Report. It explains that a recent series of mass killings in South Sudan have been attributed to messages of hate and revenge spread over the radio. Analysts say these radio-inspired ethnic killings may lead to retalitory attacks and incessant bloodshed.

radio

Not for the first time in Africa, reports like this highlight the power of the radio as a vehicle for hate and violence. When I was an undergraduate I wrote a philosophy term paper that explored the power of hate speech in fueling anti-Tutsi sentiment during the Rwandan Genocide. Various groups in Rwanda used the radio as a vehicle for spreading violence and discord, calling the Tutsis “cockroaches” and calling on the Hutu to “mow the grass”, or kill the Tutsi.

Two main radio stations were responsible for spreading hate speech: Radio Rwanda and Radio Television Libre des Mille Colline (RTML). Here you can read transcripts from radio broadcasts in English from November 24, 1993 and December 12, 1993.

If I could have Dinner…

leymahnobelIf I could have dinner with any living public figure, I would want to dine with Leymah Gbowee. Recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist. She led the Liberian women’s peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War.

leymahTrained as a trauma healing counselor, Leymah established the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) in Liberia, which focused specifically on the power and roles of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding. In spring 2002, Leymah awoke from a dream where God told her in a clear voice: “Gather the women together and pray for peace!” By summer 2002, Leymah had organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement, which called on Christian and Muslim women to come together in the fish markets of Monrovia and pray for peace.

The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement staged a number of non-violent sit-ins and demonstrations, including threats of a curse, even a sex strike, in defiance of the orders of then-president Charles Taylor.

In a very risky move, the women began staging their protests on a soccer field that was beside the road on which Charles Taylor traveled twice a day. Wearing all white, the women sang, danced, and chanted, calling for peace as his motorcade drove by. The women were eventually granted a hearing in front of Taylor on April 23, 2003. More than 2,000 women joined Leymah at the hearing. Turning to face Taylor, Leymah pronounced:

We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”

peacenowIn June 2003, Leymah led a group of women to Ghana where the peace talks were taking place in order to put pressure on the warring factions to sign a peace agreement. These brave women eventually took over the building where the peace talks were taking place, linking arms they circled the building, blocking the exits, and refused to let any of the men out. When the men tried to leave, Leymah threatened to take off all her clothes, which in many West African countries is a curse. The Second Liberian Civil War officially ended weeks later.

After the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on August 18, 2003, Leymah and the women’s movement led the 2005 election campaign of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who became the first female head of state in Africa.

Check out this amazing documentary on the experiences of Leymah and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. Or check out her inspiring TEDTalk here. You can also read her book.

How cool would it be to have dinner with this inspiring woman and peace activist?!

The Hole it Leaves Behind

In one of my favorite songs, the lyrics go something like: “If everything is measured by the hole it leaves behind, then this mountain has been leveled and there’s no more diamonds in the mine.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently in terms of violence and the hole it leaves behind. If my research on African countries like the DRC, the Central African Republic, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has taught me anything, it’s that the African continent is riddled with holes. Literal holes from bullets, tanks, rockets, and mortars have marred the physical and urban landscape. Figurative holes have torn through the social fabric of societies, pitting tribes and families against each other. Bullet wounds and battle scars. Across Africa, people young and old walk around wearing holes.

For many women in Africa–particularly women who have served in active combatant roles–their holes and imperfections become like chains. These chains keep them trapped in depressed socioeconomic conditions. Whether by bullets or machetes, a number of female ex-combatants suffer wounds that cause them to seek rehabilitation and disability benefits. However, if they are not allowed access to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs, they cannot receive the care their need. For many women, something as simple as a dislocated shoulder or elbow, when not treated, becomes a life-altering debilitation. Wounds that fester lead to blood poisoning and infection, which results in the amputation of otherwise healthy and salvageable limbs.

Life for a crippled female in Africa is exceptionally difficult. According to De Watteville (2002:16), “In many countries, a disabled man is able to marry a wife who can provide labor that the man can no longer perform. In contrast, if the woman is disabled, her husband might abandon her.” A survey conducted by the UNDP (1995) supports this conclusion, finding that women who become disabled are more prone to divorce, separation, and violence than non-disabled women at a rate of two to one.

Without the care of a trained medical staff, many disabled female ex-combatants must rely on other female family members, friends, or neighbors for support (Krishnan 2011). For example, in their research on kinship networks in Sri Lanka, Ruwanpura and Humphries (2004) found that female neighbors and friends are vital to the recovery and reintegration of disabled female ex-combatants, providing invaluable non-financial help like childcare, chaperoning children to school, cooking, and emotional support.

Ensuring that disabled female ex-combatants receive access to proper healthcare and rehabilitation services is critical to improving DDR processes across Africa. Until these processes equitably address the needs of both male and female disabled ex-combatants, they will continue to marginalize and disadvantage an already vulnerable population. The physical scars of violence and war are permanent, but the effects these scars have on the socioeconomic opportunities for female ex-combatants can be ameliorated by the conscientious effort to improve DDR access for females.

Women and DDR

                               Women and DDR


  • De Watteville, Nathalie
    (2002) Addressing Gender Issues in Demobilization and Reintegration Programs
    (Africa Region Working Paper Series 33: World Bank).
  • Krishnan, Sonny Inbaraj
    (2011) “The Transition of Teenage Girls and Young Women from Ex-Combatants
    to Civilian Life: A Case Study in Sri Lanka” in Intervention 9(2): pp. 137-144.
  •  Ruwanpura, Kanchana and Jane Humphries
    (2004) “Mundane Heroines: Conflict, Ethnicity, Gender, and Female Hardships in
    Eastern Sri Lanka” in Feminist Economics 10(2); pp. 173-205.
  • Help Emily Teach in Zambia

    Hello Friends & Family,

    I am coming to you with exciting news! I have been accepted by International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ), to go and teach English for THREE weeks in Livingstone, Zambia!! This is an amazing opportunity for me, but it will not be possible unless I receive financial support through the generous donations of family and friends.

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    FIRST: Why should you donate to help me teach in Zambia?
    –Because without financial support I simply cannot make this happen. IVHQ is an international program that links volunteers from all over the world to ongoing projects. They work very hard to make the programs as affordable as possible. For three weeks in Zambia, I would receive all my meals, housing, and transportation for the low fee of $490 (that’s only $23/day)! HOWEVER, just the airfare to and from Zambia is $2,500!! I also have to get a visa and shots for yellow fever and malaria (ugh!)

    –More importantly, due to Zambia’s rapidly growing population and shortage of government funding and teachers, local communities have informally developed “community schools” to serve the immense need for education. A number of these schools offer reduced fees or free admission to students in need, many of whom are orphaned or living with elderly family members. These schools depend heavily on the involvement of volunteer teachers as the ratio of students to teachers can be as high as 60 to 1.
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    SECOND: What will I get out of this experience?
    –This will be my first time to Africa, and my first time volunteer teaching abroad! As most of you know, volunteerism and community service have always been very important to me, but with my hectic academic schedule for the past six years I have not been able to participate in any international volunteer experiences. I am all set to start my PhD in the fall so now is the best, maybe the ONLY time to teach abroad!
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    THIRD: What’s in it for YOU if you donate?
    –Not only will you earn my undying gratitude if you help me make this happen, but I have some fun prizes for anyone who contributes (see my reward section).

    –BONUS: come tax season, your donation through GoFundMe is considered a “personal gift” which is not taxed as income in the U.S.
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    Every dollar donated gets me one step closer to making this opportunity a reality! If you want to know more about Zambia or IVHQ, contact me!

    Much Love,

    Emily

    Zambia

    Zambia