Angelique’s village was invaded in the middle of the night. She was tied up and suspended between two trees, her legs spread wide apart. Seven men violently plunged themselves into her before she passed out from severe, torturous pain. Later, they shoved sticks up her ruined and ravaged vagina. She developed a medical condition that made her leak urine and feces for the next 16 years. Sixteen years.
In this week’s Economist is an article about the use of rape in war. The piece is a solid work of journalism, detailing facts, figures, and statistics, along with background on Sudan and the Congo, considered rape capitals of the world. It seems that every now and then, an article will come out or a story will make its way to CNN about the use of rape as a strategy of war. The idea even made its way onto an episode of Law & Order, Special Victims Unit last year. As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the timing – this is an ongoing conflict that affects mostly women, but certainly isn’t new.
The truth is, with humanitarian crises that seemingly have been going on since time immemorial, it is hard for activists and advocates to really gain traction. "It’s been going on so long, it’s probably inevitable," people think. "The scope of it is so great that what we do can’t possibly make a difference." I wish I had an answer. I wish I knew what to do to make people care about this issue, to take up the fight. Everyone I talk to knows this issue is important. But few people think it is urgent.
Gender discrimination and violence against women are different manifestations of the same worldwide hatred of women. When I think about violence against women, I don’t just think about ending sexist language in our culture or equal pay for equal work; I think of a story like Angelique’s. I think of the women who are enduring more than whistling on the street or interruptions in a business meeting. Gender discrimination, sexism – sometimes we forget that such things have horrifying and scary and torturous repercussions on millions and millions of women around the world. That it’s not just that I’m pressured into taking a husband’s last name. Violence against women is, well, violent. And while it absolutely, 100% occurs in more developed and advanced countries like the U.S., there are so many places and so many women like Angelique who are suffering an enormous range of abuses that are so brutal as to even defy our conception of reality.
The worldwide hatred of and discrimination against women manifests itself in different ways. But the issue is complex. In some places in some times, violence against women is endemic – a strategy of war even. In other places like the US, many feminists spend more of their energy fighting more subtle battles about objectification and ownership over our bodies. I am a firm believer in the connection between all of these issues, and I believe that combating one is combating the other.
But for those who don’t believe that, for those who think of feminists as feminazis, always complaining about not getting paid to take time off to have a baby or wanting the right to kill a fetus just so they can have a good time… for all of you, I say that I disagree with you that these issues are petty, or even described accurately. But even if you do think so, surely a story like Angelique’s moves you. Surely we can all agree, at least on this one issue, that being violently tied up and brutally assaulted by a gang of monsters is something we have a moral obligation to condemn and to fight. To fight with all our strength. For in another time and another place, well, it could have been any of us.