Acknowledge the agony and suffering inflicted on women and girls during armed conflict

On January 2012, a shocking video surfaced of U.S. Marines urinating on dead bodies of Taliban fighter.  The video sparked polarized views of outrage and pride.  Some blatantly justified the act of desecrating on dead bodies, as a normal occurrence of war, while others deemed the act offensive.  But wait!  What are the standards set to judge the atrocities of war?  It is common for us to acquire a skewed lens to normalize the outrageous behaviours which transpire during conflict.  Double standards are set to distort our moral and ethical values.  The brutality committed in war-thorn areas are not judged as severely as those unfolding in peaceful areas, even within the same country.  Rather, we condemn civilians caught in the crossfire to have the fate of the sacrificial lamb, in the name of pride and glory.  So, let’s go back to the video which caused a global stir.  While the act of desecration sparked animosity, the bodies lying lifeless on the arid land, their lives abruptly taken by the brutality of war is completely neglected of any meaning, and stripped of any value.

Recently reports of sexual harassment, gender-based-violence inflicted on women in Tigray have circulated on various platforms.  The egregious acts were divulged in relation to the war, the imminent elections and so forth.  Some international and national media houses used the news to assert their credibility.  For scholars, this was a momentous occasion to ascertain their validity in academia, spewing their opinion as academic expertise.  Politicians used it to reinforce polarized political agendas and narratives.  Political machination and propaganda further deepened.  The women and girls were coined as a casualty of war.  But wait!  Where are the women in all this noise? Their suffering and punishment endured for a crime never committed…their desperation for being used as an instrument of war…their bodies and souls being a tool for political machination.  Their identities completely stripped by the inhumanity of the act committed upon them, as causalities of war.  But another important question is who are we as a society?  When did we agree to this identity which exists at the expense of others?  How did we develop this in-group bias that drives us to favour ourselves over “others”?

Jeremy Black has called the mentalities of bellicosity temporary moments in history where shared sentiments of pride and glory are evoked within a society, and going to war is an effort to uphold honour.  War is a product of human interactions; of the way we communicate with each other and identify one another.  It is an opportunity for our most deprived feelings to resurface and engulf our inhibitions.  War is an expression to defend our group honour.  War is an instrument to colonize an identity.  An “US” and a “THEM” are claimed with detailed precision.  Hold on!  Is there a straight, clear line delimiting who we are and who the outsider is?  No!  Therefore, we sustain a socially construed identity, and sustain this façade by identifying a common enemy which must exist to invoke social cohesion that guarantees our existence as a society.  War is a social act which calls for introspection within a society and presents the perfect opportunity to learn who we really are and what binds us together.

So, who are we?

As a society we are a group of people who opt to coexist and willingly decide the characteristics that binds us together.  We are a multitude of identities.  We are a creative process, as coined by Freud, which identifies the wishes of individuals and strives to forge a pathway to unify them without supressing anyone.  Unity does not entail dominion of one wish over the other or an attempt to neutralize it by merging, absorbing, melting it under the aegis of integration.  Instead, it is an organic malleable motion, working to forge a purpose and will to enable us to function as a whole.

Who are we NOT?

We are not a socially construed identity at threat.  We are not an imposed identity stuck in time and space that require validation and incitement through coercive tools.  What binds us is not dependent on the existence of an enemy or an “other” that we need to fight with to reinvigorate the social cohesion within our group.  We are not a society which reinforces in-group bias and feed the hatred towards others.  Hating others does not help us love ourselves more.

Who am I?

I am someone; I am a woman/girl who deserves acknowledgement.  I am a human being who is disproportionately more vulnerable during armed conflict.  I am targeted as a tactic of war.  I am made a victim though purposeful acts of sexual violence as a tool to destroy my sense of control over my life and body.

Who am I NOT?!

I am not a tool to display the aggression of war.

I am not an empty canvas you can paint with blood to advance your political agenda.

I am not the egregious act committed upon me.

I am not yours.

I am not less than you.

I am not your silence towards the pain and suffering imposed on me.

What do I need?

  1. I need to be acknowledged! The anguish and suffering inflicted upon me as a result of national experiments should be officially recognized; unrelated to them, I need support to rip myself out from the ache and agony inflicted upon me during the war.
  2. I need provision and protection of a condition which allows me to achieve physical, mental, and social well-being. I call for psycho-social support and community-based healing modalities and reinforcement of GBV preventative measures to protect me from enduring further gender-specific violence.
  3. I require financial support to cater for myself and my family, and protection measures to be restored to enable me to fend for my children. I need to be shielded from plunging further into precariousness and relying financially on the perpetrators of the crime committed upon me.
  4. I am yearning to be included in the discussions of peacebuilding within my community and country, as I am the first recipient of aggression during armed conflict. I need decision-making power to invoke peace using cultural and political tools of peacebuilding.  I need to be the driving force of peacebuilding efforts from wereda/kebele level to national and international scale.