As a human being, the state of the world is getting too fast and chaotic for me to process. As an Ethiopian, the stories coming out of the different parts of our country are heartbreaking and painful. As a feminist, the horrific cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in conflict areas are outraging to me. As a woman, the level of disregard for my sisters’ bodies across the country is personal and scary. However painful it all is, I and many others like me do not have time to sit and process how we feel—for every second another woman is being a victim of inhuman acts of violence.

I used to say I would choose death than being raped. The thought of someone violating my body and concluded having to live with that was too much for my mind to process. The stories coming out of the conflict-affected areas of Ethiopia, however, make rape seem like mercy. That is the point I am at: comparing different forms of GBV and saying one is better than the other. That is what years and years of patriarchal society has bestowed upon me. I do not care who the perpetrator is; I do not care of their identities or their religion or their motives. It is the result of centuries of objectifying women and portraying us as sex objects and nothing more that has allowed for the unspeakable violations of Ethiopian women.

My Body—Your Battle

Let us take note that women in leadership—and in politics in general—are very small in number. The conflicts, hence, are the results of power struggles of men in power. But like in every other avenue of life where women pay the price for men’s mistakes, war punishes women in a different way—civilians or not. The men on either side of the war see the women who are part of the other side as a means to an end. The women are stripped of their humanity and instead treated as a way to hurt the other men. It is in this spirit women are being raped in front of their husbands and kids, women are having their babies cut out of their bellies and women are bleeding to death while giving birth in battle zones.

Rape during war is not just about sexual violation. It is also marked by the intentional transmission of diseases, including but not limited to HIV. It is additionally characterized by the violation of the woman’s body with foreign objects like stones and metals. You would hope that the women would be safe in refugee camps and other shelters. But no, the battle goes on for the women as their bodies are leveraged for the sake of basic needs. Service providers and other shelter workers threaten to withhold items like food and clothing unless the women give them sexual favors. Guards, and at times male refugees, rape the women in shelters.[1] “Safe shelters” are not so safe for women.

The Obsession with Numbers

It astonishes me how people ask about the number of victims in an area to latter compare to the X number of victims that were in another area. We are so quick to justify rape that when the act is too evil to explain away, we turn to how far it spread. I am baffled by the level of ignorance and inconsideration exhibited by this society. Regardless of how many women were brutally violated by multiple men, the lives of each of those women are now destroyed. If you are insistent on tallying the number of bodies that have been dehumanized, explain to me how you are different from the perpetrators.

The “It Is Not Something New”

It is true that weaponized rape has been around for a very long time. It happened during the Liberian Civil War between 1999 and 2003; during the Sierra Leone civil war between 1991 and 2001; in Asia and Europe in World War II; and in Europe during World War I. [2] But automatically accepting and justifying something because it has happened in the past has zero logic and zero merit. Rather, we should work to make sure it never happens again.

The reason these women are not getting justice is partly because their stories have been stolen by the politics of the country. I recently sat in the same room with three women who came from the different conflict-infested areas of our country. There was no politics there—only pain. As I sat there crying and listened to the stories of these women, my reality was plain and clear. This is the Ethiopia for women. This is the Ethiopia for me. Society that justifies GBV, people who steal stories for political gain, and individuals who have kept silent for the sake of their own sanity.

It really does not take much to realize how grave the human rights violation is in conflict areas. All you have to do is speak up in each and every one of your platforms. Amplify the stories of women whose voices have been silenced. Call for the end of weaponized rape. Push for the persecution of those who have violated human rights of civilians. Scream for policy and law reforms. Donate what you can when you can. Stop justifying rape as a weapon of war. Stop making women your collateral damage.