February 2010


Rape is now the “weapon of choice” among gang members who were targeting sisters and girlfriends of their rivals BBC Radio 4’s Today programme reported yesterday.

The use of rape in conflict has long been recognised although it’s less frequently reported on.
But the homegrown angle was a new twist: the story was flagged up in an interview with journalist Angus Stickler who had gone to London and Glasgow to talk to women and girls about their experiences of violence.

The BBC report was based on research by social policy think-tank Race on the Agenda and raised two issues: that women are increasingly caught up in the violence, which has been a little less sympathetically reported elsewhere and also that they are also vulnerable to attack:
The report says little is known about the numbers of women and girls affected by gang violence – and highlights how the few services that do exist are chronically under-resourced and over-stretched.
Report author Carlene Firmin is quoted describing how one girl who had been arrested for selling drugs for a gang was, upon her bail, kidnapped and “raped by a number of the gang members as a punishment and to silence her”.
Crediting Chris Greenwood from the Press Association, the Independent went for a different angle that middle class girls being caught up in the violence.
This angle was picked up by the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail

Photo credit: Martin Deutsch via a Creative Commons Licence

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If you get a chance to see it I recommend you watch Pray the Devil Back to Hell. It’s a documentary that tells the story of a group of Christian and Muslim women who came together in their opposition to civil war in Liberia.

As Amnesty International reports some women did fight in the wars that tore the country apart between 1989 and 1997 and 1999 and 2003 but the Liberian women’s peace movement came together to call a halt to the rape and the use of young children in the conflict.

You can read about the role of women in the peace process here and here.

What was great about the film was hearing from the women who took part in what began as a small movement and ended with women meeting Charles Taylor to demand peace and staging a sit-in at deadlocked peace talks forcing delegates from Taylor’s government and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) agreed a deal.

It’s a remarkable story of what people can achieved when they are mobilised and it got remarkably little coverage. Until I saw the film I wasn’t aware of the role of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in securing the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa’s first elected female head of state.

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum through a Creative Commons Licence