News / Africa

Great Lakes Conference Tackles Sexual, Gender-Based Violence

Nighti Aparo stands in her village in northern Uganda. Aparo was kidnapped, raped at gunpoint and tortured by the Lords Resistance Army. (OXFAM handout, file photo)
Nighti Aparo stands in her village in northern Uganda. Aparo was kidnapped, raped at gunpoint and tortured by the Lords Resistance Army. (OXFAM handout, file photo)

Member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region wrapped up a five-day summit on sexual and gender-based violence on Friday, calling for collective action in tackling an issue that has touched every country in the region.

The term that encompasses rape, molestation, forced prostitution, domestic violence and certain traditional practices - is an issue that takes on particular urgency in conflict zones. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an estimated 12 percent of the country’s women have been raped at least once, leading some commentators to call it the “worst place on Earth to be a woman.”

But Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan and Central African Republic are also emerging from their own conflicts, and many other countries in the region are struggling to manage the lingering effects of past violence.

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region met in Uganda's capital this week to discuss ways to combat sexual and gender-based violence in central and east Africa. The conference was established in 2006 to encourage peace and stability in an area historically plagued by armed conflicts, many of which have taken on a regional dimension. South Sudan was admitted as the newest member of the conference on Friday.

Speaking at the summit, U.S. Special Advisor to the Great Lakes Region Barrie Walkley announced that the United States will soon be launching its own "National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security."

“Too often, sexual and gender-based violence is explained away as a women’s problem, a problem for women. It is not. It needs to be a matter of grave and serious concern to men, as well as to women, for it affects all elements of society,” Walkley said.

Margot Wallstrom, the United Nations special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, points out that in most Great Lakes conflicts, rape and other forms of sexual violence have been widely used as weapons of war. She says these acts were not spontaneous, but deliberate and premeditated.

“For example, in the eastern DRC, we saw that armed groups were moving from one village to another, and this was the one weapon that they used," Wallstrom said. "These were mass rapes. More than 300 people were raped, including men as well. There were no killings, but this was used as a very effective tool of instilling fear and terror, and demonstrating control.”

Often the worst sexual atrocities in conflict zones are committed by the army, security forces and peacekeepers themselves, as has been in the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in northern Uganda. Several of the leaders at the summit emphasized the importance of disciplining their armed forces, though Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete confessed that this is a difficult issue to address.

“Of course, during these situations of conflict, normally it’s the armed forces and the police who are the perpetrators," the president said. "Well, that becomes a bit difficult because you’ve got to use the police to arrest these guys.”

Yet Lillian Mpabulungi of CARE International says that gender-based violence and neglect does not usually end with peace agreements. Some of the most pervasive problems, she says, occur in post-conflict situations like northern Uganda, where women and girls were abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army to fight alongside men.

“The male ex-combatants are actually catered for. When it comes to the female ex-combatants, they are not taken as ex-combatants. They are taken just as girls and women. So when they return, it’s very important for our governments to look into that, so that they benefit from the recovery programs that we have. Medical support, psychosocial support, looking at rehabilitation, looking at income-generating services - this is what the survivors are actually looking for,” she said.

She thinks that the summit this week can make a difference and that African leaders are beginning to take sexual gender-based violence more seriously.

“It’s changing. There’s a lot of challenging of our male counterparts, and acceptance that this is happening. It’s no longer a women’s issue. People actually realize that it’s not good for development, it’s not good for economic, for social, for spiritual development of our country,” Mpabulungi said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was handed the two-year chairmanship of the conference on Thursday, taking over from Zambian President Michael Sata. Museveni vowed to use his position to focus on improving the region’s infrastructure.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs