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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs