Violence Against Women: The DRC

Edit: The episode has been removed from YouTube where I watched it, but I have posted a clip from the episode.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem recently started a new series on VICELAND called WOMAN where she explores issues related to women all over the world.

In this particular episode, the series explores sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I encourage you to watch the video even if you are aware of the situation. It is important that you hear the harrowing tales of women who have suffered through so much but are still standing, trying to survive each day. However, I must give you a warning, the violence can be very upsetting.

As I was watching the video, I was simultaneously doing research on the DRC and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Although, I know that the DRC is not the only place where rape is used in such a way, it is the focus of this blog post in order to bring attention to a larger worldwide problem.

During the first and second Congo war, rape was very common but many assumed that after the war, it would subside and society would return to some semblance of normal. Unfortunately, that has not happened. The DRC is very resource rich. It is full of gold, diamonds, and minerals like coltan that many other countries and foreign investor seek. Coltan is a mineral that is essential to the production of our cell phones and the laptop on which I am typing up this blog post. Though the nation is resource-rich, many of those riches do not reach the everyday people who spend hours mining for them. Because of high demand, the market for these resources are extremely competitive and violent in the DRC and neighboring central African nations and the most vulnerable are often those who get hurt.  It has fueled infighting, corruption, and war.

During the Rwandan Genocide, many rebels fled into the DRC and the violence came along with them. It is not uncommon to see conflicts that are thought to be confined within a country’s border to spill out across into other nations. And that is exactly what happened in this region. Millions of refugees from Rwanda fled to Eastern DRC including some exiled militia leaders who helped start the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda. Some began to terrorize the local population. They began to attack the Tutsi population in the DRC and began the first Congo war.

Once that war was over, tensions in the DRC, especially in the eastern part, had not subsided and the Second Congo War began. I won’t go into the history of that, partly because it is very complicated but also because I want to refocus on the title of this post. Though the second war ended in 2003, subsequent conflicts, bursts of violence, etc, has kept the nation from achieving relative peace. Many experts say that the presence of the natural resources listed above and the lack of control of the national government on them have funded militia groups, rebel groups, and foreign armies to come in and terrorize locals and take the resources. Often those that they terrorize are women and their method is rape. It makes me sick to think that the devices that I use every day could be the reason for so much violence in another part of the world.

Currently, the DRC is called “the rape capital of the world”. The rates of sexual violence against women have been steadily rising since the late 1990s. Although the majority of the victims are women, children, men have often been victims as well. I point this out to show you that rape and other forms of sexual violence are never about sex. It is usually about power and control; taking power away from the individual, dehumanizing them to inflict fear. A fundamental abuse of one’s human rights.

Survivors are often attacked in their homes. I have heard of attackers, killing whole families before raping the mother, or killing the men and raping the women. Sometimes children are raped and impregnated by their rapist. As bad as that is, the stigma surrounding rape can be even more suffocating. Survivors who try to seek help are ostracized or disowned by family members. Sometimes the children who are products of rape are sent away along with the mother to keep the family from shame.

The first of the many things we must do to help combat this evil is to end the stigma that makes life extremely difficult for survivors of rape. To do this we need to start talking about rape, whether in the DRC or on college campuses in a different way. We need to listen to survivors, believe them and assure them that it was not their fault. We need to have harsher punishments for attackers and enforce those punishments to let people know that they will not get away with committing this crime.

I have donated to various causes that are trying to help women in the DRC including Dr. Denis Mukwege’s Panzi Foundation. It supports a hospital that provides care for women who have been brutally raped as well as educating the population of men and women about rape in order to remove the stigma. You can do your part by educating others and engaging people in conversations about rape. Doing things like this can start changing cultural norms and perspectives. Talk to your friends, don’t avoid the conversation if it comes up and call someone out if they make a joke you don’t agree with. You may not be able to do something directly but you may inspire someone who may inspire someone else who has a direct impact. You might be the pebble that starts the wave.

This episode of WOMAN also highlights a woman who is trying to help survivors, Mama Masika. She helped start a small community for survivors and their children. They sustain themselves and try to protect themselves from future attacks.

Links to donate:

http://www.panzifoundation.org/#home

http://donordirectaction.org/activists/panzi/

https://www.hrw.org/donate-now?promo_id=1009

 

-Laïssa (Currently reading The Orbital Perspective by Ron Garan)

Conversations

Conversation between the people in my neighborhood featuring the old Haitian woman and the rowdy neighborhood kids.

It was one of those days, hot and humid. One of those days when everyone’s temper was as hot as the weather. Everyone, including the old Haitian woman in her home that reached temperatures of over a hundred degrees. She decided to get up to get a glass of water. On her way there, she stopped in front of a painting by Haitian artist Levoy Exil, a pointillist depiction of golden suns that reminded her of her home in Haiti. It was so different from her current life. She often complained of the terrible food, the cold winters. The dirty Atlantic Ocean and the crazy Americans who thought guns were cool and governments were trustworthy.

As she stared, she heard a crash in the street and ran to go see what it was. She grabbed her broomstick as she opened the door and a paper airplane landed by her feet. She looked up and saw the neighborhood boys playing around.

“You betta stop make noise and throw garbage in front of my door”, yelled the old Haitian woman in her thick accent, at her front door waving her broomstick. She had brown leathery skin that creased on her face.

“Well, yeah what you gonna do about it?” Yelled back one of the rowdy teenagers. He smirked at his friends who encouraged his insubordinate behavior by laughing.

“I gonna call police on you all and send you back to Haiti”,  The old woman yelled back, still waving the heavy broomstick in hand while making a kicking motion to show what she meant.

The Haitian boys curled up in laughter and could barely take her seriously. ”Old woman, you are crazy. The boys had quieted and proceeded to ignore her completely. The boys dodged. Something came flying at them. A shoe. A Chinese slipper.

She continued speaking, “ Si nou te alle leglise no pata konsa.  If you went to church you no act like this. You need Jezu to clean your souls. It is dirty, like the streets. Instead of church, you are out here the streets like the scum of the Earth. You are lost boys.”

“We ain’t no lost boys, this ain’t Neverland” yelled back one of the boys. He smiled because he was proud of his joke, the others high-fived and rubbed his shoulders as if he were getting ready for a boxing match and not speaking to an old woman. The old woman ignored their comments and continued, “Yes, lost boys. Paran ou vini nan peyi sa. Your parents came so you coud have betta life, but you let this country ruin you. You let the devil tik you. You let it tik you and make you part of its dirt. ” She spits on the ground.

“I know, you wanna be like thugs on the TV. You know where you are heading, South like this paper airplane of yours.” She wags her fingers at them.

“Ebyen. You end up Penn Station, like them bum, lowlife, criminal.” The boys yell at her to shut up.

“You need to be more like my son, he is a professor at a university in Chicago.” Because of this, the woman thought that the Chicago was the epitome of intelligence. “Man, ain’t nobody wanna go to Chicago. That’s the ghetto.”

“You ghetto.” The woman’s eyes grow large upon hearing the insult on her son’s job. This is not your culture, this is not who you are. Not your culture. It’s not how your mamam raised you. You look stupid. Stupid, stupid that what you are. Stop. Before you ruin life for yourselves. Go home. Alle”, she yelled. The boys stood shuffling around, not knowing what to say.

Finally, one said “Bruh, you understand what she said. Maybe we should deport her to an ESL class.” The boys curled in laughter. “Go home”, she growled again. She started to chase the boys with her broomstick. She may have been old but she was not weak. She threatened to beat them with it.

As soon as they realized how angry she was, their laughter turned to cries of fear.

“I am gonna tell your mother what you said to me and then we will see.” She threw her broomstick at the boys. It cracked at the heels of the boys as they ran away. But one, the youngest, stayed scared out of his mind repeating “And yes I said yes I will Yes, go home” But never did. He stood there all night. Until he was shipped to Haiti like he was promised.

-Laissa (Currently reading Man on Wire by Phillipe Petit)

Lost in Translation

When I read Beowulf last summer, I could not help but think that I was missing something, something critical. Beowulf is originally written in Old English which we do not speak anymore and in order for modern audiences to enjoy the epic it had to be translated. This is the part that gets tricky. Different translations say different things that may give a completely different meaning to the text. You feel like you are missing something essential to the original story. As any bilingual person can tell you, when translating a word or phrase things get lost in translation. There are just some words you cannot, no matter how hard you try, translate.
Now that I am reading the book in English class I found a clear difference between my version and the version in school. In fact, I found three clear different translations of the Old English into modern English in three different texts. In the Frances Barton translation, the description of the motive of the monster Grendel is slightly different. Barton translated it as:

With envy and anger an evil spirit endured the dole in his dark abode,that he heard each day the din of revel high in the hall: there harps rang out,clear song of the singer.

Our version in the book stated, a translation by Michael Alexander

It was with pain that the powerful spirit
dwelling in darkness endured that time,
hearing daily the hall filled with loud amusement; there was the music of the harp,
the clear song of the poet…

In my copy of Beowulf, translated by Seamus Haney. The same passage is translated as

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
Nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
To hear the din of the loud banquet

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A picture of my copy of Beowulf

Every day in the hall, the harp being struck
And the clear song of a skilled poet

In the Frances Barton translation, you get the feeling that Grendel is just a jealous monster who doesn’t like to see any one’s happiness but his own. In our version, we got the sense that Grendel was a poor, sad monster who wanted to join the fun but could not and becomes jealous. My copy of the epic doesn’t evoke any emotion towards Grendel. It just states that he was jealous. It describes him as powerful but does not use any words associated with emotion like the first one did with evil. The second version invokes sympathy for Grendel, the first does not, while the third just states Grendel’s feelings. See, stark difference.

As a piece of literature is translated, it starts to lose its original meaning. Translators can try their best, but nothing beats reading the original work. It is even more confusing when the work has multiple translations and each tells a different story. In the context of modern English, words have many different meanings depending on the context and what the translator wanted to portray based on what word best fits the original

It is hard being a translator, you have to translate someone else’s work and try to use the same words. Love and like are synonyms but have a different intensity. If you as a translator were to use the word “like” instead of “love” in a translated work, you could completely change the meaning of the passage. For example, “He liked her”, and “He loved her” are two different things. It can be tricky because some languages only have one word for something while English has many. Picking the right word to use can be difficult.

When reading translated works, I can’t help but think that I am not reading what the author’s original work but someone else’s version it. Let’s face it, when translators translate literature, their own way of writing and bias seeps into the work making the work less the author’s and more theirs. The whole point of literature is to watch the words the writer uses and the image they paint. Those things are hard to translate and often get lost in translation.

India’s Daughter

India’s Daughter is the story of outrage and protest in India after the brutal gang rape and murder of a young medical student. Watch now.

UPDATE: The film was removed from the PBS website but I found it on Netflix. If you have a Netflix account, I highly encourage you to watch it.

update: 6.10.2016

Source: India’s Daughter | Video | Independent Lens | PBS

Before you watch the film, I must warn you. It will make you very angry. India’s Daughter is a documentary about Jyoti Singh, the woman who was gang raped and murdered in December 2012. Her death gave more fuel to the debate about women’s role in Indian society. The documentary includes interviews with everyone who was touched by it. The parents of Jyoti, her doctors, her friends, and yes, the rapists themselves. This is what will make you angry. They had the honor of saying the most disgusting and vile things about women and their role in society. Things that frankly I have heard before but I still had to pause the movie every time they came on the screen to keep myself from throwing my computer on the floor out of anger. One of the defense lawyers for the rapists stated that if his daughter had been involved in pre-marital affairs, he would have taken her, and thrown acid across her face in front of his family. Their comments and apparent indifference toward their crime is exactly the problem in our society.

We need to change this culture. Millions of women every year are victims of sexual violence every year and millions die because of it. Their stories will never be heard. The best way we can honor them is to work to our best ability to change our society and the way it thinks and treats women. We need to have that discussion and teach people the value of women. We need to educate people on the importance of treating all people with kindness, respect, and dignity regardless of their gender. We need to change our world. If we continue and fight, surely change will come.

The most beautiful lines were from Jyoti’s father who said:

“Our daughter’s name is Jyoti Singh. We have no problem in revealing her name. In fact, we are happy to reveal it. Jyoti has become a symbol. In death, she has lit such a torch that not only this country, but the whole world, got lit up. But at the same time, she posed a question. ‘What is the meaning of ‘a woman’?’ How is she looked upon by society today? And I wish that whatever darkness there is in this world should be dispelled by this light.”

Jyoti means light. Let’s chase the darkness with light. Let’s create some real change.

 

-Laïssa (Currently reading Native Son by Richard Wright)

Climate Change IS important

Following the recent Paris climate change talks, in which world leaders came to discuss the issue of climate change and find a resolution to it, climate change was back in the headlines. Climate change has been a hotly debated issue in recent years. Many people believe in it is man-made, many people don’t. What can be agreed upon is that the climate is changing. Whether you believe that is man made or a part of normal weather patterns, it poses a real threat to the way humans live. Climate change is specifically a huge threat to human rights. While rich countries can fight against rising oceans and find other solutions for dry farm land, the poor across the world are having to find new ways to live their lives with little to no help from their governments. They face killer storms, drought which lead to starvation and the loss of their own lands. It affects the way people have access to food, safe water and a place to live. Situations like this can have a devastating effect on a developing country, often destabilizing the country even further. It may spark major violence or conflict.

Researchers have linked climate change to the Syrian civil war. There was a major drought leading up to the start of the civil war in 2011. Drought or other climate change related disasters can cause major political upheaval. It causes thousands and even millions of people to move out of the drought-stricken areas and into neighboring countries where conflict may arise. In regards to Syria, the drought caused an economic crisis. Now four years later, millions of people have fled their homes, thousands are dead and millions have been internally displaced. Climate change may not have a direct effect on causing wars or conflict but it can a bad situation much worse.

Another example of this would have to be found in Sudan and South Sudan where a drought also exacerbated existing problems in the country. South Sudan, a country where 80% of people are cattle ranchers, a major drought caused a water crisis in which access to water was limited. This led to corruption by government officials who took advantage of the country’s environmental problems. In addition, people who depend on agriculture for their livelihood began to move to areas where the drought was not affected. This caused conflict in the new areas they moved into and put a strain in the new community. I recently read an article on the VICE news website about how the drought in East Africa was only going to get worse as the temperature rises. People will get poorer and food will become scarcer. This would cause panic in an already unstable country. Drought causes the animals people rely on for food to die. One-third of Somaliland’s, an independent region in Somalia, economy depends on agriculture and livestock. People sell the livestock or use it to feed their families. As the livestock dies off, people lose their source of income and food.

In the small island nation of Kiribati, the people are losing their lands. The president of the nation has been forced to buy islands from other countries because it is a very possible reality that their island could be underwater in as little time as forty years. People there have been faced with the very real possibility of losing their country not to a war, but to climate change.

Rich nations have a responsibility to help fix the mess that is climate change. The bottom half of the world suffers for what the top 5% have done. The EU and North America are major sources of pollution. Rich nations made their fortune on burning fossil fuels, coal, and oil which all have been identified as the causes of climate change. Now developing nations are also starting to use these natural resources but as climate change increasingly becomes a problem on the world agenda, they have restrictions. Therefore, they are not allowed to grow and forced to find alternative resources which can be very costly. The UN and other international government institutions also need to get involved. The world must work together to reduce carbon emissions to 0 by 2050, use more clean and renewable energy. If we continue to abuse our planet, our human rights issues will only get worse. Young people today are the future of the world. We will inherit whatever damage that the Earth sustains. It is extremely important we take care of our planet, our home. Climate change is not an issue we can kick down the road for later. It is not an issue that can be solved by putting a band-aid of resolutions on it. Climate change must be solved through concrete actions that we must take before it is too late.

Laïssa (Currently Reading Native Son by Richard Wright)

 

We need to talk about refugees in a different way

We need to talk about refugees in a different way. Not through statistics or other meaningless numbers but through personal stories. Stories that are universal and can connect to another human being halfway around the world. Stories that touch hearts and move people to tears. Those stories are getting lost. Although we have heard many stories from Syrian refugees, we do not connect to them. They seem distant, far, a world away. We may feel that we cannot do anything about the refugee crisis and may reject listening to their stories. But their stories must be heard. They were once and still are doctors, lawyers, fathers, mothers, and children. Refugees become lost crossing the border into Europe. They become nameless faces in the crowd. Their deaths mean nothing and receive no attention. As thousands of refugees continue to pour into Europe as a cold and dangerous winter approaches, let us remember that these are people with their own unique stories, dreams, and hopes. Do not treat them like statistics.

Here are the stories of two such refugees.

Laïssa (Currently reading Native Son by Richard Wright)

Immigrants not Invaders

First off, who watched the Republican primary debate and had their eyes rolling the entire time. The moment of the night that almost had me cross-eyed was Governor Bobby Jindal’s comments on immigration and immigrants. What really irritates me about Gov. Jindal’s comments is that they are coming from a first generation American. The son of Indian immigrants, not Donald Trump who doesn’t understand the immigrate experience and has never seen it for himself. It sort of feels like a slap in the face to his parents by seeming to deny who he is. He even stated that Christian Values are American values, rationalizing his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity.

First off, America IS NOT a melting pot. People should never be told to lose their identity and who they are to fit into this country. I thought that diversity was one of the things that made this country unique and so special. I thought that we encourage people to bring their languages, culture, food (yes, please bring your food) to enrich ourselves. I hate the idea of a homogeneous America. It is not what this country has prided itself on. America is not Sweden, Japan or any other nation where your neighbors look like you.

The only case where immigrants were invaders would have to be when the Europeans came over to the United States. In fact, the earliest Americans, the ones we revere in our history textbooks as pioneers, did not try to assimilate to the culture that was already there. They invaded Native American land and tried to destroy their culture and people. The funny thing about this whole immigration debate is how people seem to forget this. The United States is a nation built by immigrants; immigrants who sought to eliminate what was already here and claim the land as their own. Modern-day immigrants obviously don’t want to this but it won’t stop Trump from making it seem like they do.

I do not think Jindal and Trump have thought of what I have stated above. If they have, I wonder what their argument would be. That would be something I would love to hear.

-Laïssa (Currently reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut)