This is a brave woman.
“After being sworn in on Monday, Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf stood up and said something that galvanised her audience:
"I know of the struggle because I have been a part of it," she said. "I recall the inhumanity of confinement, the terror of attempted rape."
Violence against women and girls is endemic in most societies (which is a sad thing to say, being a woman and mother of three daughters). It is a particularly appalling consequence of war and conflict around the globe
From the World Health Organization:
Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS: Critical Intersections: Sexual violence in conflict settings and the risk of HIV
Why focus on violence against women in conflict settings and HIV?
"The militia at the barriers said they would protect me, but instead they kept me and raped me in their homes. One militia member would keep me for two or three days and then another would choose me… I managed to flee Kigali and when I returned, I learnt that my husband had been killed." (Survivor of the Rwandan genocide, HIV positive woman from Kigali)
In conflict situations, women and girls are at greatly increased risk of physical and sexual violence. Many women and girls are subjected to rape including gang rape, forced marriages with enemy soldiers, sexual slavery, and other forms of violence (being forced to witness others being raped, mutilations, etc.). Many have fled their homes, have lost their families and livelihoods, and may have little or no access to health care. All these factors create conditions in which women and girls’ vulnerability to HIV is disproportionately increased.
Violence against women and girls has been a feature of all recent conflicts, the ongoing one in the Darfur region of Sudan as well as in the former Yugoslavia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, northern Uganda, and Chechnya (Russian Federation). In many of these conflicts, some of which have been regarded as ethnic cleansing, rape has been and is used as a deliberate strategy to brutalize and humiliate civilians and as a weapon of war or political power.
For more information on violence against women, see this WHO page.
“More and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum”, according to a UNICEF report:
Women and girls in particular experience conflict and displacement in different ways from men because of the gender division of roles and responsibilities.
Increasingly, modern warfare is wreaking havoc on the lives of women and girls, and on the health and educational services that are key to family and community survival and development.
"Nothing was spared, held sacred or protected", says a new United Nations report by Graça Machel, the Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. "More and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum" in which civilians rather than soldiers are the main targets in war.
This kind of endemic violence has far-reaching consequences, and shapes the future of the world we all inhabit, changes societies, families and communities in many harmful ways, and makes a living hell for countless numbers of victims every minute of every day here on earth. The CDC describes the consequences of sexual violence here.
For helpful links regarding the serious public health issue for all of us (individual victims or not), there is a good FAQ page up at the INFO Project website(a project of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health).
It’s not “them”. It’s not “over there”. Violence against women shapes families and communities forever. It’s us it affects, us it diminishes, us it hurts. It’s us-regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic class. Until the violence stops, we will all continue to be victims.