By Sr. JoAnn Mark, ASC
A little more than a year ago, I moved from my university job at Newman University in Wichita, Kan., to run an NGO (non-governmental organization) in New York. In my work for Partnership for Global Justice, I frequently attend meetings at the United Nations.
You get numb to them after a while. But one particular meeting in March left me feeling overwhelmed. The topic was the inhumane treatment of women and girls, including rape and sexual violence in war.
I came to understand that sexual violence, unlike torture, mostly goes unchecked and unpunished, and is little known outside the immediate community where it occurs.
A religious Sister who ministers in north Uganda presented at this U.N. session. She explained that in the Karamojong culture of Uganda, a man must rape a girl he has identified as a wife. After the rape, the girl must go to his house. If she opts to go home instead, she will be beaten and told that no one else will marry her.
Why? If she marries the man who raped her, he will give her family a gift of cows, the sign of wealth in this culture. So, it is very difficult to change the practice.
However this Sister, the archbishop, priests and others are trying to do just that. They spend nights at places where girls may be raped in order to help them.
Sister is rescuing children, counseling and sensitizing the community, making home visits and engaging in research.
Neither is there any pity for women and their children, born and unborn, in the conflict in the Congo. According to another presenter, who herself survived sexual violence in that African nation, pregnant women will have their womb disgorged. Women taken into the bush by men are forced to see a man’s throat slit and then to eat his flesh if they wanted any food.
According to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, systematic violence against civilians is used as an instrument of war in 19 countries.
With this grim news, one easily can lose hope. But you should know that the Sister working in north Uganda wants to build a training center for girls and prepare two of them as counselors. She does need help to continue community counseling and sensitization, and do home visits.
The organization FEPSI seeks to help women in the Congo. Learn more about it in this YouTube video (with English subtitles).
Also, you may contact Archbishop Auza, who moderated the presentation. He is the apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. He can be reached at this email.
Read here about two other groups working to help women in the Congo: