Violence Against Women: The Last Word

Violence has long been used as a weapon to punish, marginalize and silence women, and to control their behavior, attitudes and actions. In the case of war crimes, it is used to inflict such terror that it causes those who observe it to become paralyzed by fear and ultimately heed the control. The actions of the men who devise, commit and insight others to violence will be considered successful if the violence–and the damage left in it’s destructive path–is allowed the last word.

According to a recent report, Afghanistan’s president Karzai supported a decree by a group of government-sponsored religious leaders that stated women are worth less than men, should not leave their home without a male escort, or mix with men at school or in the workplace. Very young girls can be given as wives to men many years older; and, if raped, forced to marry their rapist. Girls in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and other countries have long been subject to sexual harassment, violence and arranged marriages. In Indonesia, women are being asked not to provoke sexual violence. Though we are aware of specific cultures whose laws and ways are deeply rooted in belief systems unfavorable to women, we still find stories of gender-based violence rocking parts of Latin America, Africa and western nations as well. 

Choose Life, Choose Power

How do victims do more than just “stay alive” after the violence? Is it possible to go back to really “living” , to being whole again, when the loss and torment linger?  Are there women who not only survive, but thrive in the aftermath of such physical pain and emotional terror?  Yes, but how?  They choose to get up in the morning and not give up on their life–family, career, dreams… themselves–because of what happened to them. They choose to move forward.  But it’s easier said than done… In fact, how is it even possible?

By choosing what we think, what we dwell on, and not allowing an act, feeling, circumstance or experience to define us.

There’s the key: “Define”. Does it negate reality? No, but we give power to the things we choose to dwell on. If women who’ve suffered violence make a conscious decision to invoke negative memories, to relive the details of the things that caused them great pain and suffering,  and to keep their abuser at the forefront of their thoughts, they are, in essence, choosing to live there (or at least hang out there), instead of in the present.  In contrast, to think on the equal reality of who they are and their God-given destinies–that they were born into this world for a reason and that their unique life has a purpose that is good–they choose life, they choose freedom…  They choose POWER.

The Experience Does Not Define Her

The pain and fear is excrutiatingly real, but it is only a part of her story. It is not the definition of her life. The violence and marginalization of her personhood are things she experienced, yes; but she musn’t give the experience permission to dictate the rest of her story. She was victimized and had an experience that cannot be erased. Thankfully, it is also true that she has a future and hope. She lived through it for a reason, and that is to live–really LIVE.

While covering the Egyptian uprisings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, American journalist Lara Logan, found herself surrounded by an angry mob of men and spirited away from her CBS film crew. She was viciously stripped and suffered a “brutal and sustained” sexual assault.  In her testimony, she spoke of learning to live with the triggers of trauma, unwelome flashbacks, incapacitating anxiety and, nightmares and/or fears, joining many other women who have suffered violence.  She pointed out how difficult the healing process can be even when trying to maintain a positive attitude.

What keeps her going?  Like so many others, it is the people she’s met along the way. She thinks about the strength it has taken for others to go on after their families have been massacred, or, those who live in countries where women can’t speak out at all.

The Last Word

She recalled one woman in Africa who was raped and disemboweled, who said she “had to live” because she wasn’t going to give her attackers everything. Lara Logan knows in part, how that woman felt. She had her own brutal experience. She has her own memories and emotions to deal with.  That’s part of what drives her today.  She chose to take back her power, believe in her own destiny, and refuses to be defined by the attack. So, STAND–even if it takes everything in you, because the last word is yours, and you are worth it!

Maybe you (or someone you care about) has been a victim of violence. How have you been able to take back your power by not allowing the incident to define you, or your tomorrow? 

Related Reading: Lara Logan: Life is Not About Dwelling on the Bad, Women in the World Summit, Congo Women: Women of War, Women of Courage

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is confidential, free and available in more than 170 languages. 800-799-SAFE (7233).

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”
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Congo Women: Women of War, Women of Courage


Are the women you know free to work, pursue an education and contribute to society? Do they dare to laugh, sing and dream out loud? Sadly, many women from war-ravaged nations, including the Congo, believe these simple freedoms are unattainable–valuable treasures beyond their reach.

Congo – The Reality on the Ground

Congo ranks among the top 3 most dangerous countries in the world for women. More than 5.4 million people have died as a result of mass murder, famine, and disease brought on by the Congo’s devastating conflict. According to A Thousand Sisters, Eastern Congo is often called “The worst place on earth to be a woman,” as concluded by a panel of gender experts assembled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Sexual violence is pandemic.

“Deep in the bush, what better way is there to keep everyone subdued, than to rape every man’s mother, sister or wife?” –-Dr. Mvuama

Dr. Mvuama treats victims of war and says armed groups raid and loot villages, raping women, children and sometimes babies or men to control the people though terror, according to a VOA News report.

From the mouths of terrorist rebels: “I raped, killed and stole from people,” said one; and, “I killed and raped. I loved being drunk and raping women. I have even killed children,” said another in a chilling statement devoid of any conscience. For the full story, visit Africa Stories. The Journal of Public Health report and UNICEF also collaborate the staggering reports, estimating more than one thousand woman and girls are being raped every day—a rate equivalent to 48 rapes every hour. Many women and girls are also sexually mutilated, infected with AIDS and/or are impregnated by rebel soldiers.

“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict.” –Maj. Gen Patrick Cammaert, Ex-force Commander for Eastern DRC

Congo – A Higher Truth

When the evils of this world seek to suck the life out of every good, honorable and living thing, we must not cower in defeat or shame. They want us to believe it is impossible, that our fate is sealed–as if to declare victory as they dance on our graves. But as the saying goes, “It’s not over until it’s over”. As long as there is breath, there is life!
Take a stand, raise your voice, hold a sister’s hand and walk together.

“May our prayers never relent until the earth stands at attention and witnesses heaven unleash it’s justice” –April McCallum

Bonds of Love, Bonds for Life

Have you heard the expression, “What you wish you could do for many, do for just one”? It’s about going there together. Here are a few ways you can raise awareness and help create immediate impact for our Congo sisters:

Act & Share:
Run for Congo Women Events – Promote and/or Participate
Write & Blog – Related Article Advocating for Congolese Women
Sponsor a Congolese Sister – Women for Women International
Join Eastern Congo Initiative – Synergy of Women for Sexual Violence Victims
Be a Political Advocate – Use Your Voice for those who don’t yet have one!
In the U.S. Call 202-456-1111 or Send an Email to the White House
View & Share:
Crisis in the Congo, Uncovering the Truth
Congo Story: War, Women and Rape
Who is YOUR Sister?
Read & Share:
Running for Their Lives by Stephanie Riggs, Colorado View Magazine
A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
No Justice for Women in DRC, Amnesty International
Stronger Women, Stronger Nation – Amplifying the Voices of Women in Eastern Congo, Women for Women International

It takes zero courage to brutalize a woman or child, only cowardice. Those who rise from the ashes against all odds, THEY are the ones worthy of our honor. They are the true heroes, the brave and the strong. They will be loved and learn to love again. And, they will rebuild their lives with our help. We salute you–women of war, women of courage… Women of Destiny!

© By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photo by David Dennis)

Sources: UNHCR, UNICEF, WfWi, VOA News, ABC News, Amnesty International

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The Clothesline Project: Honoring Women Victims and Survivors of Violence


How would you feel if someone hung your deepest darkest secrets out on a clothesline for everyone to see?  Your hurts, fears, betrayal, anguish and shame just blowing in the wind?

Women are doing just that across the world!

 

THE CLOTHESLINE PROJECT

The Clothesline Project was designed as a voice for victims of rape, battering, incest and child sexual abuse–and to honor victims and survivors of intimate violence. As its tagline states, it has been: “Bearing Witness to Violence Against Women for over 20 years”.

The idea of women exchanging information over backyard fences while hanging clothes on a line, prompted something special in visual artist, Rachel Carey-Harper. It presented a unique vehicle for raising awareness about the issues surrounding the violence and oppression of women. True to its objective, it created something remarkable—something that would leave an imprint on viewers, while also acting as an exercise to promote healing.

 

“The concept was simple – let each woman tell her story in her own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate her shirt. Once finished, she would then hang her shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt – by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.”

At a distance, they look like beautiful colors gently blowing in the breeze. As you draw closer though, you see more than just beautiful colors. You see the shattered lives of women.  The t-shirts hang out for anyone to see.  To see the messages that are written on the outside of the shirts, but more powerfully, from inside of the women— messages from their hearts and minds.

Some represent the victims themselves while others are from family and friends who use their voices to speak on behalf of their loved ones. As individual as each woman and each crime is, so too are the messages they want to convey to the world and to their oppressors. Some are statements of what happened to them, like the one that simply says: “Rape”. Others are messages to their abuser: “I hate you for what you did, you took my innocence and happiness”, while others are messages to themselves: “I Am Beautiful!”; or, from loved ones: “She didn’t deserve to be hurt!”

RAINBOWS OF HOPE

The shirts are color coded to show the form of abuse and whether the victim survived the abuse they experienced. 

White represents women who died because of violence

Yellow or Beige represents battered or assaulted women

Red, Pink, and Orange are for survivors of rape and sexual assault

Blue and Green represent survivors of incest and sexual abuse

Purple or Lavender represent women attacked because of their sexual orientation

Black is for women attacked for political reasons

BREAKING THROUGH THE SHROUD OF SILENCE

Profound and often difficult to read, the messages displayed in a kaleidoscope of color are reminiscent of a rainbow, reminding us thankfully — that there is hope.

“It is the very process of designing a shirt that gives each woman a new voice with which to expose an often horrific and unspeakable experience that has dramatically altered the course of her life. Participating in this project provides a powerful step towards helping a survivor break through the shroud of silence that has surrounded her experience.”

CREATING & ADVOCATING — THE VOICES SPEAK 

–       Daddy please stop!   

–       30 years later am I still screaming?   

–       I hate every evil act done toward women

–       It started when I was 2

–       Every child deserves their childhood

–      Who was to save me from you?

–       My baby, she was killed in a satanic ritual, I was only 14

–       Don’t suffer in silence

–       In loving memory… You Are Free!


© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Al Fed, Mallory Dowd, Cheryl Wolfe, Michael Hanscom)

The Clothesline Project (CLP) started as a program on Cape Cod, MA in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women.  Start your own Clothesline Project.

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