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Friday, January 08, 2010

A New Anglican Covenant: The Unholy War Against Women

The stories are horrific. Difficult to imagine. Impossible to understand.

Consider: A report from Amnesty International finds that rape and other forms of sexual violence in Darfur are being used as a weapon of war in order to humiliate, punish, control, inflict fear and displace women and their communities.

These rapes and other acts of sexual violence constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report also examines the consequences of rape which have immediate and long-term effects on women beyond the actual physical violence.

The weapons of sexual violence are, by no means, limited to use in Darfur. You'll find reports of "rape camps" in Bosnia. Congo. Sierra Leon. Iraq. Afghanistan. China. Japan. Cambodia.

Name a war-torn country and you will find places where rape is the norm and its victims - some as young as 3 years old - are dying a slow death of the physical, psychological and social effects of the aftermath of this violence.

Some of them have been genitally mutilated. Some raped with broken bottles or sticks or guns. Some now have permanent colostomies.

Others have permanent fistulas which seep fecal matter through their torn vaginal vaults, causing a stench that isolates them socially. They await a doctor's surgical repair - which may take years for one to come near her village - or for the woman to find the strength to walk the many, many miles to the clinic to see a doctor.

They eek out a living after their husbands leave them. They try to love the child who came into being as a result of the rape. There are other "gifts" left by their rapists: STDs and TB, HIV infection and AIDS.

Some of them simply "stop living" and walk as "the living dead."

On June 20, 2008 the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war. Human rights groups hailed the vote as historic, but it is no legal remedy. Tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence still do not have the status of victims of the war.

Consider: Hundreds of girls, some as young as nine, and young women in the UK are forced into marriage each year, according to the report published by the Ministry of Justice into the first year of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act of 2007.

The report says the women and girls come under physical, psychological, sexual, financial and emotional pressure.

“A woman who is forced into marriage is likely to be raped and may be raped repeatedly until she becomes pregnant,” the report says.

Consider: The New Canaan camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kenya is named to sound like a promised land, but for many of the women living inside, it is anything but paradise.

That's because increasingly, women living in this and other refugee camps in Kenya and throughout Africa are faced with a terrible choice: feed themselves and their families via prostitution or risk starvation and death.

Consider: While South Africa invests billions to prepare its infrastructure for the half-million visitors expected to attend the World Cup games, tens of thousands of children have become ensnared in sexual slavery, and those who profit from their abuse are also preparing for the tournament.

During a three-week investigation by a Times reporter into human-trafficking syndicates operating near two stadiums, a lucrative trade in child sex was easily discovered. The children, sold for as little as $45, can earn more than $600 per night for their captors. "I'm really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup," said a trafficker.

I'm willing to bet that this man, like the other pimps and soldiers and rapists, has a mother. He may have sisters. He may even have a wife.

What happened to the boy who was nursed by his mother? The brother who played with his siblings? The husband and father of his family?

A 'trafficker' sounds like a blue collar job. A 'soldier' has always meant a person of honor. A rapist? Well, the name has always carried its own dishonor.

How did the transformation from human being to monster begin?

We have new, political terms for what is happening to women, world-wide:
Human Trafficking.

The New Slave Trade.

New Weapons of War.
I call it The Unholy War Against Women.

Nothing new about it.

It's as old as sin.

And, becoming a world-wide pandemic, infecting the soul of the cosmos.

This quote from the Times article illustrates that this war is a multinational business operation:
Although its 1996 constitution expressly forbids slavery, South Africa has no stand-alone law against human trafficking in all its forms.

Aid groups estimate that some 38,000 children are trapped in the sex trade there. More than 500 mostly small-scale trafficking syndicates — Nigerian, Chinese, Indian and Russian, among others — collude with South African partners, including recruiters and corrupt police officials, to enslave local victims.

The country's estimated 1.4 million AIDS orphans are especially vulnerable. South Africa has more HIV cases than any other nation, and a child sold into its sex industry will often face an early grave.

I've been writing my sermon for Sunday, the First Sunday after the Epiphany and the Baptism of Our Lord.

These are not facts that my - or many - congregation(s) will appreciate hearing. They are not "happy thoughts". Indeed, these are things no one really wants to listen to.

And, who could blame them?

It's much easier to just keep your head down and your eyes front.

I suppose a wise (or, at least, politically astute) priest will preach the gospel padded with esoteric facts and snappy quotes, illustrate with a good story and then feel as if s/he's done her part - knowing full well that nothing will be done, save for some tut-tuts and ain't-it-awful's in the sacristy or coffee hour after church.

Still, this silent, deadly war cries out someone to give voice. The women and children of Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Asia, Southeast Asia, and, in fact, all over the world - even in UK and, yes, right here in the USA - cry out for someone - somewhere - to actually live out our Baptismal Covenant and "respect the dignity of every human being."

Oh, there are lots of organizations - good ones - to which you can donate money to help fight against this horrible dis-ease. That would be a good thing. Do that if you can. Anything to help. Of course.

But, I'm wondering about deeper questions. Questions of faith. Questions of the deeper meaning of our baptismal covenant.

I'm wondering, for example, if we spent less time on trying to develop an Anglican Covenant and more time living our our Baptismal Covenant, might we actually be able to work for Peace and Justice and stop this Unholy War Against Women?

And so, my dear friends, since I'm not preaching on this particular topic on Sunday in church, I am preaching about it here.

I am asking you: What will that take, do you suppose, to stop this unholy war against women?

Shall an army of women and men rise up to defend our sisters?

What weapons shall we carry? What strategy shall we use?

Would an Anglican Covenant to end the Unholy War Against Women have any effect? Don't we already have one? Isn't it called "Baptism"?

What will it take to enforce laws already in place to protect and defend these innocents and their innocence?

What would it take to defeat the soldiers and the rapists and the pimps?

What does it take to transform a heart of stone into human flesh?

Or, is there another enemy? One that is more illusive? More pernicious? Even more dangerous and evil than the monsters who commit these heinous acts of violence - whose name is Legion?

I don't have any answers to these questions. Perhaps neither do you. I have some guesses and hunches, some intuitions and inklings.

I only know that our Baptism in Christ Jesus compels us to ask these kinds of questions. And, sit with their discomfort until we live into an answer.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

It will take people being willing to recognize that we live in a Rape Culture, and stop making light of that or dismissing it as some kind of feminist propaganda.

It will take men who refuse to objectify women and who have the courage to stand up to their brothers when they see or hear them doing it.

It will take both men and women running the risk of being called "humorless" or "overly sensitive" to counter Every.Single.Comment. that turns sexual assault into a joke, or hints that someone "deserved" to be raped.

It will take both men and women countering Every.Single.Comment. that places the blame for rape on ANYONE or ANYTHING other than the rapist.

It will take parents teaching their sons that women are not property, and that only explicit consent to sexual relations is acceptable.

It will take parents teaching their daughters that sexual assault or coercion is a CRIME, and not something that they have to live with.

It will take instituting serious penalties for men who are responsible for rape, rather than the slap on the wrist that the few who are ever convicted get now. For those who order using rape as a weapon of war, it will take being tried in world courts for human rights violations and incarcerated forever for their crimes.

In short, it will take a complete overhaul of global culture--and, at the risk of sounding like Britt Hume, I will say that I believe that faith is the only way to do that. (Notice I didn't say "Jesus"... ;-)

Thanks for writing about this, Elizabeth. It is a deadly serious subject for hundreds of millions of women. The only way to end the war on women is to make people understand the structure that enables it and show them how they may be inadvertently perpetuating it.

It is certainly the responsibility of the church to address this issue explicitly and forcefully. But the church seems to be more interested in policing what a same-sex couple in love does in the bedroom than it does in addressing sexual violence or the objectification of women.

I think those two things are intimately tied together of course. Raping and humiliating women, and threatening GLBTs with violence (and using it), is all part and parcel of a patriarchal culture that will stop at nothing to protect its privilege.


P.S. I know that men are also the victims of sexual assault, but you focused on women--and the problem is demonstrably greater for women. Would that we could end physical/sexual/emotional violence of ALL sorts....

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Doxy, for your insight and wisdom and especially for the definition of Rape Culture.

Yes, men are also victims of sexual assault and violence, but clearly not to the extent to which this violence affects women.

June Butler said...

Horrific and sobering. I don't have answers, Elizabeth, but attention must be paid.

My friend Georgianne traveled to Congo several times and has friends there. She's visited the refugee camps and seen the unspeakable conditions and heard the women's rape stories first hand. She writes her stories at Huffington post, but hers is a voice crying in the wilderness. Too few pay attention.

Doxy, your comment is excellent. I can't laugh at sexist "satire" any longer. If that makes me "humorless" or "oversensitive", well too fecking bad.

JimB said...

It will take the cultural shift that makes anything any man does to further the rape culture a mark of shame. And it will take screaming to the rooftops their names.

Rape is a crime of silence. Women do not shout about it and men certainly don't talk about it but someone is paying the pimps!


Geeklet said...

Until we can make masculinity about something other than power, this problem will not go away.

And we really need to convince society that rape isn't about sex at all. It's about gaining power through sexual aggression and violation.

To be blunt, that's what they're really getting off on - the power they can have over another (lesser,) human being.

Thanks for posting on this, Ms. Elizabeth. It's certainly a subject which isn't focused on often enough.

- Geeklet

PS: Ever notice how the language states, "Oh, she got raped"? It's like saying, "Oh, she got some flowers." Way to minimize the part of the perpetrator!

Okay...I'm done now.

Geeklet said...

I would like to clarify that, by (lesser,) human being, I meant to say "lesser," insofar as it is the perception of the rapist.

Sorry for my goof. :(

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. Thanks, Geeklet, for your contribution. I got it, but thanks for the clarification.

It's a tough subject but one I'm committed to writing about more frequently.