It is now 25 years since I set out for the war-torn Balkans, driven by my indignation at the mass rape of women and girls and the sensationalist media reporting. As a junior gynaecologist, I knew that the survivors would need immediate help. Nevertheless, even at the time, I knew long-term help and support would be required, if they were ever going to come to terms with their traumatic experiences and start living normal lives again. The suffering of those affected does not quickly subside – as we know from World War II – but has a lifelong impact that continues into the next generation.
I knew early on, that such a solution was only possible through working closely with local women on the ground. Our working commitment demonstrates what solidarity can accomplish. With around 30 partner organisations, we have provided medical, psychosocial and legal support to more than 150,000 survivors, empowering them and giving them prospects for the future. medica mondiale has developed into a professional organisation, with high standards in the provision of sustainable project work and our own specific stress and trauma-sensitive approach.
I was similarly aware that in the case of the Balkan war, we were not just dealing with one-off incidents of excessive violence, but with a continuum of violence that was deeply rooted in patriarchal attitudes and structures. Sexualised violence – in Syria, Afghanistan, Eastern Congo or here in Germany, perpetrated by soldiers, members of militias, neighbours or husbands, is a worldwide phenomenon. As long as gender-based hierarchies continue to exist, women, even during times of peace, will not be safe.
One problem is the continuing impunity, both in war and post-war regions and in highly developed countries. In Germany, too, only one fifth of all rapes is reported to the police, with only a small percentage of perpetrators sentenced. What is lacking is the political will to enforce laws that already actually exist. Gender-based inequality makes sexualised violence possible, but it is already evident in education and income distribution.
Dismantling these structures requires patience and perseverance. That is why we will not let up in our commitment to provide resistance wherever discrimination and violence prevail. We will continue to prosecute human rights violations and call those responsible to account. This also includes ending the destructive arms trade. There is, instead, a need for peaceful conflict resolution, in which women play an active role.
To mark the 25th anniversary of medica mondiale, we are launching a campaign in 2018 entitled “My body is no battlefield”. This will seek to spotlight the discrimination and violence women and girls are faced with every day – in war situations, while they are fleeing and, even, during times of ostensible peace. We are counting on your support, so that women and girls throughout the world are able to say: My body is no battlefield!
Dr. Monika Hauser