OP-ED: Sexual violence is the savage manifestation of female domination

Portrait of Dr. Mukwege for Right Livelihood Awards by Wolfgang Schmidt
Portrait of Dr. Mukwege for Right Livelihood Awards by Wolfgang Schmidt

By Mohamed Hamaludin

In Perspective The year is 1999 and Denis Mukwege, a French-trained gynecologist, opens the Panzi Hospital to treat women brutalized by war in his native Congo, dubbed the rape capital of the world.

Performing around 10 surgical operations in 18-hour days, Mukwege treats more than 85,000 women, 50,000 of them survivors of wartime rape. In a United Nations speech in September 2012, he denounces “violence against women and rape as a strategy of war.” A month later, he escapes an assassination attempt because he is not at home at the time and goes into exile in Europe for three months. He returns after women in the area served by his hospital sell their crops to pay for his plane ticket.

Fast forward 15 year to 2014. Nadia Murad, 19, is a Yazidi student in Iraq’s Sinjar Province when Islamic State fighters swoop down on her community. They kill 600 people, including six of her brothers and step-brothers, and take 6,700 women captive. Murad is held as a sex slave for three months of brutality, escaping through an unlocked door. A family smuggles her out of IS territory and she makes her way to a refugee camp. In 2015, she defies tradition to publicly speak about her ordeal to the daily La Libre Belgique newspaper.

In December, Murad, like Mukwege, speaks to the United Nations, about sexual enslavement in war and becomes an advocate for survivors. Also like him, her life is threatened. She creates Nadia’s Initiative in September 2016, the year the U.N. names her its first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking, and publishes her memoir, “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State.”

A healer to the sexually brutalized and a survivor of such brutality — the Norwegian Nobel Committee selects them for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

“His basic principle is that justice is everyone’s business,” the committee says of Mukwege.

Of Murad: “She refused to accept the social codes that required women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected.”

The award comes at a fortuitous time, in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh U.S. Supreme Court hearings and the #MeToo movement, the perpetrators not in fatigues and carrying guns on the battlefield but wearing suits and lurking in corporate suites, academia, the entertainment industry, politics and more.

Wartime rape and the assault on women in everyday life cannot be compared but they both point to the subservient, vulnerable place of women in many parts of the world. Sexual violence is how men dominate and exploit them and their bodies. Yet, white women were 53 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump, a self-confessed misogynist and accused serial sex-abuser, for president. While 46 percent of women believed Kavanaugh sexual assault accuser Christine Blasey Ford, 43 percent sided with him, Lucia Graves reported in The Guardian. When it came down to a credible woman and a man professing his innocence, even Maine’s “moderate” Republican Senator Susan Collins chose to believe the man. Why?

Perhaps because, according to Kelsey Kretschmer of Oregon State University, women married to men vote as their husbands and families do, Graves reported.

Exit polls from the 2016 election showed that those who voted for Trump included 63 percent white men, the U.K. Independent reported.

Becca Andrews, writing in Mother Jones magazine before the Kavanaugh hearings, may have offered another answer. Describing her experience in the Campus Crusade for Christ, or Cru, she said, “I was a sexual gatekeeper. Men, we were taught, are burdened by God with insatiable lust. Women, of course, are not, so it makes sense that we are expected to create the boundaries. We are responsible for what we wear but, more broadly, we are tasked with defining consent, as thorny as that may seem.”

Conservative writer Stephanie Gutmann told Graves, “We have husbands and sons and brothers and lovers and they are part of our lives intertwined. I think it’s fair to have the emphasis on sons now because the ball swings back and forth and right now the pendulum has swung way too far in the sort of believe-the-woman-at-anycost direction.”

Don’t tell that to Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of inappropriate behavior when they were at Yale University.

“As I watch many of the Senators speak and vote on the floor of the Senate,” she said, “I feel like I’m right back at Yale where half the room is laughing and looking the other way. Only this time, instead of drunk college kids, it is US Senators who are deliberately ignoring his behavior.”

That Blasey Ford would understand. What the Senate Judiciary Committee’s all-male Republican majority did, aided by Trump’s mocking of her testimony, was complete of the act she said Kavanaugh started more than 30 years ago — except this time it was gang rape, even if psychological. Rather than high-five one another about it, they should hang their heads in shame.

This article originally appeared in The South Florida Times.

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