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Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Amy didn't say on International Women's Day

Amongst the litany of abuses that characterize the Syrian conflict, rape has emerged as a defining element of the displacement crisis.
Yesterday, 8 March 2013, was International Women's Day and Amy Goodman quite correctly dedicated her entire show, Democracy Now, to the topic of violence against women, but she said very little about the plight of women in Syria where more than two millions Syrians have been displaced in their own country and another million have been forced to flee to the relative safety of neighbouring countries, and rape is being systemically used as a weapon of war by the Assad regime.

In fact she said nothing. Zero! Nada! The Syrian women didn't exist as far as her show was concerned. Syria was never even mentioned!

Now, Monsanto's tonic seeds may indeed be a form of violence against women, as one of Amy's guests complained, but it is nothing when compared with murder by shoving a live rat up a women's vagina.

So while I lack the resources and staff of Democracy Now, this is something I feel strongly about while apparently this is not the case with Amy Goodman, who AFAIK has never done a segment on this question, or for many other organizations on the Left, so having just finished my first blog on my new site, I feel a great need to fill you in on some of what Amy, out of ignorance or indifference, failed to raise in her International Women's Day program focused on violence against women.

So here are some of the latest writings from those who are reporting on it:

Salon, this morning, asked the same question I am posing to Democracy Now except they asked it of all US media. My question is why is the so-called progressive Amy Goodman no better than the rest on this question:
Why is the U.S. media ignoring rape in Syria?
Saturday, Mar 9, 2013 3:30 PM UTC
By Soraya Chemaly
There's plenty of American news coverage about the Syrian refugee crisis. But most of it is missing the real horror
The past several weeks have been filled with news reports about the catastrophic proportions of the Syrian refugee crisis. One news report after another describes disintegrating communities, lack of water and electricity, and the multidimensional hardships refugees face as they struggle to survive. With very few exceptions, however, these reports ignore rape and sexualized violence as a component of the crisis.

An International Rescue Committee report issued in January included surveys of Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan identifying “rape as a primary reason their families fled the country.” Less than two weeks ago, Erika Feller, assistant high commissioner for protection of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, explained while reporting to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, “This displacement is not only about loss of homes and economic security. It is also accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children, and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.” She specifically added, “Reports are revealing that the conflict in Syria is increasingly marked by rape and sexual violence employed as a weapon of war to intimidate parties to the conflict destroying identity, dignity and the social fabrics of families and communities.”

The IRC, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Syrian Human Rights Committee consistently report that the role that rape and sexual assault play in this evolving disaster is significant; however, you would never know this by reading most mainstream U.S. media reporting. Despite the difficulties of gathering and verifying data regarding sexualized violence, there is no shortage of available data.

The Women Under Siege Project, which tracks the incidence of rape in militarized zones, has been collecting and mapping incidents of rape and sexualized violence taking place in Syria since April 2012. Women Under Siege is not suggesting that rapes have been ordered by the Assad regime (although the Syrian Human Rights Committee has documented rapes being ordered), but documenting rape and sexualized violence via detailed submissions gathered by journalists, researchers, doctors and activists. According to Lauren Wolfe, director of the Women Under Siege Project and an award-winning investigative journalist, victims range in age from toddlers to men in their 50s. Eighty percent of them are girls and women – many of whom are attacked in homes, at checkpoints and elsewhere in public. Men and boys are more likely to be assaulted in detention. One report describes the treatment for rape of more than 2,000 Syrian girls and women in Damascus, including some as young as 7. While anecdotal, stories like these are corroborated by first-person refugee accounts made to the International Rescue Committee, the Syrian Human Rights Committee and Human Rights Watch. More...
Forceable rape is one form of violence against women that is a camp follower in every war, prostitution is another. While I have written about rape in Syria a number of times before, I didn't realize that a large number of Syrian women were also being forced to prostitute themselves because of the circumstances that have been forced upon them by an uncaring world until I saw this AP piece yesterday.

From AP on International Women's Day:
Desperate, some fleeing Syria turn to prostitution
8 Mar 2013
Jamal Halaby
ZAATARI, Jordan (AP) - Walk among the plastic tents in one corner of this sprawling, dust-swept desert camp packed with Syrian refugees, and a young woman in a white headscarf signals.

"Come in, you'll have a good time," suggests Nada, 19, who escaped from the southern border town of Daraa into Jordan several months ago. Her father, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and a traditional red-checkered headscarf, sits outside under the scorching sun, watching silently.

Nada prices her body at $7, negotiable. She says she averages $70 a day.

Several tents away, a clean-shaven, tattooed young Syrian man, who says he was a barber back in the city of Idlib, offers his wife. "You can have her all day for $70," he promises. He says he never imagined he would be selling his own wife, but he needs to send money back to his parents and in-laws in Syria, about $200 a month. More...
Brookings published this on International Women's Day:
Syria's Unseen Crisis: Displaced Women Face Rape, Insecurity, Poverty
March 8, 2013
By: Megan Bradley
In the past week, the Syrian refugee crisis has grabbed headlines around the world as the number of Syrians who have had to seek asylum abroad reached one million. But there is another, less-discussed displacement crisis unfolding inside Syria. Syria’s internally displaced population passed the two million-mark months ago – by some estimates, there are more than three million Syrians uprooted within their country, most out of reach of international aid and media attention. The consequences of this crisis have been catastrophic for all displaced persons, but particularly for women and girls. International Women’s Day is a chance to give these consequences the attention they deserve, but have lacked so far.

In a bleak irony, today – International Women’s Day – is also a public holiday in Syria, commemorating the 1963 coup that brought the Baathist party to power and saw Hafez al-Assad take over as commander of the Syrian air force. Assad eventually became president of Syria and, for all his sins, was a proponent of equal rights for women. Under the rule of his son, Bashar al-Assad, however, Syria has become a living hell for its women, particularly for the millions who have had to flee their homes since the country’s crisis began two years ago.

Amongst the litany of abuses that characterize the Syrian conflict, rape has emerged as a defining element of the displacement crisis. The International Rescue Committee, a leading aid agency, reports that among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, rape was a primary motive for their flight. Inside Syria, increasing incidents of sexual violence suggest that rape is being used as a weapon of war. As the Assistant UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported recently to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the displacement crisis is “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.” Attacks are often carried out in public, compounding the humiliation and stigma endured by those who survive More...
Here is another report from the Daily Beast back in August:
Syrian Army Accused of Vicious, Systematic Rape
Aug 13, 2012 2:58 PM EDT
Jamie Dettmer reports from inside Syria on allegations of vicious sexual violence by the Syrian Army.

She speaks haltingly. Telling the story isn’t easy for the 38-year-old Syrian Sunni Muslim, and she won’t be explicit about the physical details that suggest her friend had been raped before dying. Coaxed by her husband, and with her 4-year-old daughter fidgeting by her side, Saima talks quietly of the slaughter of her husband’s first wife, of her own near-death, and of the rape of a friend in their hometown of Homs in west Syria.

Her story adds to mounting allegations that Syrian forces—most especially the pro-government Shabiha civilian militia, the ultraloyal enforcers of embattled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime—are using sexual violence and rape to terrify and punish rebels, adding to the cruelty of an 18-month-long conflict that has seen the government shoot unarmed civilians, including children, and shell populated areas, and has seen the rebels torture and execute captured Shabiha militiamen.

“Syrian government forces have used sexual violence to torture men, women, and boys,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Soldiers and pro-government armed militias have sexually abused women and girls as young as 12 during home raids and military sweeps of residential areas.”

The stigma of sexual assault runs deep in Syrian culture as it does across the Middle East; rape is shaming and casts dishonor, and it is especially difficult for Salma to speak of such things with a male stranger, making her testimony that much more significant and plausible. Dressed in black, her head covered by a hijab, Saima displays her scarred hand. She’d raised it instinctively as bullets were flying to shield her daughter when the Shabiha stormed their home and started shooting randomly. More...

Here are some other blogs I written about violence against women in Syria:
Rape in Syria: Woman dies after encounter with rodent
Assad's systematic use of Rape in Syria
Why did this Syrian mother try to kill her own child?

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

UPDATE: 10 March 2013: Rape is an ongoing problem in Syria. The Daily Beast published this piece today, so I'm adding it as an update to yesterday's blog:
Teen Activist Speaks Out On Rape In Syria’s Prisons
by Kristin Deasy
Mar 10, 2013 4:45 AM EDT
A teen activist speaks out about the abuse she saw in Assad’s prisons.
At 2 in the morning in a Syrian prison, teen detainee Khetam Bneyan woke to the sound of summons from President Bashar al-Assad’s security guards. But they had not come for her. Instead, they led away a fellow prisoner whose subsequent treatment, Bneyan said, embodied her worst nightmare: Rape.

Bneyan’s fellow prisoner was tied down and forcibly penetrated during questioning that night, according to the 19-year-old, whose “biggest fear” during detainment was, she later said, similar treatment at the hands of her jailers.

It is not clear how often rape occurs behind bars or elsewhere in Syria, but Bneyan’s story testifies to its use as a weapon of intimidation. Bneyan was paranoid about it but had become “less worried” after surviving nearly three weeks in jail without being threatened or seeing anyone else threatened, she said--that is, until she glimpsed the “yellow” face of her fellow prisoner, a young woman believed married to a man working for the anti-government rebel forces.

“You could tell that something had happened to her,” Bneyan told me through an interpreter over Skype, saying the woman came back from questioning wearing different clothing and then spent hours in the bathroom, which she said was against protocol. Bneyan said that the woman told her she was raped by a Syrian army military captain, who forced her onto a bed and tied her arms and legs to keep her down. “When he started to rape her, she started to scream,” Bneyan said, detailing the conversation she said she had with the woman and one other detainee hours after the alleged crime:

“He said, ‘no one will help you.’ And then he opened the door, so everyone [other prison guards] could hear. He said, ‘See? No one's going to help you.’ He then said, ‘let the FSA [rebel Free Syria Army] help you.’ He then said, ‘you must confess and you must help us. Confess.’ This was after the first time." Bneyan said the 25-year-old woman described being raped twice, but “when she got to this point [in describing the first rape] in the story, the girl broke down." More...

Al Arabia has this piece on violence against women in Syria:
Thousands of Syrian women are detained, kidnapped and tortured: watchdog
Saturday, 9 March 2013
The Syrian Human rights network has found that 4257 women have been killed by the Syrian regime security forces since the start of the revolution in March 2011.

As for female detainees, there are at least 6400 women, including 1000 university students.

However, authorities continue to refuse handing out or revealing any information on the fate of the detained women or their locations.

In addition to this, 1200 women were kidnapped by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, according to the watchdog network.

Most of the women who disappeared were in the areas of Homs, Latakia and Damascus.

The Syrian network has also said, those kidnapped were subject to systemic torture and ill-treatment during their capture.

The network mentioned more than 700 women were raped inside the security branches.

Women in Syria were subject to other types of sexualized violence, ranging from verbal abuse to direct sexual harassment.

This would take place while regime forces were strip searching them at the checkpoints within cities that were still under the regime’s control, or during raids executed by Assad’s forces.

The Syrian human rights network stated in its report that the fear around sexualized violence is one of the main reasons why hundreds of thousands of Syrian women have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

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