If one takes a good look at the history of war, he/she may quickly recognize that women suffered the consequences thereof more than men. Women are more likely to live with the horrific images from the war and conflict. This causes a great deal of psychological stress that may lead to psychological and psychiatric disorders.
A study that explored the psychological effects of gender-based violence following armed conflict in Luwero district, Uganda, supports this claim. Ninety percent of women in the study experience recurring intrusive thoughts thirteen years after the war were over.
Intrusive thoughts include persistent, recurrent and psychologically disturbing thoughts that are similar to those who have experienced extreme negative life events. Participants in the study had intrusive thoughts about the murder of relatives, friends, children, disease, poverty, suffering and rape during the war.
Obviously, wars and armed conflicts tend to heighten women’s vulnerability to sexual violence. If one scrutinizes the nature of wars, one may testify that rape has been an inseparable companion of war.
The conflict that has been going on between the federal government and the former administration of Tigray, since November, is no exception to this fact. Since the military campaign has been activated, the news that reaches our ears and eyes is chockfull of death, refugees fleeting to Sudan, and a high number of rape cases.
In January 2021, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Pattern said, on a statement she is greatly concerned by the serious allegation of sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.”Pramila Pattern
This statement was later supported by a story covered by BBC. In the interview, a school girl mentioned that she lost her right hand defending herself from a soldier who tried to rape her. The girl also revealed that the soldier tried to force her grandfather to have sex with her. “He then ordered my grandfather to have sex with me. grandfather got very angry and … they start fighting.
The statement also included the fact that there was an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). This, unfortunately, indicates that there has been sexual violence in the conflict area.
The report by Telegraph released on April 07, 2021 supports this allegation. Survivors, doctors, aid workers, and experts told telegraph that rape is systematically used as a weapon of war. Hundreds of women are rushing to hospitals to get contraception, abortion, and HIV prophylaxis. However, these medical centers have been looted, and are not equipped with adequate medical supplies and medication.
The report also included that, so far, 512 women reported rape assault. Because most women who have been raped might not be able to physically go to the hospital, and the stigma against sexually assaulted women is very strong in Ethiopia, it is expected that only a small proportion of women would report their case. This means that there might be thousands of women suffering the consequences at home.
Other sources also confirmed the prevalent rape crimes in the Tigray region. For instance, Reuters published a story about a 25-year-old woman who survived rape. In the report, the women spoke about the perpetrator who was wearing the Ethiopian federal army uniform at the time of the assault. As she mentioned in her interview, the man gave her two choices to choose from, “choose, either I kill you or rape you”.
Despite the press statements, and testimonies from the public, the Ethiopian government refrained from acknowledging the existence of the crime. However, weeks after the military campaign was launched, the women’s minister confirmed that rape has been widely happening in the conflict-hit Tigray, on her twitter page.
As the famous quote by Will Mcavoy goes “the first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one”. Certainly, recognizing the existence of the problem in Tigray is the first and crucial step taken by the government.
It is to be remembered that Abiy Ahmed said “any soldier responsible for raping our women … will be held accountable as their mission is to protect” while addressing the parliament recently.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence are war crimes. As a result, creating a system of accountability and ensure criminals are brought to justice, is a must. The government should also prioritize the protection of women and girls in conflict zones, Internally Displaced People’s (IDP), Refugee camps as these places are where women likely to experience sexual violence, and help them cope up with the psychological stress they are experiencing