By Norma Nyhoff, Field Intern
In the conflict currently raging in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, women have become targets in the fighting between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.
On June 15, the Agence France-Presse reported the horrific experiences of three Uzbek sisters who suffered a brutal gang rape at the hands of a mob of Kyrgyz men. Earlier reports from Al Jazeera and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirm widespread murder and rape within Kyrgyzstan. These reports are depressingly familiar, echoing the use of mass rape as a tool of war in Rwanda, Bosnia and Liberia.
However, even reports acknowledging the pervasive sexual violence within Kyrgyzstan provide an incomplete understanding of the scope of sexual violence faced by women both during and after conflict. Even women who have escaped to camps in Uzbekistan face the threat of sexual assault and rape from military, aid workers and fellow refugees. Refugee women often experience the aftereffects of rape — including physical and psychological trauma, sexually-transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, chronic infections and fertility problems and even ostracization from their family or community — with little or no access to support or resources. Furthermore, the historic underreporting of rape by survivors means that the scale of sexual violence is far greater than we can imagine.
According to the UNHCR, the conflict has produced approximately 75,000 refugees in Uzbekistan and caused the displacement of 200,000 people within Kyrgyzstan, most of whom are women and children. Traditional aid and peacekeeping efforts do little to prevent sexual violence or provide specialized care for its survivors. Although a UNHCR press release announced plans to airlift 240 tons of supplies for ethnic Uzbek refugees today, these supplies — and this approach — do not secure women’s sexual sovereignty. A new form of aid is necessary if we want to create a more sexually-just world.
Aid must increase in scope and integrate efforts to monitor, prevent and respond effectively to large-scale sexual violence by improving educational programs, increasing security and accountability, and creating medical and psychological resources sensitive to the needs and privacy of survivors.
The erasure of Uzbek women’s experiences of sexual assault and rape perpetuates the exploitation and oppression of women worldwide. Take action! Pressure your state senators and the Obama administration to sign on to the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) so that the United States can work more effectively to eliminate sexual violence around the world.