Women fight 'rape capital' at AU

ADDIS ABABA - A delegation of grassroots women’s rights activists, including representatives from Zimbabwe, are lobbying African leaders gathered here for the 20th African Union (AU) Summit to stop rape in conflict zones.

Twenty five activists from Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and South Africa — led by Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams — presented their petition to the heads of State and government here in Addis Ababa saying they were frustrated with continued broken promises for security.

The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict zones, commended the strong opening remarks on Sunday by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the AU Commission, and United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon who both highlighted the need to end violence against women and stop rape in conflict zones.

In the last Zimbabwe elections in 2008, an aid agency Aids-Free World interviewed 72 rape survivors and witnesses, and documented 380 rapes committed by 241 perpetrators from President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF across Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.

Titled “Electing to Rape”, the shocking sexual violence report said nine of the women interviewed said they were infected with HIV/Aids as a result of the rapes, and an additional 17 women also tested HIV-positive in the months following the rapes, raising the possibility that their rapists infected them.

Ten women fell pregnant as a result of the rapes.

The campaign called on all African leaders gathered to make strong public statements condemning rape in conflict zonesand urged Dlamini-Zuma to make tackling conflict-related rape a priority as she takes up her term and prepares for the 50th AU anniversary in May.

“On the continent, women have remained vulnerable to rape for far too long and we are here to tell the African Union, enough is enough,” said Solange Lwashiga Furaha, executive secretary of South Kivu Congolese Women’s Caucus for Peace and member of the campaign.

“Sexual violence is continuing to tear people, families, and communities apart. Now women activists from across the continent have come to tell their leaders that they must be accountable to the women and girls of Africa.”

On the summit agenda is ongoing violence in the DRC and the border conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, while Zimbabwe, which witnessed the scourge of rape in the last poll, is completely off the agenda.

The delegation urged the summit to prioritise the security needs of women and girls during its deliberations over action in both regions.

In eastern DRC, women are once again on the frontlines of violence as the M23 rebels engages with security forces.

“The AU and leaders in the Great Lakes region must take immediate steps for accountability and end impunity for the crimes of rape,” the petition says.

“In Sudan and South Sudan, while political agreements are negotiated, women and girls on the ground in South Kordofan and Blue Nile — as well as Darfur — suffer from continuing indiscriminate attacks. Humanitarian aid, with support for rape survivors, must be delivered immediately.”

Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki addressed the summit on Sunday describing democracy and institutions accessible to all citizens, yet women who were raped during post-election violence in his country in 2007 to 2008 are still waiting for justice.

Upcoming Kenya elections on March 4 once again threaten the security of women.

The lobby group said no African renaissance can happen while the continent is home to the “rape capital of the world.”

“We call on the African Union and all member states during the upcoming 50th anniversary in May to take collective and individual action — to stop rape in conflict,” reads the petition. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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