I have a friend, a young woman I really admire, who sees being a woman as a challenge to overcome. I’m lucky to have a friend like this to look up to; I hope someday, I, too, will not lament the difficulties that face me purely because of my gender and instead view them as an opportunity to really prove my mettle.
I’m not there yet, however. I am still stuck on the fact that my gender makes my life and career goals at least marginally more difficult to achieve. Not that I’m going to let that stop me, mind you, but it is a little intimidating.
For the male audience, I am going to try and put “being a woman” into perspective. Although, I don’t think anybody does it better than Louis C.K. Go watch that clip, I’ll wait.
Back? Ok. I am glad you had that humorous interlude, because things are about to get heavy.
The UN estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia. UN agencies estimate between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the three months of genocide in 1994 in Rwanda (lucky me, I’ve gotten to spend a little time familiarizing myself with accounts of some of these rapes, and these are the kinds of events that burn themselves onto the back of your eyelids and keep you from sleeping at night).
Because I am in Bosnia, we will focus on those numbers. We will never know exactly how many women were raped during the war here, so let’s draw a happy middle-ground between the estimated 20,000-50,000 rapes. Exactly how much is 30,000? Well, more than I have in my bank account and less than I’ll owe for law school when I’m done.
But seriously. If you spread these rapes out so only one rape occurred per day it would take approximately 90 years to get to 30,000. I have grandparents that didn’t live that long.
Only 5 players in NBA history have scored 30,000 points. As of fall 2012, the University of Georgia had approximately 27,000 undergraduate students enrolled. Sanford stadium, only the seventh largest stadium in the NCAA, holds a whopping 92,746. Imagine attending the Georgia v. Auburn game and a third of the attendees had been raped.
These numbers are really, really hard to put into perspective. But even 1 is too high. In my sick world of war crimes, I know that if you were to give me the choice between being stuck at a rape camp and death I would chose the latter. Many women did.
Unfortunately, sexual violence against women (and girls and men and boys, let’s not be naive) is a reality of modern conflict. Hopefully someday this will no longer be the case. In order for this to happen, however, we need to change our attitudes towards women in our everyday lives.
Take a few events from my own life: meet (what I thought was) a nice Bosnian guy. Well-educated, speaks English well, and has a good job. For a variety of reasons, my own safety chief-among them, decide to cut off contact, and stop answering his texts, emails, phone calls, etc. A week in we’re at about a text, email, and phone call per day, which became increasingly aggressive. I didn’t stop to look, but there was someone that looked suspiciously like him following not far behind me through the park the other day on my way home from work.
Or how about the guy, my peer, that really, really didn’t get what no meant? That’s a pretty shitty position to find yourself in. Especially when, outside of this context, he’s a nice person, even though he’s got about 100 lbs. on you. During this experience, you have to keep in mind that you share friends and will see each other almost every day for about another year.
My favorite, however, is when men “cat-call” women. I have been told in the past that, “You should appreciate that while you can; when you get older it stops happening.” Oh, I should “appreciate” the man that followed me to the grocery store the other day at 11 am making the same noises you would make to call a dog? Let’s allow that to sink in: the same noises you would use to call an animal.
Forget that. Frankly, I don’t think anyone has made me feel worse than that man, who, in a few simple and consistent sounds, made it clear that he thought I was sub-human. Which made it pretty clear how he would have treated me.
Between myself and my female friends, this list could go on. And on. But I’m going to stop here because I think you get the idea. The point is that, for many women, not a day goes by where they are not reminded that the majority of the world sees her of little use beyond as a physical object. We learn to ignore that.
If we really, truly, want to prevent rape from being a reality in conflict, than we need to take a serious look at how we treat each other in our everyday lives. The sad reality is that the events I described above are perfectly normal experiences for women, even in the U.S. (I know you would like to blame this on “backwards Bosnia,” but again, let’s not naïve—the worst of them happened in the U.S.). Until this changes, until events like the ones I’ve just related become viewed as abnormal and not as an everyday reality, you can expect tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of rapes in the next war.
Wherever that war is, I sincerely hope your daughter/sister/mother/wife/girlfriend isn’t there, because statistically, her chances aren’t so good.