This week: reports of mass rape in Congo; poison gas at an Afghanistan girls’ school; desperate straits for Pakistani women who survived the floods; Indian women paid to delay pregnancy; Jerusalem’s gender-segregated trains; and a revolutionary constitution for Kenya.
CONGO: Last Monday, the mass rape of almost 200 women in Congo was reported. The rapes were carried out systematically by groups of 200 to 400 men between July 30 and Aug. 3, across 15 villages in the Eastern part of the country. Women were raped by two to six men at a time, often in front of their families. Rwandan and Congolese rebels are suspected of committing the attack. Moreover, the U.N. was reportedly aware of rebel activity in the Congolese villages at the time, with U.N. peacekeepers stationed only 16 km away from Luvungi, one of the sites of violence, and they even passed through affected villages twice in early August. It is unclear why these peacekeepers failed to protect the citizens.
AFGHANISTAN: On Wednesday, 46 students and nine teachers were treated in a Kabul hospital after an apparent poison gas attack on their girls’ school. Although some social conservatives attribute their symptoms to mass hysteria, their families and doctors believe that a poison-gas attack by those hostile to girls’ schooling is most likely, with the Taliban being the prime suspect. Mohammad Asif Nang, an official at the Afghanistan education ministry, agrees, blaming “the enemies of women’s education.” Taliban sympathisers banned girls’ education when they were in power between 1996 and 2001 and have continued to target women and girl’s schools.
PAKISTAN: As Rafia Zakaria reports on the Ms. blog, women are being disproportionately affected by the floods in Pakistan, which have now reached their fourth week. Nearly 85 percent of survivors in camps are women, as men stayed behind or got separated. They are struggling to survive with insufficient access to food and water, and the needs of pregnant and lactating women are not being met. Moreover, aid has been slow to arrive, a phenomenon that is being explained by “donor fatigue” and a general unwillingness to engage with Pakistan, a country that many think of as a terrorist haven. If you would like to donate to Pakistan’s flood victims, you may do so via credit card through Oxfam America’s secure site, or text FLOOD to 27722 (which will thus authorize $10 to be sent through the State Department Fund to help flood affectees).
INDIA: Next door to Pakistan, the Indian government is offering cash payments to young married couples in certain districts as an incentive to delay pregnancy for two years. With a population of 1.2 billion people, roughly half of whom are under 25, India may be facing severe pressure on its resources as well as a lack of government services in the very near future. The government’s cash-for-waiting initiative mainly targets young rural women, many of whom undergo arranged marriages as teenagers and are expected to produce children in rapid succession immediately afterwards.
ISRAEL: Last week we mentioned that a much-needed women-only train service has been introduced in Indonesia. This week, The Guardian reported that a light railway under construction in Jerusalem may also feature gender-segregated carriages—but this time, it’s not to combat sexual harassment. CityPass, the company responsible, is considering bowing to the pressure exerted by the city’s ultra-orthodox community by declaring several of the train’s carriages “kosher” and separating men and women. Jerusalem city councillor Rachel Azariya was quick to condemn these plans, stating “Naveh [the chief executive of CityPass] was appointed to run a project—that doesn’t mean that he can tell people where to sit and where not to sit, nor does it mean that he knows anything about values and democracy.”
KENYA: On a happier note, values and democracy are being highly honored in Kenya. The country’s new constitution was ratified by President Mwai Kibaki this week after it was enthusiastically endorsed by 67 percent of voters on August 5. Some have described this as the most important political event in Kenya’s history since it gained independence from Britain in 1963. The document contains significant human-rights benefits alongside other long-awaited improvements. According to IPS News, certain provisions within the constitution are expected to “dramatically alter” the status of women in Kenya. Women’s health services should become much better, for example, abortions can be carried out in certain circumstances and women’s parliamentary representation will be guaranteed by a one-third quota.