Americas

'The Shame of War'

The front cover of IRIN's book The Shame of War: Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict. (Photo: IRIN)

Earlier this month, IRIN launched The Shame of War: Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Conflict—a reference book and photo essay of portraits and testimonies of the sexual violence women suffer when men go to war. It examines the scope and nature of this violence and looks at the different ways the international community is addressing sexual violence against women and girls during and after conflict.

Above all, the aim of this book is to inform, to shock and to join the voices saying "Enough!" Sexual violence against women and girls does not have to be an inevitable consequence of war.

"Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country, and culture. It takes a devastating toll on women's lives, on their families, and on society as a whole. Most societies prohibit such violence—yet the reality is that too often, it is covered up or tacitly condoned," said Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, on March 6 at an informal General Assembly debate on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

This year, International Women's Day (March 8) was marked by nine United Nations agencies with the joint initiative, U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Unprecedented levels of violence against women have occurred in recent conflicts reaching what many refer to as "epidemic proportions."

UNDP, OHCHR, UNHCR, OCHA, UNIFEM, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, and DPKO have joined forces to improve the quality of programming to address sexual violence, to increase the coordination of efforts for comprehensive prevention and response services, and to improve accountability.

Despite the efforts of the United Nations system and its partners to stop sexual violence during and after conflicts, the problem continues to grow. The U.N. Action initiative is designed to highlight and create awareness of these abuses and, ultimately, end sexual violence to make the world safer for women and girls.

As part of OCHA, IRIN's contribution to this multi-agency drive was the publication of this powerful and disturbing new book.

"The brutality and viciousness of the sexual attacks that are reported from the current conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar [formerly Burma], Iraq, and Sudan, and the testimonies from past conflicts in Timor-Leste, Liberia, the Balkans, and Sierra Leone are heartbreaking. Girls and women, old and young, are preyed upon by soldiers, militia, police, and armed thugs wherever conflict rages and the parties to the conflict fail to protect civilian populations," said Yakin Ertürk, professor of sociology and United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, in the preface of the book.

On the Web

Broken Bodies, Broken Dreams

Our Bodies … Their Battlegrounds

Razor's Edge

Download the Book

Visit IRIN to download or purchase Shame of War, and to view a photo slideshow.

"We need to wage a different war, one against violence against women and girls and against the culture of impunity that protects the perpetuators and their accomplices. To some extent, this battle is already underway, but it is in its very early days. People around the world, shocked at the revelations from conflict zones, are becoming motivated and engaged to look for ways to end impunity and create effective legal mechanisms that protect women and deny perpetrators sanctuary from prosecution and punishment," she added.

The 137-page book's primary focus is on sexual crimes in war, their impact on women's lives, and includes harrowing personal testimonies from raped and abused women who have had the courage to speak out about their experiences.

The Shame of War is IRIN's second publication on gender-based violence. Broken Bodies, Broken Dreams: Violence Against Women Exposed was released in 2005 and through 15 chapters of text and more than 170 photos tracks different aspects of violence that women and girls face in their lives. The issue of sexual violence in war is one chapter of this book that has been reproduced and expanded in the new publication The Shame of War.

In addition, IRIN has made two short documentaries on the issue of rape in war ("Our Bodies … Their Battlegrounds") and female genital mutilation ("Razor's Edge").

To mark International Women's Day, IRIN also published a series of articles from around the regions it covers: Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. ©IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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