Central African Republic: Sexual Violence Survivors’ Voices heard. 21/10/2015
Published at bmsworldmission
15 October 2015
“With the death of my father, my husband and my baby, I will never forget what happened to me. I wonder why I must continue to live.” These are the heart-breaking words from just one woman who contributed to BMS supported research on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The study, carried out in April and May 2015, was the first into sexual violence in CAR since the crisis began, and uncovered some of the challenges faced by survivors and what leaders need to do in order to stop these horrific acts of violence. Perhaps, more importantly, it gave a voice to women whose story might otherwise remain untold.
“To date, no one else has mapped the testimonies of these brave women who have been horribly degraded as a result of the war in the Central African Republic,” says Steve Sanderson, BMS Manager for Mission. “The report challenges the international community to play their part in helping CAR’s GBV survivors rebuild their lives.”
Christian anti-Balaka militias and Muslim Seleka rebels were both responsible for atrocities during the recent conflict, according to the BBC. Thousands of Christians and Muslims were killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced. While there has been a ceasefire, the conflict continues today. The prevalence of sexual violence has been exacerbated due to its use in the conflict as a weapon of war.
BMS and Tearfund worked together on the research into the extent of GBV and the impact it had on those who survived it. BMS supported the research as part of the Dignity initiative, which aims to put an end to GBV. It is also part of the pledge BMS has made as a founder member of We Will Speak Out, a global coalition committed to seeking faith based approaches come to the fore in tackling gender based violence.
Research into a subject as sensitive as this cannot be imposed from outside. It must take into account local needs and customs. So, The BMS and Tearfund study was undertaken in collaboration with local partners in CAR, consulting with heads of neighbourhoods, mayors, and religious leaders from different faith groups. A team of 12 Christian and Muslim female researchers were trained and put in contact with religious authorities to help them meet with survivors. Research was conducted in the capital Bangui and in the district of Begoua, and careful thought was put into conducting research sensitively, through discussion and support groups, providing counseling and ensuring anonymity.
The report highlights brutal survivor stories of SGBV, most too traumatising to relate here. Women from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds discussed the stigma of sexual violence, what would help them recover from their ordeal and what role faith communities could play in supporting them.
Though these women have experienced horrible brutality, they manage to share their hopes for healing and visions for a better future. “It is difficult to talk about these experiences because it is shameful and dehumanises you as a human being,” says one woman from Begoua. “We need lots of prayers.” The report demonstrates that, to move forward with their lives, the women will need financial, medical, legal, psychosocial support, and an improved justice system.
Results of the report, To Make Our Voices Heard, were released at a workshop on 9-11 September 2015. It brought faith leaders, government ministries, UN agencies, and other local and national representatives together to discuss the response to sexual violence in the conflict. For three days the group discussed findings of the research, studied teachings on sexual violence in Muslim and Christian religions, and created action plans to respond to sexual violence in CAR.
“The release of the report in Bangui a few weeks ago attracted widespread support from key decision makers on the ground,” says Steve Sanderson. “It is anticipated that we will bring the report into the view of the British and possibly French governments with a view to it influencing policy on transitional justice, peacebuilding and protection in Central Africa.”
BMS believes the voices of these brave women should ring loud and clear. We hope the release of this report will inspire a call to action by faith, government, and international leaders alike, to make every effort to end sexual violence in Central African Republic and around the world.