How Are We Still Here? A Reflection
For those of you who are tired of reading sad articles about women being abused, I hear you.
We, the Gender-Based Violence Specialists and Women’s Advocates, are also tired of having to speak out against the violence and heinous treatment towards women.
But when we consider the plight of women who continue to experience heinous violations of sexual and physical abuse, the fatigue over being #tired of hearing another story of abuse somehow works to empower us to keep on fighting until we hear no more dreadful news of sexual abuse.
We speak of things that people wish were never spoken
We raise awareness of dreadful atrocities against women with the hope that our words will do something to inspire you; for you to lend a hand or your pocket to the cause of ending Violence Against Women.
And we hope to have conversations with the abusers themselves, not just conversations full of accusations, but conversations which are transformative in nature with the power to break generational and cultural cycles of abuse, to somehow transform the very fabric of our society in the way that men and women relate to one another.
That is our hope
That is our dream
As you probably have noticed by now, Serwaa Speaks primarily focuses on VAW (Violence Against Women) within the African context. I seek to use this platform to uplift and elevate the voices that tend to receive little to no recognition within the #metoo movement at large. Indeed, the exploration of VAW across varying African countries is an uphill battle in need of more support, advocates, dreamers, and doers.
This week, my dear friend Deborah, co-founder of Made for Elle (@madeforelles) recommended a film to me called SEMA (“Speak Out”), which was made by survivors of sexual violence within the DRC (The Democratic Republic of Congo) in 2019. Amidst the decades-long Civil War occurring over minerals and neoliberal government interventions, rape is a huge weapon of war amongst rebels and civilians. (To learn more about the history of rape amidst the civil war in The DRC follow this link:https://bit.ly/3fLdOtn).
For a little background on the Film:
“The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been devastated by more than two decades of war. Multinational companies finance violent rebel groups in order to keep the area in chaos and more easily plunder the precious minerals under the Congolese earth. These conflicts are characterized by an epidemic of the use sexual violence of a weapon of war. Rape in wartime is used to terrorize and destabilize whole communities. The perpetrators of these rapes attack victims with extreme violence, which in many cases results in death, destruction of the genital area and other organs of the body, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, depression and severe anxiety.
Survivors face crippling social stigma that prevents them from seeking justice, excludes them from their community and leaves them left on their own to support their children. Thanks to the support of Dr. Denis Mukwege, Panzi Hospital, and the courage of survivors, The National Movement of Survivors of Sexual Violence in the DRC was formed. The Movement is self-organized and today has nearly 3,000 members who speak out against this violence. Based on the premise that “together, their voices are stronger than silence,” they organize advocacy and awareness-raising activities to fight stigma and document what has happened to them- and ultimately, end the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict.
The Movement decided to create a film tell the story of what a survivor of sexual violence faces. The survivors of The Movement came together to write the screenplay based on their own real experiences. The majority of the acting roles are played by the survivors themselves. In order to create a truly powerful film, they bravely reenacted their own traumas. The survivors took on these parts consciously, realizing the benefit of artistic expression as part of the healing process. The film will be used as a tool for advocacy and communication: for other victims and Congolese society, as well as raising awareness around the world to the atrocities that survivors of conflict based sexual violence face. The film demystifies common myths in DRC about sexual violence. It will be used in outreach sessions organised by survivors in their communities, churches or youth groups. It will be disseminated in bordering African countries facing cases of sexual violence, as well as at festivals and conferences abroad to raise awareness of the issues of sexual violence in conflict and amplify the voice of survivors in the world” (Mukwege Foundation)
Not only is the movie honest, brutal, and shocking, it will leave you frustrated and heartbroken with a hands tossed in the air sort of gesture at the end; as you sit watching the credits in a daze considering the condition of women around the world. Even within the 21st century.
Not only does the film show the account of a few women who experience sexual violence, it also shows harmful cultural attitudes towards women. Scenes depicting women carrying loads of items in their hands and on their heads as their husbands walk beside them carrying nothing, without the thought to help their wives is not only bizarre, but highly alarming. When a young child witnesses this and asks his mother why women’s husbands do not help them carry such heavy loads, a mother responds by telling her child that “this is just the way that it is.” Even if such scenes highlight the trends of one or two communities, such traditions should no longer exist within our world.
If we consider that the Battered Women’s Movement (surrounding Domestic Violence Advocacy) has been in effect since at least 1971 with the establishment of the Chiswick Women’s Aid by the oh-so-controversial Erin Pizzey, one question that we would like to ask ourselves is: “How are we still here?”
Shouldn’t the world have moved forward by now?
Shouldn’t we have somehow pulled our resources together to:
& Have heroically ended this evil by this point?
The film SEMA follows the story of several women after experiencing rape at the hands of several men in their village after going to fetch water from the river. We then witness the aftermath of their lives in their interactions with their communities and the children that some of them bear as a result.
Tired of seeing her son bullied by parents and children alike for being the product of rape, one survivor, Matumaini makes an emphasized plea to her community which steals the show:
“My husband abandoned me. He rejected me because I was raped. Did I ask to be raped? You rapists! Is it not us, women, who gave birth to you? Where are you now cowards? Where are you now? If a brother will not protect his sister, who else will do it?
Where are you instead of protecting us? Us! Your sisters and mothers!”
It is moving to see the courage that came upon this woman to speak truth to power and yet, the film later reveals a devastating consequence of that dreadful rape that these women encounter. Later on in the film, one Women’s Advocate from the Panzi Foundation (a hospital specific to rape survivors spearheaded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Dennis Mukwege) declares:
“It is so important to break the silence. Because breaking the silence is to free yourself of shame and fight the trauma and the pain you have in your heart.”
[Dr. Dennis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize Recipient]
Powerful words...enough to move the most calloused heart towards empathy for women who experience abuse.
And yet, we still demand an answer to the strange question, “How are we still here?”
In the year 2020, in the year of the coronavirus pandemic and global chaos and uncertainty, how are we still trying to plead with the public to help them understand the wrongness of being violent to any human being despite their gender?
How did such a lie manifest that any victim anywhere would somehow want to be abused?
How are we still here?
How can we still be saying “no means no” when even a preschool child gets the message?
The heartbreak over the continued existence of this question within our day to day lives is sad. But when we consider the good things coming out of the DRC, from the City of Joy; a refuge and community to help survivors heal and become leaders (check out the trailer of the Netflix documentary in the link below) or the Panzi Hospital, or even the existence of this film SEMA made by survivors of this decades-long war against women in The DRC, acts as a sort of lyrical balm to ease our minds for a moment or two. But not enough to destroy the inner frustration within our hearts when we consider the state of women in The DRC or the state of women everywhere around the world.
While We Are Here…
Some men are stepping up to do some incredible things to change the narrative.
The city of Goma is on the brink of communal change. Men have banded together to change the ethos of toxic masculinity within rape culture by teaching lessons to other men on “positive masculinity.”
While a part of my soul mourns that it took this long to see change, we must rejoice at the little victories that arise within this fight.
While we are here, let us resolve to be the best versions of ourselves and strive to dream and create a brighter future filled with less violence, and more opportunities to empower women who have survived abuse to become all that they were meant to be in this life and more.
Keep impacting lives around you
Your life is worth something
Use your voice to help your fellow sisters
More about Serwaa
Elizabeth “Serwaa” Peprah, is a passionate Women’s Advocate and PhD student at Walden University in Human and Social Services with a concentration in Community Intervention and Leadership. She is a Gender-Based Violence Specialist with the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment. She dreams of creating refuges for women who have experienced violence around the world.