Monthly Archives: December 2012

Blog #7 UN Humanitarian Aid Work in Liberia

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“You are a UN Humanitarian Aid worker who has recently been sent to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding IDP camps…What steps do you think the UN must take to ensure the safety, health and well-being of these communities. What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?”

Liberia : Montserado refugee camp ©ECHO/ Sophie Vanhaeverbeke

Liberia : Montserado refugee camp ©ECHO/ Sophie Vanhaeverbeke

It is imperative that as a UN aid worker, I realize that I cannot impose my ideals on the Liberian people and that I understand the reasons and effects of the internal armed conflict they experienced. As fellow blogger Christine Galotti stated a “transnational” approach is needed to serve the Liberians. This can be achieved responsibly and effectively by the United Nations in establishing a relationship with community leaders and hear the grievances of Liberians. Many camps that hold internally displaced populations (IDP) face adverse effects of war as there are no social service infrastructures such as health clinics, schools, water filtration systems, etc. that can allow the community to sustain itself. The first step is to ensure the health needs and security of IDP’s.

In the post-war period, the violence does not end once arms are laid down. The effects of war are numerous and effect women, men and children differently.  From Ashford’s The Impact of War on Women, women are disproportionately affected by war experiencing “violence, rape and extortion in camps” (197). Liberian women suffered and survived the abuses and human rights violations committed by the anti-terrorist unit of Charles Taylor as well as the insurgency group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). It is important to accommodate the current President of Liberia, Ellen Johnsons Sirleafs’ plan to investigate human rights abuses and tend to the people who have survived the war. These reports can encourage the international community, particularly Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other countries involved in ousting Charles Taylor to create a case for the injustices that he has committed.

The expansive issue of rape committed during the internal conflict in Liberia would also require UN forces to perform medical check-ups for the IDP’s and screen them for sexually transmitted diseases.  Raised in a blog by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), UN aid workers and peacekeepers are not trained on how to stop sexual violence, which causes many of them to avoid reporting it.  Patrick Cammerat, former commander of the UN in the Democratic Republic of Congo has begun the first steps in training UN workers to search for signs to prevent rape as well as not evade it. He feels exposure to the topic can enable UN workers to intervene, stop and/or prevent sexual violence. Building health clinics would ensure that the IDP residents would have medical attention when facing dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, malnutrition, fevers and other health risks that could become deadly if not treated. Access to safe water, proper shelter, sanitation and food distribution are also steps needed to be taken to ensure the health of IDP’s.

In a segment of the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I remember the Women’s Liberation Movement went to the areas in which disarmament was taking place and acted as a monitoring agency for the process. One woman activist in particular mentioned that Liberia had in the past both successful and unsuccessful experiences with disarmament and therefore they knew what worked in their country and what did not. However, the UN peacekeeping forces dismissed their presence and expertise by emphasizing their authority in the process by stating that they were the professionals. To dismiss local guidance in a peacemaking process requires that an agency like the UN work with the people of Liberia, especially prominent members in the community that organized resistance towards Ex-President Charles Taylor.

The steps that are required to serve IDP camps effectively are expansive. It extends from taking care of the physical well-being of people to ensuring their security and stability. As a UN humanitarian aid worker, it is a difficult job to pursue and fulfill. International aid offers assistance to IDP camps in need; it unfortunately does not offer panaceas to the many issues that exist in these camps but I believe it exists to promote hope, activism and empowerment to these communities.

The Problem in Taking Refuge

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On my trip to Afghanistan about two years ago I remember crossing a barren park, with one swing set. In the blazing heat of the summer, I remember looking back and witnessing a line of women, but more specifically widows, waiting for basic food rations distributed at what looked like a UN tent. Each woman was given two containers of cooking oil and a bag of rice. Before thinking if that was enough food to last them a week, I thought about how they were going to carry these supplies to home. From what I could tell all these women either came by foot or by taxi and they did not have men to accompany them; a norm that developed out of the many years of war. This description that I am giving exemplifies the effects of war and poverty on women.Credits from  occhiogrosso-math.wikispaces.com/Refugee

Credits from occhiogrosso-math.wikispaces.com/Refugee

Put in groups in my Feminism Health and New Media class, each group was given a picture where we were to examine any sign of power relations from the scene. My group was given a picture of an Afghan Refugee camp in Peshawar and all we could see were endless tents and a clear blue sky and men. Where were the women in these refugee camps? As analyzed by my group and Professor Morgane Richardson, these women were inside the tents and built an indoor community for themselves; fearing sexual assault and also taking care of the elderly and vulnerable. This is the gendered experience of displaced women in refugee camps.

Using “gender as a lens to uncover hidden power relations,” as stated by Charli Carpenter, I also analyzed the experiences of women in a Syrian refugee camp shown on the news. The men who were most often approached by the news crew were raising the issue of political instability in the country and gave their opinions about the current events while the one woman who was interviewed talked about the health disparities in these refugee camps. She raised important points on the distance of health clinics from the refugee camp as well as the many people suffering from diarrhea and vomiting. Could these differences in concerns and responses to their experiences as refugees reflect their gendered perspectives?

Video Blog # 4

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Assignment:

Produce a campaign video directed to United States feminist communities explaining at least two (2) effects of war/violent conflict on women, why these issues need our attention and what resources might be used in order to address these effects and create a more stable life for women living through conflict.

Systematic Vulnerability

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I was shocked to find out that in 2008 the UN Security Council declared rape as a weapon of war. The history of war is filled with women as victims and survivors during wartime as well as in the post-war period. But it’s better late than never for violence against women in times of war to be recognized. It is a stepping stone for the international community to acknowledge that in order to end rape as a weapon of war, women must become “…full participants in their nation’s national security sector and post-war negotiations and full participants in international peace-keeping missions.”

As analyzed by Mary-Wynne Ashford in The Impact of War on Women, the health effects of war are endured well after the war is over. Recognizing the many factors that contribute to making women vulnerable in wartime, Ashford argues that in regions where women do not have “basic rights of autonomy” they are most vulnerable during times of conflict. Making them more dependent on men for security, institutionalized patriarchy diminishes the autonomy of women’s economic, political and social roles in society.

Google Images search: UN rape as a weapon of war

Google Images search: UN rape as a weapon of war

The health disparities faced by women are also extensive. Ashford raises attention to the spreading of HIV/Aids as a result of systematic rape in many war torn countries. In the Rwandan Genocide, which is projected that between 200,000 and 500,000 women were raped, there was evidence that “weaponization of HIV” was used as a tactic by combatants. In some cases it was found that women were specifically taken to HIV positive soldiers to be raped. The horrific sexual exploitation of women is an act of exercising power over the “enemy”. In a highly patriarchal society, where women are treated as commodities, socially handicapped from being active citizens, these limitations placed on women are worsened. Unable to travel to health clinic and lacking sufficient medical supplies and care, are just some of the hostile effects of war on women.

Addressing systematic gender based violence towards women, non-profit organizations like MADRE aid women internationally by building health clinics, educating and “equipping women with tools to prevent sexual assault in war and in the aftermath of disasters.” Ensuring that rape and sexual violence should not be an expected occurrence in war zones, transnational organizations, women peace movements such as the one in Liberia led by Leymah Gbowee, and human rights activists have contributed to combating the long trend of sexual violence against women in times of war.

Image from ilga.org

Image from ilga.org