Instead of being able to provide for her family, a mother instead fears for a more fundamental necessity: the survival of her children. She fears for their safety, as well as her own. She finds herself distraught as she contemplates what fate her children will be left to if she is removed from their already tumultuous lives. The chances she has of being raped are highly likely, as are the chances she will be killed.
Such is the fate of those living in the Central African Republic. The disturbers of peace in the CAR have adopted a time-favourite method of war, targeting the most vulnerable members of society: women and children. According to UNICEF, before the conflict began in the CAR a child died every 21 minutes of causes that were preventative. Since the crisis, the number has risen to include 2.3 million children. Many of the women responsible for caring for these children are not able to, exacerbating the problem.
Why are women and children targeted by extremists? This is a question that can sadly be applied to most contemporary conflicts. These actors seek to use women to break familial ties, instill fear in the community, and gain control over the women and therefore the surrounding community. For some reason, women are seen as the biggest threat to extremists, and as a result they are continually targeted.
The reasoning behind why women are targets in war is a matter of power and control. Women are fundamental to most socially constructed relationships: they are mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers. They play a primary role in caring for the family, and as such, targeting a woman targets the core of familial values. This is the fundamental assumption made by extremists, and one of the reasons why if we manage to protect our women we know we will be protecting societies around the world.
The CAR is a prime example of how women are victimized in war. Rape has become a weapon through which culprits extract power. What is worse is that families in many traditional settings disown women that have been raped, putting some form of blame on the woman who has been given an unfortunate fate that she did not wish upon herself. This is where we need to start our work.
It is our responsibility around the world to hold up the human rights that women are entitled to and redefine misconceived notions of what a woman’s place in society is. Women cannot be treated as commodities to be bargained over, whose bodies can be used as a form of manipulative currency. We need to effectively end the way that women are targeted in wars, and that means enforcing real punishments for violations of international standards. This in turn will redefine societal structures and enhance respect for women around the world. For example, in the case of the Central African Republic, that requires our government helping to enforce such standards through a peacekeeping force. While money has been sent to the CAR by our government, I still hope that serious consideration is made in sending a peacekeeping team to the region. It is through initiatives like this that we will be able to effectively protect women around the world; let us begin with the Central African Republic. Let us begin now.