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My body, my rights

Rape as a weapon of war

ACORD`s work on HIV

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violence against women

Globally, one in five women is likely to be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. One in three women will probably experience some form of violence from an intimate partner. Women are far more likely to experience violence from a partner than anyone else and such acts of violence are rarely one-off 'crimes of passion'; they are usually part of a pattern of longterm abuse. Thanks to advocacy efforts from tireless campaigners these global statistics are relatively wellknown facts, but more detailed statistics are hard to find in most countries.

Women lighting candle

A moment of reflection at a conference on sexual and gender-based violence. Photo: ACORD / Ruthpearl Wanjiru Ng'ang'a

Yet stop and think. Do you, reading this page, not know of a woman whose partner has:

  • insulted her, frequently
  • humiliated her in front of others, repeatedly
  • deliberately intimidated or scared her, such as by yelling or smashing things
  • threatened to harm her or people she cared about
  • slapped, punched, shoved or thrown something at her so as to hurt
  • kicked, dragged or beaten her up
  • choked or burnt her on purpose
  • threatened her with, or actually used a gun, knife or other weapon against her

Perhaps you don't know, because we don't usually talk about such things, but how many women have been:

  • forced to do something sexual she found degrading
  • persuaded to agree to sexual intercourse only because of fear
  • forced to have sexual intercourse against their will

Perhaps you are one of the women who has experienced this.

If so, you're not alone. Asked only about actual physical and sexual abuse, 71% of women surveyed in a rural area of Ethiopia said they had experienced it, as did 41% of women in a city in Tanzania. Sadly, more than half of the women in Tanzania, and 80% of those in Ethiopia, thought there can be justifications for such abuse.1

Few of these crimes are reported and it is even rarer for anyone to be brought to justice. The security sector in many African countries focuses on the security of those who have power, creating a pyramid in which the security of a powerful elite comes at the top and even poor men have more protection than the majority of women. Time and time again sexual violence and violence against women is committed with impunity. Meanwhile the silence, stigma and taboo that surrounds it often leads to the women survivors of the violence feeling that they bear the guilt and shame.

Violence against women pervades our lives and infiltrates our minds, beliefs and attitudes. Yet if we come together and speak out, we can change this. Name the perpetrators, put the shame where it belongs. End impunity for violence against women now!

"... as soon as we were separated from the men, the rebels started coming to our room and touching all the women..they were asking them whether they are ready to accept whatever they are going to do to you...in that situation we could not say no because we were scared and full of fear. That day they raped almost all the girls including me."
Doreen's testimony from Uganda, quoted in A lost generation

Rape as a weapon of war

Sexual violence has become a major military strategy that has turned men into weapons and women into battlegrounds in times of conflict. The use of rape as a weapon of war was finally recognised as a war crime and a crime against humanity in international law in the late 1990s, although the practice is millennia old.2  Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were systematically raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In Sierra Leone, between 50,000 and 64,000 internally displaced women were sexually assaulted by combatants.  In the troubled North Kivu province of Congo DRC, some 350 rape cases are reported every month.

Importantly however, sexual violence does not emerge from conflict. Conflict is only reinforcing what is already happening in our societies. We have allowed violence to continuously occur against women without punishing it, and this is considered normal life in peacetime in our societies. It should come as no surprise that sexual violence comes out into the open in times of war.

The solution to sexual violence in conflict lies in challenging attitudes to violence against women during peacetime.

ACORD's work

ACORD has recently completed 'legal audits' on sexual and gender-based violence in five countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa: Burundi, Congo DR, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. All the countries are signatories to the Great Lakes Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence Against Women and Children which is one of the most progressive pieces of legislation existing on this issue.3

Making the law count
    regional summary: english  |  français
    Burundi study: français
    Congo DRC study: français
    Kenya study: english
    Tanzania study: english
    Uganda study: english

The audit looked in detail in each country at:

  • what laws are in place to deal with sexual violence and violence against women
  • whether and how those laws are enforced and implemented in practice
  • procedures in place in the key institutions for establishing the chain of evidence, including health institutions and the police

ACORD is currently following up these audits with more detailed studies on the need for compensation and reparation for survivors of sexual violence:

Protection and restitution for survivors of sexual violence
    Congo DRC study: english   |   français
    Kenya study: english
    Uganda study: english

Three pan-African conferences on violence against women have now been convened by ACORD, in alliance with other organisations. The discussions and outcomes of these meetings are available in the following reports:

Smash the glass, 2009:
      english  |  français
Compensating an assault on dignity?, 2008:
      english  |  français
Exposing hidden war crimes: challenging impunity for sexual violence in times of conflict, 2007:
      english  |  français

ACORD's work on violence against women arose out of many years of work, particularly with women and girls in conflict situations. Some of this is  documented in the following books:

Cycles of violence: gender relations and armed conflict
      english  |  français
A lost generation
      english  |  français

Global menu

My body, my rights!  

1 in 5 women is likely to be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Violence against women is a crime against humanity.

Women can't wait!

Gender resources  

Violence against Women in Africa: an Imported Agenda or a Hidden Reality? - Reflections from University Students in Kenya.
A compilation of essays written by students in Kenya on the issue of violence against women and girls.
    english


Protection and restitution for survivors of sexual violence. Studies of options for compensation and reparation for survivors, in countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa:
    DRC:  english  |  français 
    Kenya:  english 
    Uganda:  english


Further resources ...

Quotable words  

"The birth of my words is the death of my shame."

Imani Woomera,
Kenyan poet

"Who says we cannot unite to fight the injustice of oppression?"

Malika Ndlovu,
performing artist

"The rape of one woman, the abuse of one child is a crime that should not go unpunished because it is a betrayal of the values that Africans espouse and their aspirations to full and dignified lives."

Winnie Byanyima,
UNDP Gender Team Director and former Ugandan MP