Yambio forum discusses ways to end stigma associated with sexual violence
“It’s traumatising to be raped and be left in shame, and when it happens, you just want to leave everything behind and go and live alone because of the stigma that follows this experience.”
This heartrending testimony was shared by Angela (not her real name) one of the women who have suffered sexual violence in South Sudan’s Yambio area. She was one of 36 women attending an interactive human rights forum on the stigma associated with sexual violence in conflict, organised by the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Human Rights Division.
The forum, which was part of activities marking 16 days of activism against sexual and gender-based violence, also discussed the horrors of sexual violence and its grave consequences, besides survivors often being ostracized by their communities or disowned by their families.
“We women of Gbudue need to become more sympathetic so that our communities can stand with us. Girls also need to speak up,” said Grace Ezekiel, one of the participants at the forum.
“We need to see perpetrators being held accountable for their acts. Our communities need to support the victims to seek medical assistance and to take cases to the judicial system if they wish to do so,” she said.
Participants spoke relatively freely about who they believed were committing these crimes, and asked the authorities to address the issue of stigmatization of survivors, which they strongly denounced. They urged families and friends of survivors to offer them support instead of contempt and alienation.
Other issues discussed during the forum included sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage, among other grave forms of violence perpetrated against women, men, girls and boys.
“Our aim is to strengthen groups, civil societies, and even traditional chiefs – especially the women – to know more about conflict-related sexual violence and the stigma borne by the survivors, and to point out how the survivors and the community can fight against stigmatization,” said Albert Mugabishaka, a human rights officer working with the UN Mission.
“Often women and girls don’t speak up, so taking further action is difficult. Families and communities are pushing them [survivors of sexual violence] to keep silent, because they are seen as having lost their purity or dignity, which of course should not be the interpretation,” he said, adding that cases of sexual assault and rapes are sometimes reported and perpetrators apprehended, but oftentimes there is not enough evidence to hold them accountable.
Speaking at the forum, Christopher Murenga, UNMISS Head of Field Office in Yambio, stressed the need to foster solidarity with survivors of sexual violence, including those that continue to endure the stigma associated with bearing a child through rape.