“Wombs punctured with guns. Women raped and tortured in front of their husbands and children. Rifles forced into vaginas. Pregnant women beaten to induce miscarriages. Foetuses ripped from wombs. Women kidnapped, blindfolded and beaten on their way to work or school. We saw the scars, the pain and the humiliation. We heard accounts of gang rapes, rape camps and mutilation. Of murder and sexual slavery. We saw the scars of brutality so extreme that survival seemed for some a worse fate than death” [i]
Women’s rights are human rights. However, as it currently stands today, pregnancies arising out of war rape – that is to say that girls and women raped in armed conflict - are currently denied abortions on humanitarian and medical grounds due to the US government’s “no abortion policy” which affects medical treatment services funded by the UK government, and despite the fact the UK government is under a multi-tiered legal obligation to provide it.
The Geneva Convention requires non-discriminatory medical care be provided, whether by the state in conflict or by others. In 1979, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The ratification obligations include provisions: to reduce sex trafficking; to provide access to education and training; to ensure the right to vote; to end forced and child marriages; and of course to stop all forms of violence against women. This treaty was signed on behalf of the UK government on 22nd July 1981 and it was duly ratified on 7th Apr 1986.
The United States on the other hand, has the questionable honour of being in the company of six other countries: Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Palau and Tonga, all of whom have so far refused to ratify this treaty, vital for the fair treatment of women around the world. Take a moment to consider the scale of the hypocrisy and this crime against women across the planet. The United States is the single biggest trader and supplier of arms in the world. At the same time it is the largest funder of the International Red Cross and other NGOs who provide medical aid in conflict zones. The US “no abortion” policy for medical war-rape victims in conflict zones, means women are left to attempt self-abortions, commit suicide and are killed as a result of ‘honour’ based violence in their families and communities. Perhaps the most worrying fact of all is that according to high level UN reports and claims by senior UN officials, sexual violence in armed conflicts around the world is only increasing[ii].
Today, the denial of necessary abortions for victims of rape in war, resulting from the barbaric practice of targeting girls for forced pregnancy as an element of genocide, must itself be considered barbaric and entirely uncivilised. It cannot be right that a policy from one single nation can compromise the legal obligation of the United Kingdom to allow for their treatment, insofar as it can ever really be treated.
Each year in England and Wales it is estimated that there are a million female victims of domestic abuse[iii] and 80,000 female victims of rape[iv]. Those women, who conceive as a result of the rape have, quite properly, the option to abort that pregnancy. In comparison, approximately one and a half million women are raped every year in the US[v] and in 31 states where a woman becomes pregnant due to rape, the rapist can actually sue for visitation rights[vi]. Following on from the horrific rape in Delhi last year, questions are now being asked of the Indian government and their approach to rape. This is an Indian government who wishes for us to accept that, in a country of over a billion people, there are 21,000 rapes a year[vii] which incidentally, excludes the many thousands of rapes from conflicts such as Kashmir. In other nations in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere, the scale of the global rape pandemic affecting them domestically goes simply unrecorded. In some nations, a culture of patriarchy and fear, of unenlightened civic and religious leadership, leads to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of women who are left unable to report rape, let alone to have treatment or see justice served. It was not long ago that such barbaric scenes were witnessed in Europe, with the Serbian rape campaign in Bosnia in the early 1990s[viii].
In light of the scale of conflicts around the globe, many of which afflict Muslim majority countries as a result of war-rape in places such as Syria[ix]; there should be no support for the denial of abortion either by society, or as it currently stands, medical services funded by the US. Although according to Islamic law, it is considered impermissible save for the most limited of circumstances to abort a pregnancy after the entry of the soul into the foetus[x] (considered to occur at 120 days); in certain extreme circumstances, it is entirely permitted to abort the pregnancy. These conditions include when the woman conceives after being raped or when the mother’s life or health is in danger[xi] based on the Islamic juristic principle “If one is overtaken by two evils, one should choose the lesser of the two”[xii].
In 2011, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, stated that ‘sexual violence has become a tactic of choice for armed groups, being cheaper, more destructive and easier to get away with than other methods of warfare’ [xiii]. That nothing has changed since then, is a damning indictment not only on US policy but a British policy which has specifically not challenged it.
The UK’s treatment of women in conflict zones cannot be subject to the policy of a nation which has refused to ratify a Treaty eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, when we have ratified it. Neither can the UK be subject to the policy of a nation which allows for the discriminatory treatment of women who are raped in wars. We must, as a society and as a civilisation, reject all forms of violence against women. Where used as a tool and a weapon of war, it is specifically designed to impede the advancement of women and maintain their subordinate status. By destroying the lives of mothers, you destroy the fabric of society. And this, is something that we can never support.
[i] Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace Building (New York: UNIFEM, 2002), 9, http://www.ucm.es/cont/descargas/documento7201.pdf (accessed 8 June 2012).
[ii] Human Security Report 2012, hsrgroup.org/docs/Publications/HSR2012/HSRP2012_Chapter1.pdf
[iv] British Crime Survey
[v] The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) 2011
[vii] Indian NCRB report on Crimes Against Women, http://ncrb.nic.in/CII%202009/cii-2009/Chapter%205.pdf
[x] Radd al-Muhtar, 5/279
[xi] Imam al-Haskafi, in Durr al-Mukhtar
[xii] al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir, P.98
[xiii] Cited in Stephanie Nebehay, “Rape Used as Weapon in Libya and Elsewhere: U.N.,”
Reuters Health News, 10 June 2011, http://reuters_th.adam.com/content.aspx?productId
=16&pid=16&gid=45497 (accessed 26 February 2012).