By Laura Angela Bagnetto
April 16, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — Women bear the brunt of most conflict, says UN Special Representative for the Secretary-General on Women in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura, on the release of her report on sexual violence in conflict that looks at 19 countries, mainly in Africa. But if women are treated badly during peacetime, do not expect them to fare any better during war, she told RFI.
“One thing I can say to you categorically — South Sudan is a society that has no regard for women. This is one place where I have confirmed by philosophy that if a country does not respect its women during peacetime, it cannot protect them during conflict,” she said via telephone regarding the report .
Bangura said in the case of South Sudan, the government needs to start with women’s rights, empowerment and respect for women. She visited the different areas where civilians were under UN protection and discovered that minorities were living there in fear.
“For example, in Juba, you have the camps full of Nuers. You go to Bentiu, and most of the people in the camps are Dinka,” she said.
But her direct analysis stems from what she saw in the camps. “Men who are scared they will be killed have to make a choice between going out and getting food for the family and getting killed, or sending your wife or your mother to go out and get the food and get raped,” she said.
“And invariably, they prefer the second option. Send their wives even though they know their wives will be raped,” she added.
Bangura became Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s representative in 2012 after serving for 20 years in various posts in her native Sierra Leone. Formerly the minister of health in Sierra Leone, she also worked in her country after the civil war in documenting some of the 65,000 rapes that took place there, experience that she brings with her to the job.
She brings these skills to issues such as the kidnapping of Chibok girls in Nigeria.
“Having lived under those circumstances in Sierra Leone … I knew from the very beginning that it was going to be extremely difficult to get the girls,” she said, adding that they have most probably been split up by Boko Haram, the hardline Islamist group that has been attacking schools and public places in Nigeria since 2012.
Bangura says the Nigerian government under President Goodluck Jonathan did not do enough to secure their release.
“They knew that Boko Haram was very nearby so they should have provided enough security for them,” she said. What doesn’t make sense is how Boko Haram was able to kidnap so many girls, she added.
“To take 275 people and put them in buses, in vehicles. I mean assuming the bus takes about 30, 40 people, you need about four, five, or six vehicles. To move that large number across Nigeria! I think really the Nigerian government failed,” she said.
Bangura got together with three African women of the highest rank at the UN: Navi Pillay, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN Women; and Leila Zerrougui, the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict to write a personal letter to President Goodluck Jonathan to say that they were at his disposal if he needed them in dealing with the Chibok girls.
“The letter was never acknowledged or responded to,” said Bangura.
Ultimately, the pain of Nigeria’s Chibok girls will not only affect their families, but girls’ education as well. “If they don’t bring Chibok girls back, it will kill the inspiration of younger girls to go back to school,” she adds.
But she is optimistic that Nigeria’s president-elect Muhammadu Buhari said he will do everything possible to look for the girls. “That’s all we’re hoping for.”