Saturday 21 January 2012

"...and here are our raped women"

The other day a colleague told me about an evaluation in a war-prone country. The international consultant who led the exercise had called a meeting with the "beneficiaries" - women who used services designed for survivors of gender-based violence. At one point in the meeting, the consultant reportedly asked participants who had been raped to identify themselves by raising a hand.
Does this make you cringe? No? Then, please read on.
It is true that in some places some people have blunt ways with survivors of violence. I remember a scene in the Democratic Republic of Congo, several years ago, where someone introduced me to a group of women with the words "and these are our raped women". Would you like to be introduced to a stranger in that way? Now, imagine the memory of that violent incident plunges you back into depression. And rape is taboo in the society you live in and people will ostracise you if they know about it - they won't want to meet you, they won't buy your produce, they'll keep you away from their children...

Even - or especially - in contexts where some people do not seem to respect the survivors' right to privacy and confidentiality, it is a good idea to follow basic ethical rules. Whether you implement a project or you just visit it, you must not do any harm. Reminding rape survivors of their ordeal is bad enough - if you absolutely need them to talk about it, make sure everything is in place to prevent mental health problems and social stigma. A good guide is the PATH/ WHO Publication Researching Violence against Women, available from the PATH web-site. Asking people in public - and even a very small focus group is a public setting - to come forward and identify themselves as "raped women" is simply an insult to women's human rights, and a danger to their well-being and social integration.

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