Addis Abeba — Since the beginning of the war in Tigray in November last year, more than 1,300 incidents of rape have been reported, while many argue that more cases went unreported due to societal stigma surrounding the topic. A high number of cases of gender-based violence including gang-rape and other atrocities were reported in the period of the conflict. The damage and looting of health care facilities in Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions made it worse for the victims impeding the provision of comprehensive after care.
According to the UN, violence against women rises during crises, conflicts and by 2021 one out of every three women have reported being abused during their lifetime. Last November, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a joint investigation into alleged violations of international human rights in the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region. The report revealed that all the fighting forces including Ethiopian and Eritrean forces were involved in crimes designated as gender-based violence with young and elderly women facing incidents of gang rape.
Moreover, a newer report published by Amnesty International also said that in Amhara regional state, Nefas Mewecha during the period between August 12 to 21, 70 women reported to regional authorities that they are raped by armed forces loyal to Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).
Addis Standard spoke to Siyane Aniley, a Ph.D. candidate at the Center for Comparative Education and Policy studies Addis Abeba University. She explained, “GBV is any sort of harm (could be physical, psychological, sexual, or economic) experienced as a result of being a woman/ girl or a man/ boy. GBV against women and girls is rampant as a result of the patriarchal power structure in the global order as well as local context.”
The Ph.D. candidate went further to explain, “The severity of GBV may increase as layers of disadvantage (poverty, family situation, rural-urban, education, etc) intersect, and are shaped by a context.” According to Siyane amidst war, conflict, and displacement, studies around the world show that GBV will only get worse as the protective system becomes less functional as resources are diverted towards managing the crisis.
She argued that despite the paucity of research conducted, in times of active war like the context of Ethiopia, patterns show that women remain the primary victims of sexual violence and added that it could be perpetrated by both the national army and rebel groups. She said, “These acts are also used as a weapon of war.”
Siyane went on to explain that even in the case of IDPs, GBV occurs through familiar or unknown individuals and groups, including IDP camp staff who devise exploitative acts in exchange for economic incentives.
She added that harmful traditional practices such as FGM and early marriage increase as perpetrators include family members, and the absence of safe networks that include institutions in place such as schools, health centers, police, and local administrations become inactive to protect vulnerable girls due to the worsening security crisis.
Siyane argued that most instances of GBV remain unreported. She said, “The GBV crisis in Ethiopia is not well studied, reported, or well documented. This, I believe, is due to the distorted objective of the reporting and documenting, focusing on who is more brutal.”
Reports of GBV in the ongoing war in Ethiopia according to Siyane are weaponized as propaganda tools. “Numbers reported by civil societies and human rights advocates are only meant to portray which party is more brutal. The parties involved in the conflict are also reporting instances of GBV only with the aim of criminalizing each other.”
Speaking about healing mechanisms to be provided to GBV survivors Siyane insisted on the importance of involving stakeholders. She said, “I believe the role of civil society organizations in this emergency context is irreplaceable. Enabling local health workers to address the psychological and physical needs, including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services to the survivors is crucial. To heal the visible (Physical, and economic) and invisible (PTSD, and depression) wounds of violence, it is important to engage the community in community-based/ led healing with the help of experts, as it has proven impactful in other countries experiences. Schools are also a safe space to heal children who went through war and displacement trauma through play, counseling, and child-friendly school environments.”
But Siyane thinks that starting early, teaching young boys and girls about gender equality, consent, respect, and diversity both at home and at school remains paramount. She said, “Capacitating schools to be safe spaces for girls and boys, encouraging GBV reporting systems, linking schools with health and legal services, making the best out of mass media and social media to advocate against GBV, promoting men’s engagement in the works against GBV in every intervention, building and strengthening women associations, girls clubs so their rights can be advocated for their rights.”
She concluded, “In times of crisis, including GBV as a major emergency response area, supporting research on GBV in the context of war, conflict, and displacement would go a long way to address similar issues in the future.”