Nicholas Kristof on the Rape of Darfur

Suki— 09/2008
Falconberg praises the work of Nicholas Kristof for exposing the torture and rape of women worldwide, and she highlights the horrors of female circumcision which is still a common practice in the African continent.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF of the New York Times has written yet another of his excellent columns on the sexual savaging of women. This time his subject is the rape-land called Darfur in a piece titled "Tortured, But Not Silenced" (Sept. 2, 2008). It tells of a Darfur woman doctor named Halima Bashir who has written a book, Tears of the Desert, in which she recounts her story of some terrible tortures in the Sudan. She tried to help young girls, ages only 7 to 13, who were gang-raped by the janjaweed militia. U.N. officials came to question her about the rapes and, in retribution for speaking to the 'foreigners,' she was taken away by the secret police, gang-raped daily, tortured, humiliated, had cigarettes put out on her body — the whole typical picture of how women are broken and punished for daring to speak. She is currently seeking asylum in the UK, where she is still being hunted by her Sudanese torturers.  She wants to come to the US to promote her book but has not yet been granted a visa.

I am glad that Mr. Kristof writes so frequently about the rape of women. I wish that hundreds of more journalists would join him. He does not let the topic go — whether it be the sexual slavery of our bodies called prostitution — a topic he has addressed frequently, and with great compassion and common sense — or the rape horrors of Darfur. He often suggests that politicians and world leaders should not just address but foreground sexual savagery toward women — a great idea. Have we seen any mention of this topic in the recent campaign platforms of the US presidential candidates? After all, rape (in all forms, including prostitution/trafficking) is happening on our doorstep. On all doorsteps — no nation is free of it. Rape Planet Earth is a Rape Playground and millions of women, girls, and girl children are suffering right now as I write. Roughly 50% of the women and girls in refugee camps in Darfur have been raped, most of them gang-raped. (One reason you don't know about this is that imaginary, culturally-imposed 'shame' keeps them silent.) But you don't have to go to Darfur to find sexual torture of women — just look at your own city, anywhere you live in the world — although it is often happening in a more brutal and obvious form in places like Darfur and the Congo.

What can we, the women of Rape Planet Earth, do? I'd like to suggest a Million-Woman March on Washington — and on Paris and Rome and London and Berlin and Bangkok — and Baghdad — in short, mass gatherings of all women across the world. Men can join in, too. A million of them, I hope. And not just a "March."  We don't go home until not one more eight-year-old girl anywhere in the world is having her insides raped to pieces and her soul killed inside her. In Kristof's article, he quotes Bashir when she describes just such a girl, age eight, who was gang-raped: "a keening, empty wail kept coming from deep within her throat — over and over again."

I'd like to see all the female politicians in the world — the Condi's and Hilary's and that woman who runs Germany — all of them take trips to brothels and rape camps and hospitals with eight-year-old girls whose insides have been murdered by rape — here's an idea — maybe all these powerful women can take their armies with them: use the military might of first-world nations for something constructive — to protect women and girls, not to rape them.

How Dr. Halima Bashir could write about her ordeal is beyond me. Thirty years after my own gang rape, I still am largely silenced — and I was not savaged nearly as badly as she was. Not even in the same category of brutality. I think what she went through cannot be healed. And there is no medicine that can help what that eight-year-old carries inside her.

I am very troubled by yet another aspect of sexual torture in the Sudan. It is also necessary to point out that the female genital mutilation of Sudanese girls has already sexually traumatized them in ways that are equal to, and probably exceeding, gang-rape. This is a topic little addressed in the gang-rape land that is Darfur — and is why many young girls are dying after being gang-raped: their genitals are already such a mess from what is called infibulation. This involves the razoring off the clitoris and labia and the stitching together of what is left, leaving only a tiny opening for urine and menstrual blood. Those girls who survive (some hemorrhage to death) endure lifelong infections, and even 'normal' intercourse for them is beyond pain. Their 'wedding nights' are torments of crying and screaming and fainting from the pain — and fifty percent will die in childbirth due to complications. If Dr. Bashir is genitally mutilated, the daily gang-rapes must have been beyond imagining.

This dreadful 'cultural' practice of mutilating the genitals and stripping a woman of her sexuality has been going on for centuries and women are partly responsible. Women actually inflict it on their daughters since the girls are unmarriageable without it. (I wonder what kind of man would be worth marrying if he could only insist on having a wife who is so torn up between her legs?) In fact, women do the razoring off of the genitals of the young girls — without anesthetic and often under unsanitary conditions. Girls have their legs tied together for weeks after the ordeal, so the wound will heal, and urinating is beyond excruciating. This sexual barbarism equals any gang-rape being inflicted on the girls in Darfur. It is defended as 'tradition.' Cultural mutilation of the genitals and robbing a girl of her sexuality. In the name of tradition. This 'side' issue has received almost no attention in Darfur when the girls are gang-raped, yet this mutilation is perhaps even more grotesque and vicious than a gang-rape.

Actually, I think I will take a strong and relentless stand on this and say that the FGM in the Sudan is more of a problem than the gang-rapes. It is women refusing to protect their own sex, it is women mutilating their own sex, to the dictates of men. It is more unimaginably ugly than the gang rapes. Yet it is completely left out of the Darfur dialogue. The most vicious practice in the world — accepted, not even contested — by these Darfur women. And by the women in the West, who pay almost no attention to the unspeakable cruelty visited on 140 million women across Africa (it is still widely practiced in many African nations and in the parts of the Middle East as well).  If the Save Darfur people think this is important, why do they not make it a major cause? Do the celebs who make heartfelt statements about Darfur ever mention this ultimate form of sexual and cultural mutilation of women? Do they even note it is done partly because girl's genitals are considered 'unclean' — a notion contributing heavily to the repression and destruction of female sexuality?

Another troubling aspect of Dr. Bashir's story is the failure of the U.N. officials to protect her. It would seem that this largely useless, over-funded world institution has no effectiveness at all. It sends its troops into places like Darfur, where these U.N. soldiers are currently doing what U.N. troops do wherever they go — buying sex at a dollar or two a shot from starving refugee girls. Why are they being allowed to do this, by the U.N.? Why are they not protecting Dr. Bashir and all the other women of Darfur instead of turning hungry girls into prostitutes? Where are the funds from this wealthy institution going? Why is the money not going to feed girls and protect them from rape in refugee camps? With its huge funding, the U.N. could hire enough trained men to guard every girl in those camps.

To return to Mr. Kristof, in the brutal world of Rape Planet Earth, he gives me hope. I know that he will continue to write about rape and prostitution. They are topics he genuinely seems to care about. I just wonder why it is so insignificant to other journalists — and an area largely ignored by the general public. It may be due to lack of courage and lack of an imagination of disaster.' What man wants to think that his daughter could be treated this way — raped until her insides are gone and her soul is dead? What woman wants to know that she could be the next victim, that she could have her insides ripped to pieces and her whole being and every inch of dignity taken from her?

It takes courage to write upon this topic. Mr. Kristof has that rare courage.