Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Specialist
UNFPA Côte d’Ivoire.
I have been working exclusively on the fight against gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies for more than three years now. I arrived in Côte d’Ivoire on March 8 (2009, 2010, 2011?) and I have been working for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as a GBV specialist since then.
Back home in Europe for a short leave at the beginning of May (2010 ? 2011), one of my best friends asked me how I was still able to “manage” such a difficult job. In fact, she was concerned about the risk of secondary trauma, caused both by living in a conflict situation and by the possibility that I might identify a little too much with a rape survivor, being a woman myself. This identification between me and the many survivors I encountered every day in my work could indeed be a very heavy burden for me… A burden that could prevent me from continuing and make me want to give up my work.
At that moment, I was not able to give an answer to his question…
Between January and May 2011, in Côte d’Ivoire, more than 325 cases of rape were committed, of which 71 were in the west of the country and 132 in the district of Abidjan. More than 40% of these rapes were perpetrated by armed men, both militia and regular army soldiers. In 2010, a relative period of peace, less than 3% of sexual violence was committed by combatants. The comparison of the data is astonishing, sad, distressing and exhausting. This finding will have serious consequences, not only on the survivors of these acts, but also within the families, communities that suffered them and within Ivorian society as a whole, in one way or another…
On the subject of rape during wartime, an idea, accepted by many, is circulating. It is based on a 3-part logic (syllogism):
- “Côte d’Ivoire is plunged back into violence”
- “During periods of war, sexual violence is normalized.
- Therefore, “it is normal that in Côte d’Ivoire, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war!
I categorically reject this logic, I cannot accept it! The justification of the increase of sexual violence, its use to humiliate opponents and sow terror during a given conflict is simply, legally, ethically and viscerally unacceptable. From the depths of my heart, I feel the urgent need to act, to make the voices of all these victims heard so that everyone has the courage to say “never again! This is the idea of justice that motivates me and gives me the strength to continue this struggle. I owe this commitment to the women and girls of Côte d’Ivoire. Their courage, gives me the courage to continue and if as a woman, I can perceive a very small part; of their immense suffering and that gives me the strength to continue and well, it is so much better!
It is time to act, to commit ourselves, all together, to fight against this silent scourge that destroys so many lives. Here is the answer I will give to my friend the next time I see her!