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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Violence And Valentine's Day

Violence And Valentine's Day
By Fiori Berhane

Violence is gendered. It is experienced differently, perceived differently, and given less importance when the receiving end of force is a woman. On this Valentine's Day, it is a guarantee that one woman will be physically abused by her partner, that another will be raped, and that a woman in a refugee camp will have to sell sex for food because aid workers distribute food and resources solely to men. These happenings will be rationalized, and the gender and political dimensions ignored. Abuse is a private matter, a domestic affair; rape is about sexual deviancy and isn't tied to a misogynist culture; it is best to distribute resources to men because it reinforces the integrity of war torn communities.

Violence is gendered. Poverty is feminized. These are but simple terms to describe complex realities, the realities of structural violence that reinforces or creates new gender inequalities, forces women into the sex trade, or as migrant workers, opens them up to sexual harassment and paltry wages.

Yet the fact that violence is gendered is largely invisible. It wasn't until the early '90s, faced with the conflict in the Balkans, that rape became internationally recognized as a tool of war and that its prosecution as a war crime was made possible. Although this terror tactic had been used with great frequency as a means of degradation and humiliation to entire communities, it wasn't until our lifetimes that it became recognized as a legitimate crime that could summon an offender to The Hague.

This year, V-Day focuses its spotlight on women in conflict zones. Many of the world's wars are reduced to mere conflicts because they do not summon the attention of the global-north. With 9.5 million refugees in Africa, Iraq completely destabilized, Chechnya quietly covered up by the Kremlin, and war looming with Iran, what happens to the women?

What happens to women whose asylum cases are denied because immigration officials refuse to believe that they have been raped or refuse them medical examinations to confirm this? What happens to the women who are raped by soldiers, soldiers whose HIV prevalence rate is generally three to five times that of the general population? What happens when these same women who, because they are poor or black, or because of where they are in this world, are denied access to medical care? What happens to women who fight in conflicts and are told that they will be guaranteed gender equality once the war is over? This dream becomes yet another dream deferred.

V-Day is about love-if by love we mean compassion, and the ability to transcend our own borders, and to experience and feel with others. Whether these others are women in Harlem, or in strawberry fields in Northern California, Beirut, Baghdad, and Mogadishu, what cannot be forgotten are the ravaging effects of poverty and violence on women and men. Poverty and violence lay bare the contradictions of our liberal, globalized world, and we hope that by keeping alive the vision of a peaceful tomorrow we can combat the cynicism that views human life as collateral damage. This is what V-Day is about.

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