Research into gender-based violence during the Central African Republic conflict sponsored by BMS World Mission has led to the release of a powerful report with the potential to help survivors and inspire leaders to take action.
The study, carried out in April and May, was the first into sexual violence in CAR since the crisis began and uncovered some of the challenges faced by survivors and what leaders need to do in order to stop these horrific acts of violence.
Perhaps, more important, it gave a voice to women whose story might otherwise remain untold.
“To date, no one else has mapped the testimonies of these brave women who have been horribly degraded as a result of the war in the Central African Republic,” Steve Sanderson, BMS manager for mission, said. “The report challenges the international community to play their part in helping CAR’s gender-based violence survivors rebuild their lives.”
Christian anti-Balaka militias and Muslim Seleka rebels were both responsible for atrocities during the recent conflict, according to BBC News.
Thousands of Christians and Muslims were killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced.
While there has been a ceasefire, the conflict continues today. The prevalence of sexual violence has been exacerbated due to its use in the conflict as a weapon of war.
BMS and Tearfund worked together on the research into the extent of gender-based violence and the impact it had on those who survived it.
It is also part of the pledge BMS has made as a founding member of We Will Speak Out, a global coalition committed to seeking faith-based approaches come to the fore in tackling gender-based violence.
Research into a subject as sensitive as this cannot be imposed from outside. It must take into account local needs and customs.
So, the BMS and Tearfund study was undertaken in collaboration with local partners in CAR, consulting with heads of neighborhoods, mayors and religious leaders from different faith groups.
A team of 12 Christian and Muslim female researchers were trained and put in contact with religious authorities to help them meet with survivors.
Research was conducted in the capital Bangui and in the district of Begoua, and careful thought was put into conducting research sensitively, through discussion and support groups, providing counseling and ensuring anonymity.
The report highlights brutal survivor stories of sexual and gender-based violence, most too traumatizing to relate here.
Women from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds discussed the stigma of sexual violence, what would help them recover from their ordeal and what role faith communities could play in supporting them.
Though these women have experienced horrible brutality, they manage to share their hopes for healing and visions for a better future.
“It is difficult to talk about these experiences because it is shameful and dehumanizes you as a human being,” one woman from Begoua said. “We need lots of prayers.”
The report demonstrates that, to move forward with their lives, the women will need financial, medical, legal and psychosocial support as well as an improved justice system.
Results of the report, titled “To Make Our Voices Heard,” were released in September at an event that brought faith leaders, government ministries, U.N. agencies and other local and national representatives together to discuss the response to sexual violence in the conflict.
A three-day workshop for faith leaders was held in September. The leaders discussed findings of the research, studied teachings on sexual violence in Muslim and Christian religions and created action plans to respond to sexual violence in CAR.
“The release of the report in Bangui a few weeks ago attracted widespread support from key decision makers on the ground,” Sanderson said. “It is anticipated that we will bring the report into the view of the British and possibly French governments with a view to it influencing policy on transitional justice, peace-building and protection in Central Africa.”
BMS believes the voices of these brave women should ring loud and clear and hopes the release of this report will inspire a call to action by faith, government and international leaders alike, to make every effort to end sexual violence in the Central African Republic and around the world.
The report is available for download here. Some of the accounts in this report describe sexual violence in graphic detail and may be distressing to some readers.