Supporting Women Affected by War and Torture: International Women’s Day 2015 | The Center for Victims of Torture

Supporting Women Affected by War and Torture: International Women’s Day 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Curt Goering is executive director of CVT.

When I think of International Women’s Day, I think of the women we see every day here at the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) in our treatment programs in the U.S., Jordan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and soon, Uganda. Around the world, the numbers of refugees and displaced people are growing, and many of the women we serve at CVT are refugees.

The level at which support and change for these women is needed is structural, governmental and global. Back in 1995, the Beijing Declaration was signed at the Fourth World Conference on Women, stating a commitment from global governments to advance the rights of women. The Platform for Action published by that conference contained special pledges to women affected by war, including commitments to protect them from gender-based tactics like rape as a weapon of war, to involve them in decisions regarding conflict resolution, and to promote the contributions of women in creating a non-violent world.

For International Women’s Day, I consider what those commitments mean to the women in our programs. Women and girls make up 48 percent of refugee populations overall. In the world’s largest refugee crisis today, Syria, women and children in camps in Jordan are nearly 80 percent of that population. By the time these women arrive at our healing centers, they may face particularly devastating challenges: survivors of torture, war trauma, and rape often suffer deep despair, anxiety, and unbearable pain. Dealing with symptoms like this while also trying to establish a new life without familiar or even stable resources or infrastructure takes enormous courage.

Women refugees struggle and suffer in unique ways: they may be targets at times because of their gender and experience challenges in attempting to obtain justice for incidents of rape or sexual abuse. In addition, for hundreds and thousands of refugee families in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, women struggle not only with the aftereffects of their own torture or trauma, but also with the burden of supporting a family with little or no money.

These challenges are often complicated and worsened because of the effects of war on children, whose behavior reflects their condition in ways that require time, patience, and skills that may be difficult for struggling mothers. In Jordan, nearly 40 percent of the people we treat are 18 years old or younger, creating a significant strain on parents, often single mothers.

There is reason for hope, and much of it lies in the resilience and strength we see in our clients. These women face the unimaginable, confront their experience, give words to the unspeakable, and reclaim their history. They are able to reconnect with their community, family, career, education –  so many of the most meaningful elements of life. These achievements speak of the possibilities of change, of the strength that is the foundation of hope.

Twenty years ago, the world was well aware of the devastating consequences of displacement and violence on women. On International Women’s Day 2015, it’s time to implement what we agreed to do.



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