Using Rape and Media Scandals as a Weapon against Women

By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari

Vulgarity is vulgarity, no matter what mouth it comes out of – Maya Angelou

Well then so is bullshit. Because that is what it would be called if someone asked President Obama in a public forum what his wife, Michalle Obama thought about the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Media commentators on CNN, ABC News, as well as on the recently featured Jon Stuart show pummeled US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton for being “undiplomatic” in her “hissy fit” when a Congolese student in Kinshasa asked her at a press briefing what “Mr. Clinton” (her husband, and former US President) thinks of a situation. She mildly lost her temper with the student, and rightly so, because the question was an insult to the office of the secretary of state.

The exact question, translated by an expert, went like this: “We’ve all heard about the Chinese contracts in this country — the interferences from the World Bank against this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton, and what does Mr. Mutumbo think on this situation?”

Ms. Clinton paused for a minute, and inquired if that was indeed the question from her translator. The translator confirmed that the student wanted to know essentially what the “Mr.” thought in the words of the “Mrs.” And Ms. Clinton even went as far to repeat the question from the Congolese student. She asked, “Wait. You want to know what Mr. Clinton thinks.”

And finally she assertively corrected the misogynistic student bread in a country that UN declares as the rape capital of the world: “My husband is not the secretary of state; I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I’m not going to be channeling my husband.”

By lashing out at Hilary Clinton, the media in the US has declared itself no less guilty of supporting a culture of male domination, and outright double standards that count women as less than whole, no less, than African Congo is guilty of thousands upon thousands of attacks on women’s sexuality.

For years now UN aid workers have been unable to stop the gang rapes and horrific attacks on over 27,000 women from ages 3 to 75 in Congo since 2006. Hilary Clinton’s trip to Africa and particularly Congo was an attempt to take a proactive role in a more essential and pressing problem tied to illegal trafficking of precious minerals in Congo’s scenic mountains. The importance of which was not given due airtime than say former President Clinton’s rescuing of two journalists from North Korea during the same time Ms. Clinton was visiting Africa.

The vulgarity of the media attack on Hilary Clinton and that on the women of Congo is nurtured from the same root of a perverted form of civilization where women measure in negligible quantities. The difference is that one society does it in a more extreme form of rape and the other though public humiliation and scandal. This they do, as they call a fine and distinguished woman incompetent, questioning her personal relationship with Mr. Clinton, and are quick to (wrongly) report that the Congolese student was actually misquoted and he actually wanted to know Mr. Obama’s opinion. The Lede blog by NYT states that it was indeed Mr. Clinton’s opinion that was asked not President Obama’s.

The media pundits are investigating the wrong question. It does not matter if the student who asked the question actually wanted to know what President Obama thought, what should be investigated is why the question was not asked directly of her opinion, as a representative of all affairs of the United States of America — Perhaps because she was a woman.

Obscurantism is as prevalent in the Barbie-dolled anchorwomen world on Cable News as are the men who abuse women as weapons of war in Congo.

The violence in Congo is at ghastly levels, currently topped by a new militia group called the Rastas who have nothing but vengeance aimed at “destroying” women in the mineral-rich African country. The Rape-Centers now created in the country are flooded by women numbering in the thousands, some get treatment, others can’t survive that far. The UN claims that the perpetrators of this violence were bread from the Hutu rebels from the Rwandan Genocide over the past decade.

There is absolutely no possibility that a practical genocide-free world can be charted unless half of it, constituted by women are not given the right to have an opinion that counts independently for posterity’s sake.

It is precisely because of the awareness that Hilary Clinton’s Congo visit has brought to the use of rape as a weapon of war, that the New York Times recently published a report on the iron fisted rule of Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir on the border of India and Pakistan called “2 Killings Stoke Kashmiri Rage at Indian Force.”

The agenda-setting media networks at large ignored the thousands of extra judicial killings, the disappearances of women and the gang rapes by some of the 500,000 Indian security forces only to be disguised and covered up by high officials despite Human Rights Watch reports. Indian held Kashmir has one of the highest military to civilian ratios in the world.

This story however, did not escape the NYT limelight: “Asiya, a 17-year-old high school student, had been badly beaten. Blood streamed from her nose and a sharp gash in her forehead. She and her 22-year-old sister-in-law, Nilofar, had been gang raped before their deaths.”

The street protests and the consequent discovery that the police tried to cover up the evidence by bribing doctors led to more frustration by Kashmiris under Indian control. Eventually the director general of Kashmir’s police force admitted that his forces had made mistakes. “There is a prima facie feeling there was destruction of evidence, whether deliberate or inadvertent.”

The reason women are targeted so violently during wartime is because of immunity. When no one demands that people act in fairness and justice, there will be transgresses.

It is time for the media to laud the courage and conviction of the Secretary of State for working toward an ignored menace that is responsible for driving nations into darkness.

And it is time to ask those accusing her of intemperance to ask the same question that the Congolese student asked, of a man in power, and we’ll see how far their investigative reporting careers go.



Filed under USA

21 responses to “Using Rape and Media Scandals as a Weapon against Women

  1. kabir

    HRC was right to be offended, but I feel she was unnecessarily harsh in her words and tone of voice I’ve seen the clip and IMHO it was not conduct befitting the highest diplomitic office of the US. I say this as a US citizen, a feminist and a huge HRC supporter.

    That said, thanks for bringing attention to the larger issue of how rape and attacks on women’s sexuality are used as weapons of war. The incident in Shopian is deeply disturbing and I am glad that the NYT is calling attention to it and using it to explain why the sentiments in Indian administered Kashmir.

  2. aish

    Excellent article! I loved every bit of it. Rape as a tool of control in a bigger context is exactly the running thread in all these instances.
    Americans have been using Hillary’s female status against her for more than a decade. This past election turned nasty because people called her shrill and emotional, while Obama was lauded for his masculinity. It’s sick how even the world’s supposedly “moral” compass (more like hegemony) would paint its own leaders who happen to be of a certain sex as generally weak. Chauvinists bask in this cultural hegemony that still plagues the world, and it’s “alright” because “it’s true”. No one attributed Howard Dean’s crazy whoop as his masculine over-reaction…neither did they call Dick Cheney shooting his friend as some testosterone fueled rampage.
    I bet we’ll never see this happen: “And it is time to ask those accusing her of intemperance to ask the same question that the Congolese student asked, of a man in power, and we’ll see how far their investigative reporting careers go.”

  3. YLH

    Thank god the NYT has woken up to the plight of Kashmiri women as well.

  4. YLH

    Kabir old buddy, don’t take it the wrong way but your lack of offence is understandable… live as you do through a compromise of self.

    In my opinion H R C was completely jjustified in what she did.

  5. kabir

    YLH, HRC is a diplomat. She holds the highest diplomatic office in the US. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that she handle these kinds of situations with greater dignity. I respect her greatly, but she did sound rude and shrill. There were any number of other ways of making clear that she was not there to give her husband’s opinion without screaming at the guy. I think it just made her look bad.

    As an aside, I don’t think you know me well enough to judge whether I “live through a compromise of self.” As far as I’m concerned, I live by my principles.

  6. Hayyer 48

    I presume you are male even if a feminist. Not that it matters to the subject.
    HRC was absolutely right in what she did. Should she have taken a more diplomatic line? Why should she have?
    On rape as a weapon of war. I have written on this earlier. Rape is not used as a weapon of war by the Indian Army in Kashmir. It is propaganda. I wish I could say this about other human rights violations.
    The occasional rape does take place in Kashmir, and even then it is not by soldiers. Incidents involving soldiers rare and they usually involve sex starved men moonlighting on their own.
    The media in Kashmir is free and reports every incident of killing, rape and abduction and human rights violation, even some that cannot be laid at the door of the forces. It has done so since the Kashmir insurgency began, and earlier. In 2008 only two rape cases came to notice. One was in Bandipur in North Kashmir where a Gujjar girl charged two soldiers with rape. One of them was apparently in the act when the father turned up, the other was his buddy. It later transpired that it was a consensual business, but once discovered converted to a rape charge.
    Also last year a rape in Handwara involved the a JK policeman and a Bihari Muslim. That was when Gilani threatened Bihari labourers working in Kashmir leading to their temporary emigration from the valley.
    Shopian is the only one reported this year. It remains a mystery. Townspeople of Shopian accept that CRPF (the central para military police force) personnel were not involved. Hurriyet tried to play this up as an atrocity of Indian forces but the story did not sell eventually.
    The case is now being handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation as the Special Investigation Team of the state police under the directions of the High Court as well as the Judicial Commission have failed to arrive at a conclusion.
    It is believed in Shopian town that the married woman had gone to meet her lover in the family orchard, perhaps on a tryst and taken her sister in law with her. It is suspected that the state police force may be involved. The police however as is their wont are covering up. DNA samples from the women have been found faked. So the doctors and the police are complicit; beyond that not much has come to light.

  7. Alina Shah

    Well written Ayesha.

    As a victim of violence, I must agree that all violence must be condemned and all acts of taking women as “less than whole” should be rejected.

    If Hilary Clinton would let this pass by on a note of good manners lots of women would be left behind. If she can’t put it right, what chance do we have.

    @ Hayyer 48,

    Who are you kidding?

    Kashmir is a very conservative society where rape cases go unreported most of the time, the few that do get to the police are met with retributive action, and others never see the light of any justice.

    India’s rape record in Kashmir should be studied through the Human Rights Group reports which are there for everyone there to see. How can you reduce it to a few horny Indian armywalas. This is an epidemic created by generations of hardened war tactics used on a very defenseless and docile community.

    It was Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch who said that India is a vibrant electoral democracy with an abysmal human rights record referring to the rapes in Indian Kashmir. Denial is a crime, when there is a war going on.


  8. Hayyer 48

    I am kidding no one. I know Kashmir pretty well. I am prepared to argue with anyone who claims to know better. I do not give credit to Human Rights watch or any other agency for that matter who do not have first hand experience.
    As in Shopian where these NGOs blow the whistle before the foul is committed you need to establish facts. I know about the conservative society. If there are hidden rapes they are the ones that the horny militants commit.
    I repeat; any rape by the security forces would never remain hidden, and this includes the false charges about mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in 1991.

  9. Aisha,

    Excellent article which points out the hypocrisy prevalent when it comes to the wider society judging women in not just offices of power but in every strata of living.

    The evil of rape can only be defeated by fast-tracking the role that women play in the world. If they can handle gracefully all the a-holes they have to live with in their own homes, I am confident that they can handle the schmuck-fest of hormonal male and misogynistic insecure men.

    I understand Kabir’s concern of HRC being a diplomat and her need to act dignified (I must confess I have not seen the footage) but on an issue, where voices are drowned out cover-ups and shrugs dismissing acts of estrogen-fueled histrionics, I believe she was right in being upset. Sure, she is an office of power but the ‘student’ is also a bearer of responsibility. If they don’t understand now how their ignorance is affecting their behavior, when will they?

    PS As a fan, I am sure Jon Stewart while plopping fun, must have underlined the issue in his own wry manner. I could be wrong of course, because as they say (or I do) – never trust a man’s perception of a woman’s action (no wonder books on Venus and Mars exist)

  10. kabir

    “HRC was absolutely right in what she did. Should she have taken a more diplomatic line? Why should she have?”

    Hayyer, HRC should have taken a more diplomatic line for the simple reason that she is a diplomat. It doesn’t behoove her to scream at people. I have no problem with the substantive content of her reply. She was right to make clear that former President Clinton is not the secretary of state and she is. But she could have done it in a more graceful manner.

    Without getting into the details of Shopian and incidents in Indian-occupied Kashmir, I was making a more general point about how in war-type situations women’s sexuality comes under attack because of the symbolism of women being a family’s (and by extension, a nation’s) izzat. I did a research paper once about violence against women as depicted in the short stories and novels about Partition. The same phenomenon has been observed in Rwanda, Bosnia, etc. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how incidents like this can occur in Kashmir as well. Of course they are equally deplorable whether committed by the Indian Army or the “militants” (or freedom fighters, as the case may be).

  11. Ahsan

    Here it is, and it is hilarious.

    I think women are making much ado about nothing.

  12. hayyer 48

    I would have sent a longer reply but for the next few days I can only communicate through my Nokia.
    I havent seen the video. She shouldnt have screamed.

  13. hayyer 48

    I know what you mean about izzat and its violation in the national interest. It hasnt happened in Kashmir.

  14. Mustafa Shaban

    hayyer 48: I disagree with you, India one of the worst human rights records when it comes to women, and in Kashmir the indian soldiers and militants abuse women a lot. There is a lot of documented evidence by investigative journalists and U.N to show this which I will post later. But wherever there is a military occupation or huge military prescence, whether US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, thier bases around the world in 130 different countires, Israel soldiers on Palestinian land, or Indian soldiers in Kashmir, rape is very common. There are many other examples 2.

  15. Hayyer 48

    I will wAit for your evidence.

  16. bonobashi@Bangalore

    @Mustafa Shaban

    Without seeking to address a mind that is already made up, I merely wish to point out that izzat and its violation in the national interest has never been claimed as a reason behind alleged rapes by the military in Kashmir.

    Talking about the popular imagery of resistance in Kashmir is not really a response of any sensible kind in this context.

  17. bonobashi@Bangalore

    @Alina Shah

    I saw your earlier comment later in the sequence. As far as propaganda on each side is concerned, it does nothing to illuminate a single obscure corner.

    Kashmir is a very conservative society where rape cases go unreported most of the time, the few that do get to the police are met with retributive action, and others never see the light of any justice.

    India’s rape record in Kashmir should be studied through the Human Rights Group reports which are there for everyone there to see. How can you reduce it to a few horny Indian armywalas. This is an epidemic created by generations of hardened war tactics used on a very defenseless and docile community.

    It is interesting that the cases that go unreported have formed your opinion. You may like to consider the unreported results of enquiries which showed that what was reported in the yellow press was not what actually happened.

    This is an epidemic created by generations of hardened war tactics used on a very defenseless and docile community.

    May I point out that the entire sentence reeks of self-serving and unsubstantiated propaganda? Resort to propaganda in the defence of your cause by all means; there is always a market for it. It is ingenuous to consider that all thinking people are a market for it. It is on the other hand devious and manipulative to believe that constant repetition, with louder and shriller tone on each occasion, amounts to strengthening the original evidence, whether right or wrong. Only an armed mob, out to do any mischief, would consider this useful or relevant.

    The community that you are referring to is neither defenceless nor docile, and the measures used to put down armed attacks on soldiers and civilians alike, sometimes infant civilians, if you don’t mind a taste of your own medicine, are not hardened war tactics. These charges to be true would have to be formal instructions to soldiers and to paramilitary personnel. It is clear from the tenor and the direction of your statements that you have neither the access to such formal instructions, nor any other evidence to support your statements.

  18. anton

    How soon one forgets the rape and carnage of hundreds and thousands of women, that went in ernstwhile East Pakistan. Only to be foreshadowed by Dafur.

  19. EdgeOfDark

    Sadly, this story confirms what I have always known: Basic Human Rights will NEVER be accesable to all.

    Justice and Rule of Law are trite ideas in a world that neither wants it or cares for it.