Sonke RHR programme co-ordinator interviewed in Colombian newspaper ‘El Tiempo’

Micheline Muzaneza, co-ordinator of Sonke’s Refugee and Health Rights programme was recently invited to Colombia to take part in the country’s national day that recognises women survivors of sexual violence during the long internal conflict that has affected the country.

The internal armed conflict in Colombia has taken a toll on the country and the millions of Colombians whose lives it has touched. One subset of those impacted is women victims of sexual violence who were attacked and violated during the conflict. Between 1985 and 2014, 7,353 victims of sexual violence were registered.

The 25th of May 2016, marked the second National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence caused by the Internal Armed Conflict. The day is used to reflect on where things stand in Colombia and celebrates the people who are bravely speaking out and holding authorities accountable for improving the lives of survivors – to ensure that justice and respect is afforded to survivors.

Muzaneza was interviewed by El Tiempo, a broadsheet Colombian daily, on the topic of sexual violence as a tactic of war, particularly in Africa.

The interview, conducted in Spanish, is attached with this post and below we have a rough Google translation into English:


Micheline Muzaneza, invited to the II Festival for Life Women, spoke with TIME.

7:24 p.m. | May 24, 2016

Muzaneza Micheline was born in the Congo, after his parents fled Burundi.

Let there be peace in Africa and that sexual violence stops being used as a tactic of war. That’s the dream of Micheline Minani Muzaneza, a Congolese activist Burundian descent who is part of the Women’s Initiative Nobel Prize (Nobel Women’s Initiative), and is in Colombia as a guest to the II Festival for Life Women organised campaign not Callar time.

Muzaneza spoke with TIME about his work to curb sexual violence in Africa and stressed the importance of women in peace processes.

Is sexual violence is still one of the issues that attract attention in Africa?

Yes. For example, in South Africa there is no conflict, but sexual violence is very high regardless of age. Beyond every 27 seconds a woman is raped and one in three women die at the hands of their partner.

You have worked with refugees who have fled violence in Congo. What it is the hardest part when it comes to supporting women who have been victims of sexual violence?

The hardest part when it comes to women survivors of sexual violence in conflict, is to have confidence to feel in the same way as they felt before her life was destroyed.

The other is counselling and forgiveness, because some of them blame themselves. Another issue is to achieve an opening to talk about what happened, because many women still hiding. (See also: In 2015, 21,626 people reported sexual violence in Colombia)

Why is it important that women talk about these experiences and report?

In any situation of trauma, such as sexual violence, it is good to talk; It is part of healing.

How effective responses can have in society from sexual violence?

The first thing to do is stop the stigma, because stigma kills people inside.

If society can understand that in a case of sexual violence is not the fault of the survivor not going to refuse, blame or stigmatise. Many women, for example, fled to South Africa because they were rejected by their families, when it was not his fault. In other communities they point to marry women and becomes a problem for them because if they are raped are frowned upon.

Then society not only need to stop stigmatising, but also need to be educated to understand.

Is it possible to make more empathy so that there is indifference to this problem?

In many cases the majority of victims of sexual violence are women. So we need to educate men to understand the impact that sexual violence.

They should think about what would happen if the victim was his mother, wife or daughter. It needs to start with that kind of education at various levels.

Governments should also take this as a serious matter. In many African countries governments do not see it that way and survivors perceive it.

In 2011 and 2012, for example, several women were raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), near a UN contingent.

In addition, there are organisations that are helping the survivors, but these organisations do not have the funds to care for them. You can find cases where there are many women who need advice, but there is only one psychologist that treats you. Governments need to fund these community organisations. There are many in which women help each other because they have no funds and work voluntarily. They say: “Maybe this can happen to me”, and so help.

Why is it useful to educate?

In South Africa we work to educate young men and not to commit sexual violence or any kind of gender-based violence. We do this in schools and workshops and many say: “I did not know things were so.”

Once I was giving a workshop, I gave the invitation to someone and to my surprise that someone was with a friend. That person was a rapist in my country and I recognised it when I saw it.

I stopped the workshop and began to mourn. They did not know why she was crying and I had to lie because that’s what many women are doing: they suffer inside, but do not want to show what is happening to them.

After a few minutes I started again, I came back strong, as we are women, and when I was talking about sexual violence, conflict and how women feel, this man came and told me he wanted to be a volunteer in the organisation because he wanted teach more people.

I could not understand that. I said I knew him, I spoke of the place, date and he began to mourn. I explained that he had been forced into the movement of the rebels and that their training was to learn to steal to see if it was strong, after abusing women to see if it was strong and if he passed those tests, the next step was to kill.

Women have been used as a tactic of war, as if they were part of the training. He said he fled because he could not sleep after having done that, because he had in his mind the memories of people begging: Please do not do this! For his part there is always trauma.

I use this story when I go to educate people. Yes, he was a rapist, but neither had peace. So you have to stop and never think about doing it because they will never be at peace.

What is the hardest thing in the process of education to prevent sexual violence?

Culture. In many places a violation is not something that is spoken. If you are a victim you have to be silent. In others, he blames the woman, what were you doing in a particular place at that time? What they were doing on the street collecting water if you were only three? Often hear people saying, well, but maybe enjoyed it.

So what you do is blame the victims. Sometimes women blame themselves among themselves. You have to educate everyone. Another tricky part is to be a woman educating men. In contexts such as Africa, masculinity prevails and if they have a woman in front do not believe him or do not pay attention and ignore it. Sometimes it is difficult to promote strong debates. (Read: Victims of sexual violence are record-book)

What about forgiveness?

Forgiveness takes time. Some other people through religion. They go to church and begin to forgive, but it takes time.

Colombia is in the process of peace. Why women should be taken into account?

Women have an important to achieve peace, negotiations and dialogues role. Women are mothers, they know how to talk and educate their children. When it comes to negotiations, must take into account that women are the most affected in the war, then they can bring ideas on how to prevent conflict, how to prevent it from happening.

What is your message for Colombian women?

My message is that work together like women. No matter if you are in Colombia, in Africa, in Europe, we face the same challenges.

When there is conflict, we are who we used. Talk, make noise to stop sexual violence.

We must convince governments to stop the conflicts because we are the ones who suffer, while others benefit.

Work together to solve the problems they face. That message was the one who sent my companions before I left Africa because there is nothing for us without us. Now, we need to have men educating men on these issues. Not only women, but men must be at the forefront of the fight against sexual violence.

You have been someone who has not given up. What has been most rewarding and most complicated in your work?

I’ll start with the best: when we educate men and say “never will or I will not do this again.”
When rebels also regret what they did and want to ask forgiveness or when we unite women and go to counseling.

But the challenge is that people who are not listening key, just talk. We need to see actions and governments need to take this as a serious matter.