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International Women's Day: Advancement of Women Survivors of Sexual Violence

Kelly Bienhoff on March 8, 2012

Each International Women’s Day we acknowledge the people who promote the advancement of women and highlight the progress achieved over the past year.

Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, PHR reaffirms our commitment to comprehensive justice for survivors of sexual violence and support for those working on the front lines to help them.

Through our Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, we strive to improve women’s health, ensure greater access to justice for women, and give women an increased voice.

Improving of Women’s Health

PHR is committed to the physical and mental well-being and essential dignity of women and girl survivors of sexual violence. This should extend through the entire justice system—from the health clinic where a survivor first seeks care, to the police station where she is interviewed, to the courthouse where she testifies against her attacker.

Three SAFE nurses
Three SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner) nurses from Kenyatta National Hospital attend a meeting led by PHR in Nairobi in October 2011.

The Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones also works to increase the role of nurses, social workers, and other professionals involved in the forensic collection and documentation of evidence.

Many—if not most—of these health professionals in the region are women. Shifting these important tasks to nurses in addition to doctors is imperative, especially given the shortage of qualified physicians in remote regions. Often, a physician’s signature is required on medical forms that are used in court, so PHR and our local colleagues are advocating for forensically-trained nurses to be permitted to sign these forms as well.

Greater Access to Justice for Women

Women who survive sexual violence are entitled to a day in court. Although sexual violence laws are “on the books” in many countries, the barriers preventing women from confronting their attackers in court are still high.

Because of stigma and security concerns, survivors are often discouraged from pursuing justice in court—frequently by their families and communities but also by the professionals from whom they seek help.

"Justice" can come in many forms, from the acknowledgement of the crime and resulting arrest, to prosecution in a court of law, and to reparations provided to a survivor including compensation.

PHR and our partners in Kenya and DRC are working to educate health care professionals, police, lawyers, magistrates, and judges to act with greater sensitivity when they collect forensic evidence or support women through trials. We encourage judges to admit a wider range of physical, psychological, and crime scene material as evidence of rape. Once the communities begin to see more successful prosecutions, we hope it will encourage women and girl survivors to seek justice.


Participants from all three sectors (Kenya 10/2011)
Participants from all three sectors (health, legal and law enforcement) participate in PHR’s inaugural training workshop in Bukavu, DRC in January 2012. From left: PHR Program Director Karen Naimer, PHR Kenya Coordinator Rachel Muthoga, Dr. Marie Irene Tchangou, Maître Sylvestre Bisimwa Ntakaobajira, Président de Cour Baudouin Kipaka Basilimu, Colonel Magistrat Freddy Mukendi Tshidja-Manga, Dr. Desire Alumeti Munyali, Colonel Honorine Munyole, and PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin.



Mock Trial (DRC training, Jan 2012)
On Day 3 of the training in Bukavu, DRC, workshop participants took part in a mock trial. From left: David Bodeli Dombi as mock defendant; Maître Sylvestre Bisimwa Ntakaobajira as mock prosecutor; and James Songa, Colonel Magistrat Freddy Mukendi Tshidja-Manga and Paul Ramazani as mock judges.


Increased voice for women

Wangu Kanja, Mercy Musomi, Nairobi Dec 2011
At the Nairobi Roundtable in December 2011, representatives from survivor organizations lent their voice to the discussion on sexual violence response in the health and justice systems. From left: Wangu Kanja, Executive Director of the Wangu Kanja Foundation and Mercy Musomi, Executive Director the Girl Child Network.

If we are going to address sexual violence in a sustainable and meaningful way, we must listen to the wishes of women and girl survivors. Strengthening the voice of women and girls within the health and justice systems is paramount.

So many survivors desire the ability to participate fully and safely in the economic, social, and cultural life of their communities. With improved attitudes and reduced stigma, together we can help women and girls raise their voice amidst the silence surrounding sexual violence.

Places: Kenya