As a student of conflict resolution and as a former student of war studies I always knew, and I suppose I always hoped, that one day I would come to experience working in a conflict setting. Living in Bamako does not quite qualify as that, but the reality is that Mali is a country at war. With parts of its territory effectively controlled by rebel and terrorist groups, with rockets being fired and suicide attacks carried out in the western and northern regions of the country, what I am seeing in Bamako really is only a small portion of reality.
This past couple of weeks have, again, been very busy in the office at Sini Sanuman. We finally got an advance from the bank, which will allow us to send out team to Bourem (Gao region) to at least begin to settle in and put the wheels of the project in motion. As a student of war studies and conflict resolution, I am for the first time being affected (albeit very indirectly) by the consequences of conflict. I can’t help but be concerned for our team in Bourem. Things in northern Mali are heating up again, with around 35 people killed last week as the French Operation Serval leaves Mali to make room for the Sahel-wide Operation Barkhan and peace talks are due to begin in Algiers.
We very well know that the need in Bourem is great; violence against women and girls and gender inequalities are being exacerbated by conflict and by the strict rules adopted by radical islamist groups in the northern regions of Mali. Awareness of the phenomenon of sexual violence during conflict has gained momentum in the media thanks to the recent global summit in London and the attention it attracted, but the #timetoact campaign can do little to effectively stop the practice on the ground.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my six weeks in Mali is that the number one obstacle to stopping and responding to GBV (in or out of conflict) is the deep, deep stigmatisation that survivors come under if they reveal what happened to them. Women, men, girls and boys go in hiding after being sexually assaulted. Very few of them seek help, and when they do all measures are taken to make sure that their identity is not revealed.
The international community is calling for justice for all victims of sexual violence. The reality is that only very few people seek legal help for fear of being marginalised and shunned from their family and community. In countries like Mali, moreover, justice is hard to come by, and it is often those who have more power that come out victorious. “Justice for victims” is a false equation. “Justice” can be dangerous and well, there are no “victims”, there are only survivors.
As a peace fellow I am here to help Sini Sanuman effectively manage their partnership with international donors and carry out their activities in Bamako and Bourem. As a student of war studies and conflict resolution I am here to observe, understand and learn from those who have experienced much more than me. My colleagues travelling to the north will be at the forefront of the battle for peace. As much I am concerned for their safety, I am also in awe of their bravery and heart, and will do all I can to support them from afar.
Posted By Giorgia Nicatore
Posted Jul 20th, 2014