Healing Inner and Outer Wounds

By Susan Risal

The armed conflict of Nepal (1996-2006) brought multifaceted problems in women’s lives. Gendered roles changed especially in the time of conflict. However, after the completion of armed conflict women returned to similar status quo, it's especially seen among the women who participated in the Maoist movement. The security personnel targeted women who participated in the armed conflict as well as the civilian women by using sexual assault during armed conflict. It was a strategic move by security personnel to spread the messages of fear via rape and torture to the whole community by instilling the notion that those who participate in the Maoist. Additionally, there were cases of sexual assault and forced marriages within the Maoist party but it rarely comes out on the surface due to strong schooling inbuilt in their cadres. 

Sexually abused women in the time of conflict still cannot expose their suffering even to their family members. In the time of conflict, they were more scared and accepted this as their fate, therefore they and their families took this as a private matter. Family members who knew their incidences were/are stigmatizing these women and their spouse and family members have rejected them. This led women to stay in isolation with self-blame, humiliation, and loss of their dignity. This is preventing them to heal from their trauma, which further marginalizes them. Psychological, physical, economic and cultural barriers additionally affect their well-being.

A peace accord was signed 12 years ago but these women are still not integrated into any kind of justice system of the state. The mindset of patriarchy and lack of gender mainstreaming was observed while the government formulated its Interim Compensation Policy in 2009, which failed to categorize these women as conflict victims. That excluded these women to receive any kind of compensation. It shows how the government of Nepal and our political parties viewed sexual violence as ‘a consequence of war’ and ignores to provide gender justice to these women. Nepal achieved significant things in this time of peace process but it mostly concentrated into the liberal peace and failed to address the structural issues of the conflict-affected women. This failure promotes impunity since it was ensured in the Comprehensive Peace Accord. The lack of recognition of these women as conflict victim is one of the sources of injustice and hampering for their dignity.

Due to lack of gender friendly approaches and security of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many women did not file of their wartime incidences and feels not involved the truth-seeking process. Women expressed that the application form is complicated. It emphasized to write down the name of their perpetrator and to present the evidence of the incidents. While they were sexually assaulted, they were very young almost the age of 10- 15 years. Many of them do not recognize the perpetrator as they were blindfolded in their eyes and were restrained. They were sexually assaulted by several persons until they became unconscious and were not in the stable mental state. This is why, saying women to present the evidence of their incidence in the truth-seeking process, is an inhumane and insensitive act by the TRC. 

The women highlighted that their oral testimony in the time of investigation process has to be considered as evidence bearing in mind their special conditions by the commission if it talks about justice. Similarly, they demand a public apology from the state and the parties for their suffering. If these happen, only they might feel dignified to some extent. 

Women who faced sexual assault were severely tortured. The perpetrators who committed these heinous crimes are not punished to date, which is also establishing insecurity among these women.  Although, NAP on UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 & 1820 recognized women who faced sexual violence as conflict victim and also recognized that SGBV in conflict is an issue not only of women’s health but also of political security. However, nor the support for women’s health or for their political security has been ensured to date.  

Going through brutal torture, they have tremendous physical and mental problems; lack of sleep, restlessness, urethral discharge, back pain, loss of memory, anger, sense of hopelessness, etc. In this context, they are not suffering alone but their families are affected by their inner and outer wounds. This led to societal damage through the infliction of trauma. These women need long-term medical, psychosocial and educational support for their children and it is the responsibility of the state to address their needs without any pre-conditions. They expressed that their children are carrying the feeling of transgenerational hatred and victimhood. We need to address this immediately to save future generation. It is a necessity to shift the notion of self-blame from these women, which is disempowering them every day by making them realize that this is not their mistake.

These women hope to get justice to live a dignified life by addressing their multiple needs by the state and related stakeholders. In this transitional phase, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and the state has a greater role in addressing their multiple needs without any pre-conditions. It should provide proper legal, economic, social and mental support, which is the utmost necessity to heal their inner and outer wounds. This will play a vital role in feeling the notion of justice and dignity by these women.

This article was published in Himalaya Times Newspaper on June 14, 2018.