That was my initial feeling as I read the Sky News report on the 16 year-old who was raped by dozens of men in Rio de Janeiro in May.
The actions of these 30 men sound utterly bestial, like a feeding frenzy. The way she describes their laughter makes it so real, so disturbingly terrifying. (Read article here)
Although the girls' commentary on the lack of legal and political reaction to her case depresses me, the social reaction gives me hope. As the video of the attack became viral, so too did social media backlash and city protests. Rio protestors hung banners and clothing splattered red with 'We are all bleeding' around the city. Photos of the protestors capture their passion and anger. Their blood coloured face paintis especially haunting and tribal, but incredibly effective in reminding us of the brutality of such an act. However, this dark imagery makes me smile, because it gives me hope. Such unity, passion, disgust reminds me that ultimately, no matter the location or race, rape remains an unacceptable act in today's global society.
Another aspect I found interesting was the location in which this crime took place. Favela's in Rio are notoriously deemed too dangerous even for the armed police of Rio de Janeiro to enter. Such a lack of jurisdiction, and the complex social relations that come with gang controlled areas, gives some insight into the lack of female rights present in these favelas.
Further research into the position of women in these societies revealed some shocking statistics. According to the Rio Times, “rape indices went from 1.3 to 4.8 and domestic violence shot up from 27 to 84.6” between 2006 and 2011. Ignacio Cano, head of the Laboratory for the Analysis of Violence at UERJ argues that this could be the result of two things: as the favelas have faced a change in leadership, it could be that residents are more inclined to report crimes to the police. The other option is that now that the drug lords are not present to maintain social order (otherwise known as the “law of the ghetto”), non-lethal crime has gone up.
How can the position of the female ever be secured without legal support or representation in such a society? The total lack of urban planning and basic public security services place women at an incredible risk. What tools can women be given to empower them in such unfamiliar networks?
One answer has been provided by UN Women, UNICEF and UN-Habitat. They have launched an online website which also works as a smartphone app that brings together information on support services for women and girls who are survivors of violence. I was surprised that the majority of favela populations heavily use mobile technology and computers; with such poor infrastructure I couldn’t imagine technology would be such a norm. Happily thought it is, and it seems to be an effective initiative for a youthful age group.
This has been a great take away for me in terms of our aims and initiatives; digital is an area that we have not yet explored, and perhaps with an app or service EHV could bring female empowerment to a greater and global audience.