Last night I hosted a book club at my house.
There’s a group of us who meet once a month after reading a novel, but it’s mainly an excuse to get together and drink wine and cheese.
One of the women who came last night was new to our book club. She was currently working for a charity who provided relief aid in South Sudan and she’d recently spent three weeks visiting to make sure the aid was getting to the people in need.
But one of the things she said really shocked me: Around 70% of women in South Sudan have been brutally raped.
While this isn’t a concrete figure, I decided to look it up afterwards and she wasn’t far past the mark.
An article from Al Jazeera last week described how thousands of women trying to escape the war-torn country have been raped and sexually assaulted by government soldiers.
The Republic of South Sudan has been in a civil war since 2013 and an estimated 300,000 people have died in the last four years because of it.
The war broke out in December 2013 due to a power struggle between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar after Kiir accused Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d’état.
This has caused havoc for the 12 million people living in South Sudan with three million being displaced – two million displaced internally and one million fleeing to neighbouring countries.
But what does this mean for the women of South Sudan?
According to rights groups, many men have been killed after trying to stop the soldiers from raping their wives.
One woman told Al Jazeera: “My husband was following a short distance behind us. When he came and found these men on me, he told them to stop. They grabbed him immediately and killed him with a knife.”
She described how she, along with four other women were then gang raped.
Amnesty International have substantiated these claims – not that they need to be – in a July report that said: “Thousands of South Sudanese have been subjected to sexual violence including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, torture, castration, or forced nudity.”
Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, Munthoni Wanyeki added: “Women have been gang-raped, sexually assaulted with sticks and mutilated with knives.”
What can we do to help?
Besides donating to charities and relief funds who are specifically helping the women of South Sudan and trying to find relief and aid to this conflict, the best thing we can do it talk about it.
I am a white, western woman and I understand this privilege. But if it weren’t for the woman at the book club last night describing the horrors currently happening in South Sundan – I may have never heard about it.
This is the problem. As much as I, or we as a society, like to think that we are up to date with world issues, there is so much happening that the news media isn’t covering. And I am completely guilty of this. I work for the media and understand what people care about and what they don’t – and it’s a saddening outlook for our society.
But these are the kind of things we need to be talking about more, so that we can do something about it and help these women and children in any way possible. The more people talk about it, the more mainstream this kind of discussion becomes and the more we look into it to see how we can help in at least some small way.
This is the first instalment in the “We need to talk about” series. Each week I hope to bring to light issues women in our world are facing and ways in which we can help.