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Sexualised Violence in War: “We offer traumatised women holistic support“
Doctor Monika Hauser; © Rendel Freude - medica mondiale
Sexual violence against women is a taboo subject in many countries around the world. Especially in war zones and regions of conflict, violence and rape is a part of the horrific and traumatizing every day experience of women and girls. The victims are being ignored in society and rarely find support and sympathy for their situation.
MEDICA.de spoke with the founder of medica mondiale Doctor Monika Hauser about the difficulties and obstacles female physicians and counselors have to battle every day and about numerous successes of the organization and the latest projects.
MEDICA.de: Doctor Hauser, at first you founded “Medica Zenica“ in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since that time the organization has evolved into the international medica mondiale and for almost 20 years now has lobbied for women and girls who became victims of sexual violence. How did you come up with the idea to establish such an organization?
Monika Hauser: In 1992 I intensely followed the media coverage of the war in Bosnia. Since I worked with women survivors of sexual violence as a budding gynecologist, it quickly became clear to me that these women in Bosnia needed very concrete support.
So I went looking for an international organization that is committed to these women, but there was no such organization. That’s why I decided to set up something very concrete for these traumatized women.
MEDICA.de: Working in a war zone or conflict area requires assertiveness as well as endurance. How do you manage to gain a foothold in a war-ravaged country and convince affected women on location of your work?
Hauser: Raped women don’t get any help and nobody talks about this problem – that’s the first issue. The ostracism that’s facing affected women and those who want to support them is not just a daily occurrence in areas of conflict.
That’s why we always collaborate with local female specialists who know their own culture and the national systems best. In Bosnia we managed to overcome bureaucratic hurdles together. In a former nursery in town we were able to build a gynecological operating room as well as provide therapeutic living quarters.
With lots of patience and persistence we succeed in finding specialists locally to then design sustainable structures together over many years. However, we have to face daily resistance to our work.
medica mondiale supports women with employment promotion measures so they can secure their own livelihoods; © Cornelia Suhan - medica mondiale
MEDICA.de: Medical as well as psychosocial support are fundamental elements of your work in the affected countries. How should we actually envision your activities?
Hauser: We preferably offer women holistic support – from psychological counseling services to medical health care all the way to economic, social and legal aids.
During the war we built a therapy center with Medica Zenica with a gynecological outpatient clinic and a psychological helpdesk where women and girls were also able to live at the same time. Here it was important that the specialists themselves were sensitized and able to understand the women’s situation. For many raped women the traumatic experiences are so deeply engrained that a gynecological exam for example is not possible. That’s why it was necessary to develop concepts and strategies for us to support the affected women.
Women who have survived gender-related human rights abuses have to be able to return to life. That’s why we also establish an economic basis for them; for instance in Kosovo we carried out an agricultural project with the women.
MEDICA.de: At this point you manage numerous international projects. In which countries are you represented by now?
Hauser: Since 1993 we have supported women and young girls in more than twenty different countries – on the one hand with our own projects, on the other hand with local partner organizations. By now some of our projects run on their own, like in Bosnia, Kosovo or Albania. Since the beginning of this year the project in Afghanistan is also independent and is managed by local female colleagues on location. Of course we continue to support them and undertake joint projects. In Afghanistan we particularly provide legal aid for women affected by sexual violence. During the nine years of our work in this country we have managed to get more than two thousand women and young girls released from prisons, who were detained there because of so-called moral crimes – this refers to charges of adultery or running away from home for instance.
Currently we are organizing the project in Liberia. In addition we cooperate with project partners all over the world at the moment, most notably in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Uganda.
MEDICA.de: The headquarters of medica mondiale is in Cologne, Germany. What functions do your female coworkers in Germany fulfill?
Hauser: We handle the organizational development of projects in other countries and the professional qualifications of female colleagues in our Cologne headquarters.
In addition we lobby for human rights work in Berlin and Brussels and keep analyzing the work of many years to develop professional standards.
Awareness training is also an important aspect of our work in Cologne. medica mondiale educates about the causes and background of global war-related sexual violence and demands a public debate on the subject.
MEDICA.de: What kinds of goals have you set for yourself for the future?
Hauser: We would like to lead the project in Liberia which we have been setting up for the past five years to autonomy. At the same time we want to develop strategies to be able to do even more networking. In doing so, we aim at continuing to support local women’s organizations and to offer professional training for instance. This way more specialists can revert to consolidated knowledge and then attend well to traumatized women and young girls. However, one goal of medica mondiale is and will forever be our political fight for greater justice for women.
MEDICA.de: In closing would you tell us what has particularly touched you this year in your work?
Hauser: I am most happy about the fact that the Afghanistan project became independent. There 70 female Afghan colleagues are working under the most difficult safety conditions and are now managing their work on their own – this is something that moves me very deeply.
The interview was conducted by Michalina Chrzanowska and translated by Elena O’Meara.