More Than 16 Days: An Invisible War

Day 10 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (Part 2): This article is written by Rajina Shrestha, a girl in Women LEAD’s leadership program for Nepalese young women.

“There is a wrong way, a right way, and an army way.” This quote opens the documentary, the Invisible War. The pride of walking in the army jacket, the power given by the uniform and the handsome pay has always made the world of soldiers a source of envy despite all the risks in the battlefield.

I used to feel awed by all the army’s privileges until a few months ago. But that was before I knew how dangerous the game of power was inside the world of the people in uniform. It’s almost frightening how fearless armies can be. Not only in the battlefield, but also in their everyday lives; so much so that they do not think anyone is capable of punishing them if they do anything wrong.

“The Invisible War” closely portrays the situation of women in US army and what they face is much more than what civilians face. Over 20% of the women serving the US army have been sexually assaulted. Most of them were raped in the same pattern: they were either alienated in a troop to be placed amongst all senior males or drugged and brutally raped. The worst is that they couldn’t really do anything about it. Few complain for fear of losing their rank. For the few who did, their case was dismissed citing “a lack of proof”, despite the obvious medical proof. And for the very few whose case reached the army court, the case was fought between the defendant and prosecutor, all members of the army, including the judge. Penalties were never really as severe as they should have been.

That was the case of the US. In the Nepalese Army there are a total of 1073 female personnel in all ranks, which makes 1.2% of the total army. Things aren’t very different here either. We all remember the case of Suntali Dhami, who was gang raped by three of her seniors. Her case was dismissed by her seniors and reviewed in high order only after huge public pressure. She received justice only two years after the incident. Better late than ever, but the thinking that someone had to wait that long and had to go through so many allegations after experiencing such a terror is heart breaking in itself. This is just one story that came out after public pressure. There must have been so many other similar stories that got swept under the rug.

When a women, sacrificing all the normal dreams a girl has, joins the police force and army to serve her country, and gives her everything for the job, telling her to keep quiet for the sake of reputation of the state and the force is not something you can ethically ask for.

Rape itself is a traumatic event. By army personnel it is even brutal. For one, he is your senior, someone you looked upon as a mentor. It’s never as simple as going to police station and filing a report. Secondly, because the army usually consists of strong physical men, the victims end up with extreme physical injuries as well. And finally, impunity is on such a huge scale, that from the time the victim reports it to the highest level to when action is taken (if it ever is), the rapist will have made a few more victims.

The documentary is a must watch to understand the situation of women soldiers in the army. And to believe, and say out loud, “There are only two ways of doing things- the right and the wrong. There is no third way.”

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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