From the Battlefield to the Classroom: Using Education in the Fight against Rape Stigma
Last week, BLS academic Dr Janine Natalya Clark travelled to Bosnia to pilot her new and innovative school-based scheme of discussing sexual violence in conflict with young people in Bosnian high schools. A specialist on sexual violence, transitional justice, and the Yugoslav conflict, Dr Clark is Reader in Gender, International Criminal Law, and Transitional Justice. Here she reflects on her visit and on the pilot project.
It is estimated that 20,000 men and women suffered rape and sexual violence during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Some of these survivors are now living abroad; some have died; some have never spoken about their war trauma because they feel ashamed. Others want to tell their stories and need to tell them. Between 2014 and 2015, as part of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, I interviewed 79 male and female survivors of war rape and sexual violence in Bosnia-Hercegovina (BiH). Many of them described feeling alone and marginalized, and some of the female interviewees had experienced verbal abuse from husbands and/or neighbours. Rape and sexual violence are not widely spoken about in BiH, and the understanding and support that survivors need is often lacking. Seeking to address this, I recently began a new project in BiH funded through an ESRC Secondment Fund grant.
Transitional justice is a burgeoning field and significant work has been undertaken in BiH, in particular through the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the State Court of BiH. Yet transitional justice is not only about dealing with the legacy of past human rights abuses. It is also about dealing with harmful social attitudes and addressing the way that people think. However, education remains a fundamentally neglected dimension of transitional justice.
Responding to this, my new project aims to create a more socially-supportive environment for survivors of rape and sexual violence in BiH through education. Over the next 18 months, I will be working with the Bosnian women’s NGO, Snaga Žene, to deliver a series of talks on rape and sexual violence in high schools across the country. In BiH, there is no unified education system and different ethnic curricula exist. The ultimate aim of the project is to develop a new school subject – addressing issues such as gender, rape, sexual violence and transitional justice – that will be taught in all high schools throughout BiH.
Piloting the project in Tuzla Canton, in north-eastern BiH, I have just delivered the first talks to six groups of 17 and 18 year olds in three different high schools. The Bosnian war remains a highly divisive and politicized issue. For this reason, the talks deliberately focus on the global issue of rape and sexual violence in conflict. Students are shown two short video clips. In the first, a journalist from Colombia speaks about her own experience of being raped by paramilitaries. In the second video, a 15-year old boy from the Democratic Republic of Congo describes how he was raped and the problems he faces today. These two film clips, in turn, create the basis for a discussion around broad questions such as why are rape and sexual violence used in conflict, what purposes do they serve, can they be prevented and how do they affect the lives of survivors? All of the students are asked to complete a pre-talk and post-talk questionnaire. The attitudinal impact of the talks can thus be gauged.
The project is only in its early stages. Of the more than 120 students who have participated so far, however, just over 95 per cent have said that they would like more talks on rape and sexual violence in school and would like to be involved in the project further. Once all of the talks have been completed in Tuzla Canton, the next stage will be to conduct a series of focus groups with some of the students and teachers, to discuss the development of a new school subject. The same model will be used in five schools in the Bosnian Federation, five in Republika Srpska and three in Brčko District. Reports containing the research findings will be presented to the respective Ministries of Education and media interviews will be given to publicize the project. At the end of the second questionnaire, students are asked to add any additional comments. One of them wrote ‘Borba protiv silovanja’ (Fight against rape). For the first time, this novel project takes that fight into the classroom.
Dr Janine Natalya Clark