Minority women bear brunt of gender-based violence - MRG

by Rebekah Curtis | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 6 July 2011 14:09 GMT
Ethnic, religious and indigenous identity make women targets for sexual violence

LONDON (TrustLaw) – Women from minority groups are targeted for sexual violence, torture and killings because of their ethnic, religious and indigenous identity, Minority Rights Group (MRG) said on Wednesday.

The group highlighted a catalogue of violence against minority women, from the rapes of Uzbek women in the 2010 ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan to Bambuti Pygmy women raped in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rape is used as a “tool of war” against women from minority communities globally, MRG said in its annual report titled “State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous People 2011.”

 “Discrimination against minorities worldwide is time and again experienced by women as physical violence,” said Mark Lattimer, executive director of the organisation promoting the rights of minority groups worldwide.

“In war and in peacetime, minority women are singled out for rape because they are less protected and less able to complain.”

Often under-represented politically or living in poor and remote areas, women from minority groups frequently have difficulties reporting crimes, have little access to justice or face discrimination from police and judicial systems, the report said.

MRG says the world’s riskiest place for minority groups is conflict-ridden Somalia, home to Bantu, Benadiri and Christian communities that have been targeted for their religious practices by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab Islamists.

MRG documented a pattern of sexual violence in northeastern Somalia’s Puntland a few months ago against minority women driven from their homes by conflict, Lattimer told TrustLaw.


Violence against minority women comes from inside their communities as well as outside. Poverty, low literacy and social and economic marginalisation are just some issues contributing to high levels of domestic violence within minority and indigenous communities, the report added.

In Colombia, children of Afro-Colombian women conceived through rape are often rejected by their communities because they are of mixed ethnicity, while the mothers may also face ostracism, the report said.

In Iraq, Christian and other religious minority women have been forced to wear head-scarves to protect themselves from violent attacks.

The report also cited a 2010 MRG study showing 100 percent of women from Uganda’s minority Batwa community said they had experienced physical violence, in many cases ongoing.

Data has also shown high levels of violence against women within indigenous groups in Canada and Australia that appear to be treated less seriously by the authorities, the report said.

But, worldwide, women from minority and indigenous groups are fighting for their rights to be recognised, the report added.

“Women are not just the victims of violence, they are also its leading opponents,’ said Shobha Das, director of programmes at MRG.

“In many countries the struggle to stamp out sexual violence against minorities is being led by minority women’s activists themselves, sometimes at serious risk to their own safety.”

MRG's findings coincide with Wednesday’s report by UN Women, the United Nations’ agency for women’s rights, which highlights how discrimination against women is still widespread despite an increase in gender equality laws worldwide.

Lattimer said it is “vital” that people working in UN Women appreciate that in many countries gender-based discrimination and violence affects ethnic and religious minorities the most.

“Without understanding that, and they ways in which the two forms of discrimination conspire to produce their (women’s) vulnerability, they won’t be able to do the job that they need to do,” he said of UN Women.

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