Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Not nameless, but certainly faceless and unknown, Patrice was one of 11,000 Rwandan people on a certain day in 1994 who crammed themselves into a Roman Catholic church built to accommodate 300. They gathered for safety believing their neighbours would respect their sanctuary in this sacred place. They didn’t!
Patrice’s skull now sits on a shelf in that same church alongside hundreds of others whose sightless eyes and mirthless grins betray no hint to identify their owners. Their life’s worth, their struggles and value are all obliterated – except for Patrice, whose name is writ large in felt tip pen upon her forehead.
Someone loved her. Someone raged against her loss so deeply that they refused to allow her to be sucked into the anonymity that swallowed the others. In the weird way life has of mixing the tragic with the banal, someone used a marking pen in the midst of the carnage and celebrated her for the world to see. No marble gravestone marks Patrice’s entrance and exit into the world, but the stark print of her name across her ivory forehead tells us her story in a way no gravestone ever could.
On another shelf, (mercifully in a coffin for those who read the horror) is the skeleton of a young mother with a baby strapped to her breast. She and her baby were impaled on the same stake, and another stake raped through the length of her body.
The nation, horrifically violated by its own people, writhed in the pain of treachery in the ensuing months. Thousands of women subjected to violent rape are now HIV+ and of almost half a million children, 85,000 are now heads of their families.
Yet in the joyful, rambunctious way that life has of replacing grief, I toured a hospital shortly after the horrors of what I’d witnessed. Bizarrely, I was ushered into the delivery ward to greet a baby girl who had arrived just ten minutes before. Her world right then had no agenda but to be loved, and to learn to love. In the ensuing years, I have wondered how closely her beautiful young life has followed the possibility of such a rich agenda.
Crimes of violence are not restricted to developing nations. Unprovoked attacks on innocent people abound across the world. Women and children are raped, beaten and abused as though it were the abuser’s right to do it with impunity, because, after all, such maltreatment is ‘our culture’. Words of ‘genocidal ideology’ as the Rwandans have named racial hatred, are spoken everywhere every day and we are enculturised to accept this as normal, despite the devastation bigotry breeds.
Enculturation is difficult to avoid, its influence is silent and forceful. Making a difference only happens as individuals make the choice to be different themselves. It just takes one person to make the choices not to be influenced and intimidated by cultural norms that violate the rights of others, stripping dignity and value from our neighbours. As each of us make our own choice to love our neighbour, to value women and girls as equals, to talk instead of fight, to act instead of talk, to give instead of hold back, a new culture can rise, and with it, a changed world. If gender inequality and other hatreds can be dealt with in our hearts, the rest will follow.
My blog today is in support and solidarity with 1 Million Thumbprints, a fantastic venture which you can read about here. It’s an awesome event and one that is worthy of your support.
One Million Thumbprints (1MT) is a grassroots campaign that is joining forces with companies like World Relief, Today’s Christian Woman, and WE international. 1MT seeks to aid women who’ve been affected by sexual violence in warzones in two specific ways: 1) Advocating the UN and other governing bodies to follow through on resolutions and laws passed to protect women in conflict zones. 2) Partnering with and building the capacity of proven organizations already on the ground in these countries. These programs meet practical needs (food, clothing, shelter, rape kits, and trauma assistance), help stabilize communities (through training in negotiation and peacemaking), and provide sustainable long-term solutions (such as economic and educational development, micro-savings and micro-finance, farming co-ops, and refugee resettlement).
Women and girls all over the world suffer violence and even death for the crime of being female. Studies and experience show that when women are given equality, and encouraged to be involved in decision making platforms whether local, national or international, peace reigns and economies flourish.
It’s time for change, people. As Ghandi so poignantly said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these issues in the Comment section.