Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rape, Shmape.

On a recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged 17 million dollars in new funding to combat sexual violence. Sadly though that's not the story most of the media is covering.

Instead there has been intense focus on Clinton's snippy response to an apparently rude question from a Congolese student during a forum in Kinshasa:

“We’ve all heard about the Chinese contracts in this country — the interferences from the World Bank against this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton, and what does Mr. Mutumbo think on this situation?”

Although ther standard media line was that the question was mistranslated, that has since been debunked.

Given that it now appears that the question was translated correctly — and that the male student wanted to know not just what Bill Clinton thought of Chinese relations with Congo but also what the former N.B.A. star Dikembe Mutumbo, who was present at the event, thought, too, but expressed no interest in the perspective of America’s female secretary of state — is it possible that Mrs. Clinton has gotten a raw deal from commentators in the United States for her angry reply?

More to the point, while most of the derisive commentary on Mrs. Clinton’s flash of temper contextualized it by noting that her husband had just been lauded for his trip to North Korea, few noted that she was in the middle of a trip to Congo, where the plight of women, many of whom suffered violent sexual abuse during recent fighting, is a major issue.

Perhaps more absurd is the news media coverage that followed. "I'm the Boss!" headlines screamed, even Jon Stewart disappointingly joined on the bandwagon.

SAs the documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo points out:

Since 1998, tens of thousands of women and girls have been systematically kidnapped, raped, mutilated and tortured by soldiers - both from foreign militias and the Congolese army that is supposed to protect them. But perhaps the greatest tragedy, and danger, is that victims almost all remain silent about what they have suffered, too afraid and ashamed to speak out. As a result, the world is largely ignorant of their horrific plight and of the political conditions that allow it to continue.

The question remains, is Clinton's announcement and focus on the crisis of sexual violence against Congolese women not newsworthy enough?

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