Archive for the ‘Medical’ Category

Lying for the “Cure” – Eskow Points Out Komen’s Hypocrisy

February 4, 2012

Komen’s “this is not politically motivated” assertion was hard to swallow from the start. Especially considering:

  • Its newly appointed anti-abortion VP of Community Relations
  • Its ultra-quiet, but simultaneous decision to sever relationships with any organization funding stem cell research (despite the fact that this research has advanced our knowledge of, provides treatment for and shows promise of providing a CURE for many diseases including CANCER)
  • The oddly stuffy way it handled both the announcement and its backlash. (Mary Elizabeth Williams has an insightful piece on Salon about how a truly non-political decision would have been handled in contrast with the shocked, “why is everyone being mean?” response exhibited by Komen founder Nancy Brinker.)

But, in the inevitable digging that has followed, any ounce of Komen’s remaining credibility on this issue has been entirely shredded. It’s the one question that – at least initially – no one thought to ask:

Of all the organizations that Komen gives money to, the only one under any local, state or federal investigation is Planned Parenthood?

As Richard Eskow reveals, the answer is of course not, not remotely.

A cursory look at Komen’s grantees reveals several under federal investigation, including Harvard, Yale, the University of Texas, Penn State, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

And, although Komen stated no new policies surrounding the legal behavior of its donors, it’s curious to see – when examining even just the super donors of its Million Dollar Council Elite, how many are under federal investigation for such transgressions as faulty auto parts, pension fraud, and mortgage fraud.

So now that that we know we’ve been lied to – and that Komen puts political agenda above saving the lives of cancer victims, what’s next?

Eskow writes:

…I plan to give more money to both Planned Parenthood and another cancer research organization as a result of this incident. I hope others will do the same. This could all turn out for the best, especially if the fall of one organization raises breast cancer awareness and increases support for treatment and research.

Something to think about…


Susan G. Komen & Planned Parenthood: Some thoughts on the backlash

February 1, 2012

As promised, I found a petition site in response Susan G. Komen For The Cure’s announcement yesterday that they will no long provide grants to Planned Parenthood. The petition is managed by Credo Mobile, who, according to the site, is “proud to be the largest corporate sponsor of Planned Parenthood”.

More information has come to light about the new ultra-conservative V.P of Public Policy. Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon writes:

Komen says the move is just about “newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities.” You know what else is pretty “new” around Komen? Its senior vice president of public policy, Karen Handel. During the Sarah Palin-endorsed, Tea Party favorite’s 2010 campaign for governor of Georgia, Handel declared, “I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood,” making clear that she “strongly supports” laws prohibiting “the use of taxpayer funds for abortions or abortion-related services.” She did, however, emphasize that she “strongly support(s) the noble work of crisis-pregnancy centers.”

There has been an incredible blast of fervor over the past 24 hours. Some of it, in my opinion, unhelpful. (A post on feminsiting takes time to poke fun at the tackiness of some of Komen’s fund raising products, as does – to a lesser degree – the article I quoted above. But Williams does shed light on some head-scratching tid-bits about the charity. Most strikingly,

according to Komen’s own financial records, it spends almost “a million dollars a year in donor funds” aggressively going after other organizations that dare to use the phrase “for the cure” – including small charities like Kites for a Cure, Par for the Cure, Surfing for a Cure, Cupcakes for a Cure, and even a dog-sledding event called Mush for the Cure. Let me just give you that number again. 

This seems childish and rather uncharitable for a charitable for a non-profit, no? Especially considering that only 24% of funds go to research for a cure. It actually pigeon-holes them since awareness and early detection are as much a part of what they accomplish.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the backlash. Especially the huge numbers of people who have vowed to give more money to PPFA (yay!) and to stop any support of Komen (huh?). I understand the practicality of it. Hitting any organization in the wallet is the swiftest way to provoke change. But the principal of it is completely backward.

If we find fault in the politicization of women’s health – how can we punish an organization that seeks to improve and save women’s lives for political reasons?

It’s the same with anti-abortioners, who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge a single positive thing that Planned Parenthood provides for low-income women. Not even all that they do to prevent unwanted pregnancies in their communities. When they regard PPFA, they need to see only abortion, to the point that they will outright lie to make sensational and baseless claims.

I don’t agree with Komen’s decision. It makes me angry and I’ll raise as much awareness as I can to try to reverse it – or (as seems to be happening) help rile enough economic support from the public that PPFA will not feel a loss of funds at all. But I won’t turn my back on everything Komen does because I don’t like this one thing. If they were misappropriating funds, if donations went to huge salaries and not to research or awareness – I’d cut all support because my money wouldn’t be doing any good.

If I get a chance to do a race for Komen, I’ll take it. If someone tells me about an event, I’ll go. To do anything different would be to walk in the footsteps of pro-lifers who previously pulled the plug on Komen (and any org that gave a dime to PPFA).

Maybe I’m impractical. But if Komen’s ability to effect women’s lives are impacted by this decision the way Planned Parenthood’s may now be – who wins?

The Politics of Cancer: Komen Pulls Grants to Planned Parenthood

January 31, 2012

An AP story today announced that Susan G. Komen will no longer provide what has historically been upwards of half a million dollars in annual grant money to Planned Parenthood for the use of breast cancer screenings and other breast-related health issues.  Komen says that the decision was based on Planned Parenthood’s recent investigation by Congress – which was spear-headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., in what is largely seen as a politically-motivated move. The investigation calls for twelve years of documents in exhaustive detail, ostensibly to dig up billing issues and cases where federal money was, in fact, used to fund abortions.

Sen. Henry Waxman, D-CA and Rep. Dianna DeGette, D-CO, of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations wrote a pointed letter to Stearns in which they state:

We question the basis for the investigation and question whether Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men.


We are aware of no predicate that would justify this sweeping and invasive request of Planned Parenthood. The HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs regularly audit Planned Parenthood and report publicly on their findings. These audits have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.

Planned Parenthood believes Komen’s decision was simply a cave to pressure from pro-life groups who reveal their belief – in yet another un-surprising instance – that life in the womb trumps all other life/death/health issues. Period.

Patrick Hurd, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia, whose wife is currently battling breast cancer, commented:

“It sounds almost trite, going through this with Betsi, but cancer doesn’t care if you’re pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative. Victims of cancer could care less about people’s politics.”

Over the past five years, Planned Parenthood has performed nearly 170,000 breast exams that were funded by Komen grants. How many low-income women will be turned away in the next five?

I haven’t yet found a site that organizes petitions, but I’ll post when I do. The Planned Parenthood Action Center might be a good place to start (at the time of this posting both PPFA and Komen sites have no information.)

In the meantime, you can always donate.

“Saving Grace” – Mueller on One Catholic Family’s Late-Term Abortion

December 6, 2009

Amanda Mueller, at Truthout, has an interesting piece about a family coming to grips with a late-term abortion and their strong Catholic faith. Gail and Robert Andersons have deep ties to their families and to their Catholic community. They were both raised with strong faith and never questioned their beliefs. Yet, when they discover a severe birth defect 27 weeks into Gail’s first pregnancy, they question everything. After intense soul-searching and long discussions with their doctors, they decide on a late-term abortion.

“We are Catholic. We are supposed to be against abortion, but the church teaches mercy as well. The church examines quality of life. It isn’t a black and white issue as so many like to make it,” Robert says, looking away while fondling with his fingers the golden crucifix he wears around his neck.

The Andersons sought the help of Dr. George Tiller, the doctor who was shot and killed by “pro-life” activist Scott Roeder last May. Tiller operated one of only three clinics in the country willing to perform late-term abortions. As such, he was particularly vilified by the anti-abortion community. However, Gail Anderson didn’t find the root of evil she had once envisioned.

“Dr. Tiller was a very gentle man to my husband and me. He wasn’t the villain that people, me included, had often painted him. He was soft-spoken. He held our hands while we mourned our loss. He even prayed with us.”


“The staff was respectful and allowed me to have a little bit of dignity where I didn’t think I had any left. It made me sad that I didn’t get that from my friends or my religious community, but from strangers in a hospital setting. To this day, I am bitter about that,” Gail confessed.

The Andersons managed to mourn their lost child, Grace, and come through with their faith in tact. However, they worry that the church is becoming “dangerously involved in politics and losing sight that the world simply is not black and white.” [Em.mine]

They continue forward, despite for some calling for their removal from the church, because they know that they are not alone. They move forward because it is their hope that other Catholics faced with similar situations will realize that they are not alone.

It’s worth a read – along with the voices of these men and women who share the heart-wrenching tales of their own late term abortions.

Family Planning Reduces Abortions AND Helps the Economy

January 31, 2009

There was quite an uproar with the short-lived inclusion of a family planning initiative in the proposed national economic stimulus package. Conservatives scratched their heads at how contraception had anything to do with economy. On Hardball last Monday Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey, equating family planning services to contraception alone, quipped “Now, indeed, that may stimulate something, but I don‘t think it‘s going to stimulate the economy!” Sex, sex, its encouraging more SEX!

Rush Limbaugh drew the erroneous conclusion that the initiative (and family planning itself) is akin to “abortion all over the world”, its economic aim was to reduce the country’s birth rate and that a better method to do so would be to “… put pictures of Pelosi in every cheap motel room in America today, that will keep birth rates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.”

Normally quoting Limbaugh serves little purpose, and I’m going to ignore a large part of why this comment is offensive, but I wanted to mention it because it demonstrates a conservative belief about the purpose of family planning clinics. “In every cheap motel room in America…” Seedy, sordid, illicit sex. The kind in sleezy motels across the land. Irresponsible, immoral behavior. That’s what contraception is for. That’s what clinics serve. If you want to engage in THAT kind of behavior, and dodge its logical consequences, why should the government help you out?

This kind of thinking, whether vocalized or not, is pervasive, damaging, and just plain inaccurate. It belies a person who knows very little about what clinics such as Planned Parenthood are all about, and a willful ignorance of what was in the stimulus package regarding family planning.

First, let’s look at what the nation’s largest family planning organization actually does on a daily basis. In 2007  a breakdown of Planned Parenthood services looked like this:

  • 36% Contraception
  • 31% STD testing and treatment
  • 17% Cancer screening and prevention
  • 11% Pregnancy tests, pre-natal care, menopause, and infertility.
  • 3% Abortion (*No federal money can be used for this – see below)
  • 2% Primary care and adoption referral

If you’re a low-income man, woman, or couple with no health insurance, who do you go to? Where do you go?

Now let’s look at what the inclusion of this legislation actually would have accomplished. Currently low-income women of child-bearing age cannot access Medicaid until they become pregnant. If a woman wants federal help for family planning before this time, she has to petition for a waiver, providing her state allows for this. 27 states offer a waiver, which can take as long as two years to acquire. Obama proposed eliminating the federal waiver thereby allowing states to directly access Medicaid funds for family planning services if they so choose. States that never offered the waiver remain completely unchanged.

This money would fund mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, medically relevant sex education, contraception, STD testing and treatment, pre-natal care, and infertility treatment –  but not a penny would go toward abortion! *Remember the Hyde Amendment? Since 1976 no federal dollars may be spent to fund abortion. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid explicitly state that under no circumstance may abortion “be claimed as a family-planning service.”

Family planning. Essentially ensuring low-income women’s gynecological health and empowering them with the means to control when they become pregnant. How can a multitude of  pregnant teens, women who drop out of college for a menial job to raise an unexpected child, and couples who can’t afford more children nevertheless finding themselves pregnant again NOT be a drain on the economy? AIDS or other STD’s being contracted, untreated, and exponentially spread. Women who seek emergency room help for cancer only after it had advanced to the point that her physical symptoms impair her daily life. Low-income, mostly uninsured women. Again, NOT a drain on the economy? On the health care system? This isn’t complicated, it’s common sense!

Even if we were dealing solely with contraception – is that so wrong? Deciding where and when to have a child is a basic fundamental right. Again, we’re not even talking about abortion. We’re talking about PLANNING! The most responsible thing a person can do. Why is there such a backlash?

Is it sex, again? Are we back to sex? Pro-creation only sex? Because as great as it sounds I don’t see a whole lot of neo-cons with 15 kids. Even outspoken Huckabee only has three. I suppose he abstains.

The fact is that people have sex. Teenagers do it, college kids, singles, couples, married people. How can being healthy along the way and in control of your life be a negative thing?

Dr. Pete Klasky has a great piece on Huffington where he points to evidence that family planning significantly reduces the number of abortions and saves the government money.

To understand how this works, it is helpful to look at California’s experience with a state-funded contraception and family planning initiative for women with incomes between 100% and 200% of the poverty level:

Four years after implementing the program, California saved an estimated $500 million in public health care spending, net of what they spent on the program itself. In fact, for every dollar invested in the program, the state of California saved an estimated $5.33, over a period of five years. These are conservative estimates that do not include money saved through increased productivity and cost savings from reductions in paid medical leave and sick days that result from unplanned pregnancies. Few other public spending plans can boast such a positive return on investment. [Em mine]

He also points out that sex education and access to contraception do NOT lead to an increased amount of pre-marital sex. Another myth opponents assert time and again.

In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services (under Republican Secretary Tommy Thompson), released a report documenting an increase in contraceptive use with a decrease in sexual activity between 1995 and 2002. Supplying contraceptives and educating adolescents about sex during the late 1990s did not increase their likelihood to engage in sexual activities; it did keep them from getting pregnant. Even supplying emergency contraception to adolescents, prior to sexual activity, has been proven not to affect sexual behaviors.

Of course, we all know that abstinence-onlyeducation” has the exact opposite effect (doesn’t delay onset or frequency of sexual activity, but rather increases the likelihood of unprotected sex because it purports – among other things – that condoms are ultimately ineffective), and yet the Bush Administration spent more than $1.75 billion on it – not in an effort to boost the economy, but an attempt to spread good Christian virtue to those who would otherwise find themselves sullied and impure.

So what is the reasoning behind indignantly rejecting an initiative that would reduce the number of abortions and save the government money? What is it? Politics? Ignorance? The misplaced notion of seedy hotel room sex?

I do understand the argument that the economic stimulus package simply wasn’t the appropriate vehicle for this initiative and, in fact, its inclusion simply lofted a softball for opposition to self-righteously whack over the fence – that it was a tactical error on Obama’s part. Its ability to instantly appall conservatives and consequent swift removal from the package bears this out.

But family planning will be back. How will the debate go when we don’t have to show that that it’s good for the economy, but simply that it’s good for the country? The very fact that we’re beginning to have these conversations on a national level is a start and I am hopeful that over the next few years we will see signifiant changes in both policity and cultural attitudes about women’s health and reproductive freedom – that dicussion of sexual issues won’t revolve around fear and shame, but will instead focus on  self and mutual respect, healthy relationships, education, safety, emotional and physical health, autonomous control, and responsibility. Am I too optimistic?

Wasilla Update – Palin Originated Rape Kit Policy

September 12, 2008

Thanks to Jacob Alperin-Sheriff of Huffington Post’s Off the Bus, another layer is uncovered in the Mayor Palin Rape Kit Debacle. Sarah Palin has adamantly denied knowledge of the practice (an embarassing admission in itself), while the campaign tries to dismiss the issue as a long-standing bureaucratic procedure that somehow slipped through the cracks.

However, thanks to unearthed documentation on Wasilla’s annual budget, we learn that neither of those assertions is true. In fact, the policy to charge victims for rape kits originated under Palin when Police Chief Charlie Fannon (specially-appointed by Palin when she took office) slashed the typical allotment from the department’s budget in 1999. Palin’s signature appears on the finincial documents that illustrate this change.

So Palin approved the new policy and, according to Tony Knowles – the Alaskan governor who made the policy illegal in 2000 – Wasilla was the only city in the state to implement such a practice. When they were forcd to repeal the policy, Fannon went on the record in protest – decrying burden on the taxpayers. His estimate was as much as $14,000 per year.

I guess the burden of a concurrently built $1.3 million (see comments) $15 million hockey rink was more palatable.

Under Palin, Victims Charged for Their Own Rape Kits

September 9, 2008

Haven’t had much time to blog lately, but this was too stunning to pass by. Thanks to this piece at Huffington Post, we learn what shouldn’t be so surprising coming from an evangelical in power – and yet it is. Palin was mayor of Wasilla Alaska from 1996-2002 and, until a state law banned the practice in 2000, Wasilla charged victims of rape for their own rape kits.

In case you’re not aware, a rape kit is the physical exam and collection of bodily evidence taken from the victim in the hours following a rape; it allows for the forensic testing essential to pursue prosecution in a crime whose prosecution is already stacked in favor of the defense. A traumatized woman brave enough to make it to an ER following her attack in Wasilla would be granted the examination only if she could pay anywhere from $300-$1200. (It was billed to her insurance where possible.)

Did Wasilla charge for fingerprint dusting at the scene of a burglary? Special fees for bagging evidence at the scene of a mugging? When someone was murdered, was the victim’s family billed for the bodily exam? Did the Wasilla police department charge a victim for examining any scene of a crime? Only when that crime scene was a live woman’s body and only when the crime involved sex. This can be rationalized only considering an unspoken assumption that the victim is somehow to blame. Something she said, something she wore, someplace she was.

Not such a jump for an evangelical who is a huge supporter of “abstinence only”. Palin has said that “explicit sex education programs will got get my support.” Explicit? What kind of education do you give by being vague? Palin also spent twenty years at the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church where they speak in tongues, believe in the imminent rapture, and pray to cure homosexuality. Although Palin switched to the more moderate Wasilla Bible Church several year ago (no tongue-speaking at least) she since, as governor, renamed the street on which the Wasilla Assembly of God sits after its founding pastor, Rev Riley.

Okay, maybe Palin wasn’t fully aware of the policy to charge victims of sexual assault for their own rape kits. Maybe it wasn’t on her radar?

Not likely.

When Palin took office as Mayor, she ousted the sitting Police Chief (a move so contested it brought about clamor for a recall) and replaced him with Charlie Fannon. Fannon would become the most vocal opponent to the legislation, passed by Governor Tony Knowles in 2000, that made it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims for the costs of examinations conducted to collect evidence of a sexual assault. He went on the record saying the law “unfairly burdened the taxpayer.” Again – why not charge for the investigation of other crimes? Why just rape?

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) 60% of all sexual assaults go unreported. What’s one more hurdle to speaking out? RAINN also reports that, factoring in the unreported assaults, only 1 in 16 offenders go to jail.

So how much rape reporting is happening in one of the least populated states in the country? In 2000, the year Knowles’ legislation passed, Alaska had 497 arrests for rape. This post at Daily Kos does a great job of contrasting the “burden to the taxpayer” against Alaska’s exhorbitant earmarks during Palin’s term as governor.

Fannon argued that the

“new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases,”

as if collecting evidence for sexual assault isn’t already the responsibility of the police.

There are many disturbing things about Palin – more specifically about McCain’s decision to choose Palin as his running mate. As others have said, this isn’t about Sarah Palin; it’s 100% about John McCain.

There has been a lot of talk about the McCain camp not vetting Palin enough – instread pouncing on her after one breif meeting because of her selling points. I worry that the campaign has been aware of a lot more than we suspect and just didn’t care. McCain has issues with his ultra-conservative base, many of whom wouldn’t recognize victim blaming in regard to rape if victims were emblazoned with bright red letters. There will also be those swayed by the image of hockey-mom, loving wife, god-fearing citizen: conventional in many ways Clinton was not. And let’s not forget those desperate for a way to rationalize voting for McCain when they had been planning to vote for Clinton while being loathe to broach the subject of race.

That law in Wasilla was the epitome of the repression of women and backward thinking about sex. The question is…will anyone really take notice?

“Shh…” VA Covers Up Vet Suicide Rate

May 3, 2008

Last November CBS News ran a story on the epidemic of veteran suicides. Noting that the current administration has glaringly neglected to tally a nationwide rate, correspondent Armen Keteyian led an independent investigation that, based on information from 45 states, revealed 6,256 vet suicides in 2005 alone – a rate double that of the general population.

Yet Dr. Ira Katz, head of mental health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, was outraged by the story. He insisted the number was much smaller and that the rates fell within normal limits. “There is no epidemic,” he said. The VA then provided CBS with data that indicated a total of 790 vets committed suicide while under VA treatment in 2007.

However an internal email surfaced last week, written by Katz in December. It tells a different story.

Subject: Not for the CBS News interview request


Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address … before someone stumbles on it?

Ira R. Katz MD, PhD Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Office for Mental Health

Publicly the VA claims 790 per year, while internally it admits a prevalence over 15 times higher:12,000 per year. Even more staggering is that the actual number is even higher. The figure of 1,000 per month includes only those vets in treatment with the VA at the time of their deaths. A recent study by the Rand Corporation shows that although one in five vets experience symptoms of mental impairment, such as PTSD or severe depression, nearly half neglect to seek treatment. One barrier is the fact that military medical records are public and the move could negatively affect a vet’s career.

Additionally Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America reports a bureaucratic chaos that has left 1.8 million discharged vets without health insurance, and an overwhelmed system where 400,000 disability claims are currently pending, nearly 20% of which are over six months old. According to IAVA, at least one inside official admits that the VA’s inability to deal with the influx of wounded vets, most especially those with brain injury and mental health issues, has made care “virtually inaccessible” at some clinics.

Another factor is the troubling intentional misdiagnosis of “personality disorders” on men and women who actually suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

More on this in the next post…

Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 3 – The Healing & What You Can Do to Help]

December 13, 2007

Lumo_lumo_stares If you want an intimate glimpse into the lives of victimized women fighting to reclaim their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, start with Lumo – One Woman’s Struggle to Heal in a Country Beset by War.

This documentary details the story of then 20 year-old Lumo Sinai who, like tens or hundreds of thousands of others, was violently gang-raped and left for dead by militants in the DRC.

The Goma Film Project gives the following synopsis:

Lumo is a feature-length documentary about a young Congolese woman on an uncertain path to recovery at a unique hospital for rape survivors.

The agonies of war torn Africa are deeply etched in the bodies of women. In eastern Congo, vying militias, armies and bandits use rape as a weapon of terror.

Recently engaged to a young man from her village, 20 year-old Lumo Sinai couldn’t wait to have children and start a family. But when she crossed paths with marauding soldiers who brutally attacked her, she was left with a fistula — a condition that has rendered her incontinent and threatens her ability to give birth in the future. Rejected by her fiancé and cast aside by her family, Lumo found her way to the one place that may save her: a hospital for rape survivors set on the border with Rwanda.

Buoyed by the love of the hospital staff, and a formidable team of wise women known to all as “the Mamas,” Lumo and her friends keep the hope of one day resuming their former lives, thanks to an operation that can restore them fully to health. A feisty young woman with a red comb perpetually jutting from her hair, Lumo faces the challenge of recovery with remarkable courage and sass. As she and her friends recover from surgery, they pass the days by gossiping and sharing their dreams of one day finding love.

But when it looks like her operation may have failed, Lumo’s faith is thrown entirely into question.

On this uncertain road to recovery, Lumo shows that the solidarity of women can bind the most irreparable of wounds.

American filmmakers Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Nelson Walker III take a unique approach that grants them the unlikely trust and acceptance of these brutalized women. They encourage the women to pick up a camera and participate in the filming (not unlike Ann Jones providing women with a means of self-expression and independence through photography in Cote d’Ivoire).

The filmmakers held nightly screening sessions, which both amazed and inspired the community of healing women. They also gave the women freedom to film whenever they chose and ensured that whenever a woman preferred not to be filmed, anyone with a camera desisted immediately and without question.

The film is shot in an observational style with no additional narration; the women themselves tell the story.

The culmination of these choices produces a striking result. The women pay little attention to the camera and the viewer is left with the astonishing “fly on the wall” privilege of looking into these women’s lives: their horrific tales, their broken bodies, their fight to reclaim a piece of happiness, of purpose, their laughter, their jokes, their support, their jealousies, their triumphs, and their despair.

The film follows the women through their process of healing, both physically and psychologically, but it is careful not to paint a fairytale of recovery. When women heal from successful fistula surgeries, they leave the safety of the hospital and re-enter a climate rife with sexual violence and instability. Many times a woman’s rapists will still have control of her village when she returns. It is not uncommon for a woman to heal and return months later with further injuries.

Few hospitals exist to help these women, and those that do are underfunded, under supplied, and understaffed.

At the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, Dr. Denis Mukwege is the only physician in a facility of 300 beds, most of which are filled with women waiting surgery to repair traumatic fistulas. Ironically, the hospital was founded as an operating room and maternity ward to serve the many women in southern Bukavu who have no assess to obstetric care. It was soon apparent, however, that the greater need was care for the growing number of victims of sexual violence.

Eve Ensler, founder of, wrote an extensive piece about her visit to DRC and Panzi, published in (of all places) Glamour Magazine. She begins the article with

I have just returned from hell. I am trying for the life of me to figure out how to communicate what I have seen and heard in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to Erika Beckman, project manager for PMU Interlife, in an email to Susannah at The Reverse Cowgirl

…we receive approx. 200 rape victims a month at the hospital. We have both in-patients (women with more severe wounds) who reside at the hospital, and out-patients (less severe wounds) that stay in our “transit homes” where they are taken care of in-between treatments at the hospital. All women that come here receive the treatment, operations and training for free. Their children they might have with them are also cared for, as well as accompanying relatives or neighbours.

Women stay here on average 30 days for treatment, many women need multiple operations to be rehabilitated, and many need to heal in between the operations too. During their stay here, the women are taught how to read and write, they are taught different handicrafts and how to be self-sustainable. They are also given legal counselling and guided by lawyers if they wish to press charges against their perpetrators. (Currently we have 14 cases pending, but sadly because of the weak judicial system in DR Congo, perpetrators are always let off the hook).

The best evidence of the importance we have on the raped women that we treat is that many have told me that they would not have survived if they did not come to Panzi. Many women are, as you can understand, suicidal after the rape, but here at Panzi, except for medical treatment, they are also given their value back by our excellent staff and fellow victims who support each other, sing together to relieve the pain, work together on handicrafts and laugh together. They are truly amazing at finding small things to be happy about in life and really encourage each other in this way. [Em.mine]

The Panzi hospital, in partnership with V-Day and Unicef, is raising funds for a City of Joy.

City of Joy will be a refuge for healed women, survivors of rape and torture who have been left without family and community. City of Joy will offer a safe haven, providing educational and income-generating opportunities, and support women in becoming the next leaders of the DRC.

Donate through v-day here.

Lumo was filmed in the HEAL Africa Hospital in Goma. HEAL Africa (Health, Education, Community Action, and Leadership Development) started as a part of Doctors on Call to Service (DOCS) and is now run by Dr Jo Lusi and his wife Lyn. They work to train Congolese medical staff, counselors and activists on dealing with issues like gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS.

As seen in the film, they send one of the “Mamas” into the countryside with a truck, rounding up women with traumatic fistulas and transporting them to the hospital. Although women often have had no idea that help was available, they remain terrified and many need to be persuaded to make the journey to the hospital.

To help the women re-integrate into communities that had ostracized them, HEAL Africa sends the women home bearing valuable gifts such as seeds and a gardening hoe, or a pair of ducks or a goat. The women also return with new self-sustainment skills that increase their value to the village. Many become literate during their stay at the hospital.

Donate to HEAL Africa here, and they’ll tell you what each dollar amount will buy. For example, $20 buys a sewing kit for a woman who has learned tailoring skills, $50 pays for tuition and supplies to send one child to primary school for a year, $300 pays for a woman’s fistula surgery.

Donate. Write a letter to Congolese officials (v-day has a template). Link to a blog or article. TALK to people. Tell them what’s going on and what they can do.

Act now. It’s so easy for most of us. Just act.

See also Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo: [Part 1 – History of the Conflict] & [Part 2 – The Savagery]

Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2 – The Savagery]

December 7, 2007


It is difficult to write this section because what I am about to describe is nearly unimaginable. But it is true and it is happening. Not to one woman. Not to ten, or one hundred, or one thousand. Not to ten thousand. It’s happening to hundreds of thousands of women throughout the DRC. It is happening right now, this second, as you read this.

Women, children, babies. Raped, tortured, mutilated. Many times in front of their families. Many times for days on end. They are gang raped. They are raped with objects. Sticks. Rocks. Bayonets. Guns. They are raped with the sheer intent to destroy – body and soul. Women have had firearms discharged into their vaginas, blowing out their female anatomy, yet surviving. Girls under the age of three, women over eighty.

Women are left with wounds, infections, STDs, and traumatic fistulas. A traumatic fistula is a tear in the wall between the vagina and the bladder and/or the rectum, leaving the woman entirely incontinent.

Having been raped these women are frequently and “justifiably” abandoned by their husbands. Bearing the stench of incontinence, they are often ostracized by their villages. Unable to bear children, they lose their primary value as mother or wife.

Individual stories are nearly unbearable to hear. Congolese human rights activist Christine Schuler Deshchyver describes:

Babies. The last baby who was raped, it was in April. She was ten months old, so a very small baby. She was raped. The same gang raped the mother during two weeks. Then they came to Bukavu into my office. I wanted to bring the baby to the hospital, but she was so injured she died in my arms. Ten months—can you imagine that? And these people, these women in Congo, are just begging for life, not begging for money, just the right to live in their country safely.

The New York TimWabulasaes recently reported:

“I still have pain and feel chills,” said Kasindi Wabulasa, who was raped in February by five men. The men held an AK-47 rifle to her husband’s chest and made him watch, telling him that if he closed his eyes, they would shoot him. When they were finished, Ms. Wabulasa said, they shot him anyway.


Honorata Barinjibanwa, 18, […] said she was kidnapped from a village […] raided in AprilHonorata Photo from NYTimes and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her delicate neck. The men would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said. […] She is also pregnant.

The HRW report cites a Congolese doctor in eastern DRC specialising in the treatment of rape victims:

In peacetime, the demands on Congolese women are limitless; but in this war, the most insane fantasies have found their expression. When seven soldiers rape a women or little girl, and thrust a knife or fire shots into her vagina, for them the woman is no longer a human being, she is an object. And since there are no longer any laws or rules, combatants pour out their anger and their madness on to women and little girls.”


“Like Rwanda, but Worse” – Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 1: History of the Conflict]

December 7, 2007

Women in the People’s Democratic of Congo have been enduring barbaric sexual atrocities duringCongo2 the country’s violent civil unrest for more than a decade. Yet the western world seems to hardly have noticed. This is the first in an ongoing series documenting the situation in a country where women and children are inhumanly brutalized, where even the most unimaginable forms of rape have become common weapons of war.

Many are questioning how this level of sexual violence grew to such dramatic proportions. Although atrocities and rape in wartime are common, U.N. leaders consider the intensity and prevalence of horrors in the Congo to be “the worst in the world.”

It’s interesting to note that, according to a recent NY Times article

Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.

Contrarily, an Amnesty International report asserts that it is precisely women’s lower societal status that allows for this type of targeting in wartime.

“When you lift the stone of sexual violence, you will find another stone of the treatment of women more generally, which is effectively slavery. Women do everything: they walk miles for food or water, they care for the children, they cook, they clean, they cultivate the land and they earn the family income… That is the female condition in the Congo. “

— Expatriate woman psychologist working in DRC, interviewed by AI

In the very least, Congolese law leaves nowhere for these women to turn as crimes of rape, torture, mutilation, kidnapping, and sexual slavery are committed with nearly 100% impunity.

A 2002 HRW report summarizes women’s status in Congolese society.

Even before the war in Congo, women and girls were second class citizens. The law as well as social norms defined the role of women and girls as subordinate to men. Although women are often a major-if not the major-source of support for the family, the Congolese Family Code requires them to obey their husbands who are recognized as the head of the household.

Women and girls are also subordinate by custom and practice. A woman’s status depends on being married and girls tend to marry at a young age. It is generally considered more important to educate boys than girls[…] Literacy statistics for Congo (also) show gender-specific discrimination.

Male household heads often settle violent crimes against women and girls outside the courts. Some have “resolved” rape cases by accepting a money payment from the perpetrator or his family or by arranging to have the perpetrator marry the victim. […]

Women and girls who are raped suffer significant loss of social status[…] In cases of the death of women and girls by murder or negligence, the family of the victim sometimes agrees to accept the equivalent of a woman’s bride price as compensation and does not pursue the case further.

Congolese views about women and the issue of sexual violence were clearly demonstrated in 2005 when UNICEF spearheaded the first march against sexual violence in the boarder city of Goma. Hundreds of brutalized women donned black head scarves and nervously took to the streets. In a PBS interview, American filmmaker Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt describes the event:

…the march ended up being more chaotic than we imagined because every one of the bystanders, male or female, heckled the women marching. Their position was, “Why are you doing this? This is stupid. What is sexual violence?” On an official level, there aren’t any adequate laws against rape, and no one has been convicted of rape in 40 years, other than three or four people who were not soldiers.

Let’s take a quick look at how the climate in the Congo escalated to create an atmosphere conducive to these horrors.


Women in War Zones – Ann Jones Blogs “16 Days” from Cote d’Ivoire

December 3, 2007

Check out the fabulous writer/photographer/activist Ann Jones as she blogs for 16-Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (Nov 25 – Dec 10). She’s in the Cote d’Ivoire with the International Rescue Committee in an effort to “give women in war zones the opportunity to speak, loudly and clearly.”

The IRC hopes to encourage national reconciliation by working in three different areas, serving three different populations with different needs. But what all three sites have in common is strong programs in “Violences Basees sur le Genre”—Gender-Based Violence.

Why? The answer is painfully simple. In any war, women and children are the principal victims. Offer any humanitarian program to assist people violated, deprived, damaged, or displaced by war and you find yourself serving women and their children, all of whom, in one way or another, have been victims of the violence of war and of additional violence done to them as women.

She will blog once a day through December 10th. Check it out. And don’t miss the post where she teaches the women how to use digital cameras.Annjones_cotedivoire

Then I send the teams out to take photos. They huddle to consult with each other about the cameras. Is it this button, or that? How hard must I push?

The first team finds a subject. One woman holds the camera firmly, as I’ve taught them, and points it. All heads converge at the viewing screen. What next? A teammate reaches over the camera-holder’s shoulder to depress the shutter button. An icon appears on the screen to indicate whether the subject is in focus. “It’s green! It’s green!” say the team mates. “Push! Push!” The button-pusher’s finger comes down. “Click!” The women scream. They jump up and down. They throw their arms around each other while the camerawoman holds the tiny camera aloft for safekeeping.


*** Further Reading ***
CÔTE D’IVOIRE – Targeting women: The forgotten victims of the conflict

The IRC – How You Can Help

Ann Jones Bio