From our sisters, by our sisters, for our sisters

Did you know that women are being deported for having faced rape? Two women (Ellen and Sophie, names changed) put together a platform called "Our Sisters" to document this reality. Read on to know more through the excerpts of our interview with them.


What is Our Sisters all about? How did it begin?
Our sisters is about sisterhood no matter where in the world you are born. Sexual violence is a huge issue all over the world. In some countries the government use rape as a military strategy against women and children. Women who have been raped by government soldiers often face huge difficulties getting asylum and being protected in other countries, instead they get deported back to the regime responsible for their rape. For #our sisters, that is not necessarily just an issue of migration or where you are born. By deporting women who have been raped by government soldiers to the government responsible for their rape, we legitimize the use of rape as a weapon of war. As girls, as women, we feel unsafe in a world where fellow women, our sisters, get deported to rapist regimes.
It all began with an idea. Due to the situation for women in countries such as India and and Congo-Kinshasa, we wanted to do an inquiry into whether victims of sexual violence could get asylum. After our discoveries we were upset and wanted to do something about the issue. #Metoo is a revolution. However, we knew that the world did not know anything about these deportations. So, what could we do about it? We could start a new hashtag, build a new revolution. Because it is only by pressure from people uniting all over the world that we could do something about it.

The project has begun with a focus on the DR Congo. Could you tell us a bit about the situation as it stands there? 
First of all it is important to remember that there are two different countries by the name of Congo in Africa. When I speak about Congo I speak about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also called Congo-Kinshasa. There is a civil war in DRC that has been ongoing since 1961. The war in DRC has killed more people than the Syrian War, the Vietnam War and the Afghan war combined. However, media rarely talks about it. The war in Congo is the forgotten war, but also the war that affects the entire world economy. As long as there is war in DRC, the prize of the minerals you find in our computers and smartphones remains low. However, if there is peace in the country the prize of these minerals will go up. Hence there are economic interests in the rest of the world that support that there is a war in the country.
The Congolese government use rape as a military strategy against women and children. There are horrible examples of women and girls who have gotten rifles put up into their vaginas. When a woman is raped, her husband is ashamed. He feels like he is not even man enough to protect his own family. His wife becomes a reminder of his unmanliness. Therefore he decides to kick his wife and children out of their home. In this way, sexual violence is used as a psychological warfare, not only towards women and children, but towards men as well. If a man feels like he is incapable of protecting his own family, he does not feel strong enough to fight against the soldiers.
We seldom hear about the deportations of rape victims. This is a terrible reality. Could you take us through why and what happens, exactly?
In 2012 two Congolese women who had been raped by government soldiers stood in front of the Supreme Court of Migration in Sweden. This was prior to the refugee crisis. The Migration Authorities wanted to deport Sophie and Ellen* to DRC. The Migration Court wanted to deport them. Now, the decision was up to the Supreme Court of Migration.

A few years earlier another Congolese woman and her daughter had been deported to Congo – Kinshasa by Sweden. Her case went all the way to the UN anti-torture committee. The UN stated that it was an act of torture (art 3. anti-torture convention) to deport a woman to any parts of the DRC and indicated that Sweden had violated the woman's human rights. However, Sweden paid little attention to being accused of acts of torture because just four years later, the UN once again stated that Sweden had violated human rights while deporting another Congolese woman. 

When Sophie and Ellen a year later stood in front of the Supreme Court of Migration, the judges (2-1) decided to deport them to DRC. The court stated that the UN decisions were just “in casu judgements” and did not have the standing of precedent or case law. However, the UN did clearly not agree, since they in 2015 referred to their previous decisions when they stated that Finland committed an act of torture while deporting a Congolese woman.

Unfortunately, this happens in many other countries as well, including the United States and the United Kingdom. The reason behind using Sweden as an illustrative example is that Sweden has been famous for being welcoming (male) refugees with open arms.  Therefore we believe that Sweden serves as an excellent example of the fact that the deportations of rape victims have very little to do with general anti-immigration views. In fact, not just Congolese women, but victims of sexual violence in general, face big difficulties getting asylum in many countries.
Do you believe that such a huge human rights violation continues unabated because the law is inadequate? What does the law say right now and what should it be amended to say?
Yes and no. There are many different sources of law. It is impossible to say something about all different sources of law in all countries of the world.
The refugee convention does not define women who have been raped as refugees. 
However, laws are different in different countries. For instance, both European Union law (which is binding to all member states of the European Union, including the United Kingdom) and Swedish national law define these women as refugees.
In countries with common law systems, such as the United States, there is no secret that the court and the judges are political. In Sweden, which has a civil law system, there is an illusion that the court is objective. The judges are non-political, they decide according to what the law says. However, we strongly believe that these deportations of rape victims clearly show that the objectivity of the courts and judges, even the law in itself is questionable. Even in civil law systems.
Could you take us through any successful impact stories/ anecdotes (if you like to share) as the outcome of your work?
The purpose of #oursisters is to unite people. It aims to unite people with different religious and political views. It does not matter if you are a woman or a man, or if you hold pro-immigration or anti-immigration views – you can still be a part of #oursisters. What matters is that we cannot pretend any longer that human rights equals women’s rights. When countries on both sides of the scale – both the one’s famous for wanting to build walls and the one’s famous for being humanitarian and welcoming - deport women - we cannot longer pretend that the way we treat victims of rape as a weapon of war has to do with general migration policy. When we say that it is ok to deport women to the Democratic Republic of Congo, that is to legitimize the use of rape as a weapon of war.
The positive outcome is that #oursisters has spread all over the world. Indonesia, Ireland, Sweden, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, the United Kingdom, United States are just a few of the countries that it has spread to. I have no idea how it made its way all over the world, but it has. Even though it is has not yet become the next me too, which is the goal, but a grassroots movement this is huge in it’s own way.
What are some key challenges in this work that you do?
 To get the word out! And getting people to educate themselves. Metoo began with a few words, something that could be abbreviated into a twitter post. Everyone who has been sexually harassed could write #metoo on social media, but to make people write #oursisters, you first need to explain the topic of deportations of rape victims and the situation for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a topic that not many people know anything about! That is why we recommend people to not only share #oursisters but also the webpage oursisters.net where you can read about the subject. If you read the webpage you will see that we are open with our sources and where we got the information from. We just wish to get the ball rolling, the rest is up to you. It is up to you to react and to push forward.