|Image screenshot from Treehugger.|
Part of that is likely geographic distance. Part of it is lack of knowledge about the issue. But part of it is because we're addicted to our electronic gadgets, so we don't want to know. We don't want to take action that would disrupt our own lives.
Our friends at Treehugger recently featured the work of photographer Sarah Fretwell, who was so outraged by the lack of response by the world community to the horrific prevalence of rape, and so frustrated that media outlets told her this story had already been "done," that she decided to turn her "news" story into art. Now her images are getting attention.
In the interview with Treehugger, Fretwell summarizes the problem this way:
Originally, rape was used as a tool of war to break apart communities and scare them into loyalty or punish them for helping an opposing group. One of the most shocking things is that rape has become “normalized” and now boys/men are being raped too. Money from the “conflict” minerals in our technology fuels continued instability in the DRC.
The breakdown of society and the normalization of rape is a byproduct of a corrupt government, land disputes, citizenship disputes, and the exploitive businesses practices (including by US, European, and Canadian companies) occurring in the DRC. An elite class of Congolese, the corrupt Congolese government, unscrupulous foreign mining and banking companies, and paramilitaries from multiple countries (mainly Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi) are keeping the country unstable in a fight for profit and power.
The poor bear the brunt of the conflict, experience none of the benefit, and have no voice in the government. When they do speak out they are punished. Women, girls, and other vulnerable populations are at the lower echelons of society. They have no way to protect themselves and no one is protecting them. With few rights and no functioning justice system, they are the easiest to victimize. Men and boys have been emasculated and there is little opportunity to provide for their family. Often their only job opportunity is to join the military or a rebel group, as little of the profit the government or elite business goes back into building the country.
With no transparency in the business transactions the people have no way to hold their government accountable for its business dealings. In not taking a strong stance on this issue of conflict minerals companies are in essence saying, “This is an acceptable cost of doing business”.
Fretwell doesn't just bring attention to this problem. She also offers suggestions for what the industry, investors, and citizens can do to raise awareness and create demand for conflict-free products.
Fretwell's work serves as a valuable springboard for discussing this issue with students and colleagues and for taking positive action to address this grave situation. Fretwell herself is also a wonderful example of an ordinary hero who was inspired to help amplify the voice of those in need and to take on broken systems.
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