Monday 13 May 2013

Persephone Speaks: The forgotten women of Bosnia

I am urging everyone to back a major new documentary by the brilliant film-maker Ivana Ivkovic Kelley, whose project Persephone Speaks focuses on the use of rape as a war strategy. The film follows a survivor's quest to shed light on the international community's failure to acknowledge the effects this crime has on women's lives, long after the war has ended. There are only 10 days left before the fundraising campaign is over.

The project is more timely than ever, given that global awareness of this issue is rising. It's also amazing to witness the power of film-making on global politics, with William Hague stating that his consciousness was raised by Angelina Jolie's hard-hitting 2012 film In The Land of Blood and Honey, which focuses on the issue. That feature was a sombre and extremely admirable fictionalisation of real events, strongly influenced by actual witness and testimony. 

For readers who want to know more about the global issue of rape in war (although, I should add, rape and all forms of gendered sexual violence and gendered abuse are absolutely endemic in peacetime societies too, everywhere in the world, regardless of colour, class, religion, culture, language and hemisphere) then I strong recommend the Women Under Siege Project, which provide extremely gritty and exhaustive documentation, testimony and research. A trigger warning strongly applies. 

Persephone Speaks shows a survivor tracing and confronting perpetrators, testifying to the reality and aftermath of rape and seeking formal justice in the international community and courts system. As Kelley says, she wishes to
...acknowledge the effects this crime has on women's lives, long after the war has ended. Females are nonstop targets during wartime, as demonstrated by the mass rapes implemented as a policy of genocide during the Bosnian war. Because this atrocity is grossly ignored by the international community and international tribunals, this film revisits one survivor, Bakira, who continues to fight for justice on behalf of others all over the world.   
From her tiny smoke-filled office on the shrapnel-damaged outskirts of Sarajevo, to her monthly sojourns to the Hague, her goal is for perpetrators to be brought to justice. To this day, war rape survivors continue to join her group, finally sharing their stories with this woman who will ensure their testimonies are heard in the courts in Sarajevo or the Hague.  
 In many cases, the perpetrators are either awaiting trial or have been rewarded by the Serbian government for successfully running a "camp", often in the form of a promotion within the local police force. We have witnessed incidents of this same "reward" behavior in similar conflicts around the world. In situations such as these, many survivors have expressed anger, fear, and shock, especially when they see their attacker, years later, in high level positions or vacationing beside them on the Adriatic coast.  
Bakira... sets out to find where the perpetrators, named in numerous testimonies, now live, subsequently providing this evidence to the Hague and other courts.
Kelley and her team have initiated a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000 which will enable the completion of Persephone Speaks by autumn so that it can hit the international film festival circuit when it debuts. More than $8,000 has already been pledged (disclosure: I pledged some after reading the Women's Views on News feature - Kelley is a stranger to me) but according to Kickstarter custom the full target must be reached, or nothing.

Please help. In the words of the director,
It is through projects such as these that light is shed on human rights issues. The continued treatment of women around the world, especially during times of conflict, needs to be heard through as many channels as possible. Unfortunately, war rape survivors are often seen as a problem, a by-product of war that needs to be swept under the rug. Our work will be done when the world comes together to ensure female victims of war are not forgotten and the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Be a part of making Persephone Speaks happen by becoming a backer here and showing your support on the documentary's Facebook page here.

You might also be interested in finding out about Women for Women International's March of Peace from 5th-12th July 2013, which follows a 120 km route through Bosnia and Herzegovina to Srebrenica - the exact route taken by refugees of the war.