Almost half a century after the Liberation War of Bangladesh, two of Bangladesh's Birangona added their powerful voices to an international call for a global reparations scheme to address the consequences of rape as a weapon of war.
Speaking at a symposium organised by Nobel Laureate Dr Denis Mukegwe at The Hague in The Netherlands last week, Freedom Fighter Birangona Jabeda Khatun and Anoara Begum invited the United Nations and international backing for the principle of reparations for all victims of this abuse.
In the presence of Her Royal Highness the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and Dr Denis Mukegwe, Jabeda, on her very first visit outside Bangladesh, demanded a response from the panel of leading international officials, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on preventing sexual violence in conflict, experts, campaigners of human rights in solidarity with many survivors of rape from fifteen countries, asking them what they will do about the survivors' reparations.
The Network, the second gathering of this kind but the first to welcome participants from Bangladesh, was a creation of Mukwege Foundation set up by Dr Mukwege, a gynecologist practicing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with experience of the physical, psychological and life-limiting consequences of wartime rape.
Recent research for the Foundation led to a discussion and active collaboration with Leesa Gazi, a British Bangladeshi theatre practitioner and a co-founder of the arts company, Komola Collective, whose play Birangona: Women of War was presented in England and widely in Bangladesh during 2014 and 2015.
Komola Collective, partnered up with 'women's champions' Naripokkho, supported by Manusher Jonno Foundation to ensure that the two Birangona women joined survivors of wartime rape from fourteen other nations at this year's gathering. Leesa's feature-length documentary, Rising Silence, was screened to survivors at The Network in Den Haag and it will be released during the Dhaka Film Festival in January. The film is produced by Komola Collective, Openvizor and Making Herstory.
For the survivors, demanding formalities of a one-day symposium were matched by days of a 'network retreat', so ideas and deeper thoughts could be shared in a climate of calm and safety.