Hope and Medical Care Reach Refugees in Cameroon
Women refugees in Cameroon seek help from a mobile clinic supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women
A13-year-old girl leaves her home to collect wood and make a fire for cooking. A man approaches her and rapes her. She’s too scared to tell her parents, hiding her grief privately. It’s not long before her mother notices her abdomen swelling. The girl is pregnant. International Medical Corps (IMC) has set up a clinic nearby, and the girl’s parents seek help. The doctors give the girl the necessary drugs and help her get to a nearby hospital.
This is just one of the many stories of how IMC, supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, helps rape and abuse victims in a remote border area between Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Government estimates show that over 80,000 people sought refuge in Cameroon between 2006 and 2008, escaping crime and instability in the Central African Republic. While the border community integrated the refugees, the cases of sexual violence went up significantly. That’s what prompted IMC, which traditionally works in some of the most devastated areas around the globe, to set up a mobile clinic that in one year assisted over 1,000 refugee women victims of violence. The clinic doctors also counselled over 1,600 women about safe sexual practices and HIV. For those women who tested positive for HIV, IMC helped integrate them into families and provided counselling.
“We train and educate community leaders that violence against women in all its forms, including rape, is not just a violation of human rights but is one of the leading causes of HIV,” says Michael Yacob, the director of IMC Cameroon. “It can at times be challenging to make them understand that sexual violence perpetuated by an intimate partner or someone in the community is not a woman’s fault. Many still believe that women’s behaviour and attitudes lead men to rape them, where nothing further can be from the truth, and many are not willing to discuss marital rape, which in fact is much more likely to put women at risk of HIV infection.”
IMC has also been working with local leaders to develop trust within the community so that local women can confidently report cases of rape and abuse. An extensive information campaign about the risks of HIV infection reached over 10,000 people, IMC estimates. To the surprise of IMC doctors, the number of cases of violence reported went from 16 percent to 32 percent. “It may seem like a negative indicator, where in fact, it’s good news. It’s not that cases of violence necessarily went up, it’s that more women are brave enough to step forward and seek help,” says Yacob.
So what can be done to further prevent violence and an increase in HIV infections? “A simple, straightforward approach most likely won’t work,” says Peter Medway, Operations Manager at IMC’s headquarters in London. “What does work is applying messages and education into a cultural context and developing programmes accordingly. We have to significantly rely on civil society. Would a community trust an outsider to provide the necessary education? Probably not. Education, information, and ongoing support – that’s what works in the long run.”
As for the young girl who was raped in the woods, she delivered the baby safely. “ I will never forget what IMC did for me,” she says in her letter thanking the clinic. “Because if they did not come at this time I don’t know what would have happened to me. I thank IMC very much.”
The UN Trust Fund relies on voluntary contributions. Demand for funding outstrips supply: In 2009, the Fund received US $857 million in funding requests, but could offer only $20.5 million in grants. An urgent call for additional funding was launched in 2010.