Monika Hauser

(2008, Germany)

...for her tireless commitment to working with women who have experienced the most horrific sexual violence in some of the most dangerous countries in the world, and campaigning for them to receive social recognition and compensation.

About

Monika Hauser is the founder of medica mondiale, which works to prevent and punish sexual violence against women and girls in wartime and to assist the survivors. Hauser and her colleagues have helped over 70,000 traumatised women and girls in war and post-war crisis zones in Bosnia and Hercegovina, Kosovo, DR Congo, Liberia and Afghanistan, often despite great risks to their own security. 

Contact Details

Monika Hauser
medica mondiale e.V.
Hülchrather Str. 4
50670 Köln
GERMANY

Website

Biography

Career

Monika Hauser was born in 1959 in Switzerland, and holds an Italian passport due to her family roots in South Tyrol. She completed her doctorate in medicine in Innsbruck and Bologna in 1984, obtained her German medical licence in 1988 and completed her gynaecological specialisation in 1998. She came to work with victims of sexual violence after being exposed as a young doctor in South Tyrol and Germany to women who had experienced rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Bosnia - Building up Medica Zenica

At the end of 1992, Hauser was shocked by the media reports about the tragedy of the Bosnian women, and the instrumentalisation of the survivors in the media, which often reduced the women to mere "rape victims". She assembled a highly motivated team of 20 Bosnian experts, collected the funding needed, brought the complete material for the clinics to Central Bosnia through the frontlines and built up Medica Zenica, a women's therapy centre, in the middle of war-torn Bosnia. 

Setting up Medica Zenica, Hauser insisted on a multi-ethnic team. The creation of such a centre in a war situation was pioneering work, even more remarkable in a highly patriarchal and hostile war context. 

medica mondiale

Out of these activities medica mondiale gradually evolved. For the next six years Monika Hauser continued to further the development of medica mondiale. She also returned to Zenica for several extended stays. In 1999, she initiated the project medica mondiale Kosova, involving numerous project visits to Albania and Kosovo. In 2000 Monika Hauser assumed the professional and political management of medica mondiale.

medica mondiale's mission

medica mondiale supports and assists women and girls in war zones and areas of crisis, whose physical, psychological, social and political integrity has been violated. This support and assistance is provided irrespective of the women's and girls' political affiliation, ethnic origin or religion. The aim is to strengthen the women's self-healing powers and to support and demand their right to an emancipatory way of life. 

medica mondiale has a double strategy of individual professional support and human rights work by establishing sustainable local structures to provide support for survivors of wartime sexual violence, setting up interdisciplinary counselling and therapy centres, capacity building and training of local professional staff, and
political advocacy for women's rights.

Advocacy for women's rights and legal prosecution

Since its formation, medica mondiale has worked for the recognition of sexual violence in wartime as a war crime, for the prosecution of the perpetrators, and against social stigma and the marginalisation of the survivors.

medica mondiale supported the investigations of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, took care of witnesses, monitored court proceedings and protested publicly whenever it saw the interests of women witnesses threatened. medica mondiale also campaigned for the creation of the International Criminal Court, and contributed to the fact that grave sexual violence became explicitly recognised as a war crime and crime against humanity in the ICC's statutes.

Facts and figures

medica mondiale has independent projects in Bosnia and Hercegovina (27 staff), Kosovo (25 staff) and Albania (12 staff), and own projects in Afghanistan (72 staff) and Liberia (17 staff). It supports partner organisations in Cambodia, DR Congo (6 co-operative partners), East Timor, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda and Israel, supported by an office in Cologne, Germany, with 29 staff, plus a similar number of volunteers and 100 women in action groups in several German cities. 

medica mondiale estimates to have - directly and indirectly - reached around 100,000 women and girls through their projects. Half of medica mondiale's 2007 budget of 3 million Euros came from private donations. Organisational sources of funds in 2007 included the Sigrid Rausing Trust, KfW Development Bank, UNHCHR, which regards medica mondiale as 'an essential partner' in relation to women and conflict, the European Community, the Danish Embassy in Afghanistan, and the German Government. 

In 2005 medica mondiale published Violence Against Women in War, a manual of lessons learned from eleven years of experience in half a dozen countries emerging from war. 

Further activities

Monika Hauser lectures regularly at national and international congresses and public events, presenting the work of medica mondiale to the general public and to professional panels. She has also been active as a trainer for the medica mondiale Qualification Programme for Afghan women doctors, nurses and midwives in Kabul.

Honours

Hauser has received a number of awards for her work, for example "Woman of the Year" 1993 of the German ARD TV and the “State Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia 2012” honouring her outstanding humanitarian work in war regions and other crisis areas. She was named "European of the year 2011" by Reader's Digest magazine and has been awarded the “North-South Prize 2012” from the Council of Europe. She turned down the German Federal Cross of Merit in protest against the German Government policy of forced repatriation of Bosnian refugees.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Monika Hauser

Dec 8th, 2008

Dear Madam Speaker, dear Recipients, honorable Guests, Members of Parliament, your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,

It is a great pleasure to receive this award today. To me it means the recognition of fifteen years of unwavering commitment without which we at medica mondiale would not have been able to do our work, and to do it in the face of innumerable daily obstacles. I thank the jury for this unique honor. And I thank my family as well as my colleagues all over the world for holding on to our common vision to make this a better world for women and girls to live in.

We were able to accompany tens of thousands of traumatized women on their path towards reclaiming their lives. As I am addressing you today I do not stand here alone. With me in my thoughts are the women from Eastern Congo raped by rebels or government soldiers; the 12-year-old Afghan girl in the blue burka, sold to an old man by her own father; the Bosnian woman testifying against her rapist in The Hague, only to be humiliated anew inside or outside the courtroom.

In 1993, my deeply felt bond with women and girls whose dignity had been spurned led me to Central Bosnia during the war. Faced with the huge extent of sexualized violence practiced in that war it was inconceivable to me that the organization we would found later did not yet exist.

I had simply followed an inner calling. As a gynecologist-to-be I was looked upon as a troublemaker because of the very actions for which you are honoring me today. To give you a better idea of what I mean: at the time, there was little space in German hospitals and German mainstream medicine for empathic support for patients, least of all for pregnant women who were HIV-positive drug addicts, for women who had been raped, or for old women still suffering from the trauma of World War II. Neither was there any space for somebody like me who did not want to accept such patriarchal power structures and their reproduction by the medical apparatus.

In Bosnia the war took place before the eyes of the global public and all of us participated in it through the media. Reports about mass rapes multiplied but the media focus was on the individually raped woman, not on the underlying structure. In different forms and to different extent rape and sexualized torture are part of every war. They always have strategic significance, regardless of whether they were explicitly planned, tacitly encouraged, or merely tolerated. The sexualized enslavement of women and girls - for example during World War II in Europe and Asia, or in several contemporary wars in Africa - serves both to boost the morale of one's own fighters and to terrorize the enemy.

Sexualized violence, everywhere and always, is destructive and the exertion of power over the immediate victim. In war, the destructive potential of sexualized violence is multiplied and can culminate at any moment in triumphant displays of power over the other side.

Unfortunately, society at home almost always continues the work of the adverse rapists. Communities ostracize raped women and girls as blemish of masculine/national honor or force them to remain silent if they want to survive socially. The non-recognition of rape as a form of torture and grave human rights violation constitutes a continuation of the violent act. Both the sexualized violent act and the subsequent social exclusion of the victim rest on the conscious or subconscious patriarchal creed of men's ownership over women's bodies. Thus, an attack on women turns into an attack on male property and honor.

Not to draw premature conclusions, this non-recognition of rape as a grave human rights violation and the associated social ostracism of women are not unique to Africa. Take, for example, the extreme under-reporting of rapes in societies with formal gender equality. Or the fact that British soldiers stationed in Kenya enjoy until this day impunity for having raped hundreds of Samburu women, just as many UN soldiers and international aid workers sexually exploit the precarious circumstances particularly of African, Asian and Balkan women and girls literally without any shame.

Apart from that, the consequences of sexualized violence in today's African wars reach to Europe's doorstep. Women and girls who try to escape from violence often end up in open or clandestine prostitution in Western cities. This lucrative business at their expense is possible because there are enough male clients who neither look nor want to see.

From the very beginning medica mondiale - above and beyond providing professional support - has defined its mission as bringing women back into the centre of society. We wanted to contribute to the efforts to lift the taboo surrounding rape in war and to outlaw the practice. There was no universal strategy, no established professional manual for treating victims of war rape; we always had to develop our approach anew in a given context.

In the beginning this meant twenty professional Bosnian women at "Medica Zenica" - a project which has been autonomous for a number of years now - and a handful of activists in Germany. Today medica mondiale has grown into a mid-sized enterprise: 29 staff at the head office in Cologne, about 130 volunteers, almost 100 local staff in projects in Kosova, Albania, Afghanistan and Liberia. In many additional countries we support partner organizations, for example in Guatemala, Indonesia, India, Uganda, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce those colleagues from our projects who are here today:

Anita Varney  from medica mondiale Liberia
Humaira Rasuli from medica mondiale Afghanistan
Veprore Shehu and  Zejnete Dylatahu from medica Kosova
Neta Lohja from medica Tirana in Albania
Sabiha Husic from Medica Zenica in Bosnia

- and I would like to ask all medica mondiale women to stand up briefly.

I am particularly glad that Immaculée Birhaheka, the founder of our partner organisation PAIF in Goma, honors me with her presence here as well. Like many other activists in conflict zones she is always in danger. While supporting women every day, she herself has to fear for her life because she is one of the brave who don't compromise in their fight for women's rights and who fearlessly name the perpetrators and their crimes.

I would like to use the presence of Ms. Birhaheka as well as of Ms. Rasuli from Kabul to ask a few questions:

Why do international decision makers not see it as their primary responsibility to effectively protect women like Ms. Birhaheka and Ms. Rasuli and more generally all civil and human rights defenders?

What is the value of UN resolution 1325, demanding the participation of women in all peace processes, and of resolution 1820, defining rape as an  impediment of international peace and security, if these resolutions are not implemented immediately and effectively?

And why don't the UN and governments listen more to women like the Congolese women's rights activists who again only recently, in a collective outcry for help, appealed to the international community?

Gender is a social and cultural construction. It takes concepts, policies, and power to avoid being trapped by it. Thousands of feminists and women activists around the world contribute to ways out of the gender trap for the benefit of all. However, we need allies in governments to implement these policies and turn them into universal standards. In this regard Sweden sets an international example. I bet it would not happen here like it did in Germany that a senior envoy/diplomat asks me whether 1820 is a Cognac brand! This envoy was formerly responsible for human rights at the Foreign Office in Berlin. It would have suited him to understand that as such he was also responsible for human beings called women.

Women need to be present at every negotiation table, not as token women but in critical mass. Instead, for instance in Afghanistan, women's suffering is exploited to legitimize wars, but women are excluded from building their own new and peaceful society. Men still have the power to exclude women from these processes. Women are not considered; their realities are ignored and, more often than not, simply forgotten.

Asha Hagi has given us a superb example when she formed an alliance across communal divides with other women so that they could participate in the peace negotiations in Somalia as a new sixth clan. Thus they were the first in their country to demonstrate their enormous capacity for peace, quite different from their men. I am delighted that this very capacity is honored by the Alternative Nobel Prize. In this way the award can honor the kind of competencies ignored, among others, by this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Gender is not a synonym for women. Gender refers to a hierarchical system of relationships based on gender stereotypes that throttle the free development of all individuals like a straightjacket, of men, women, lesbians, gays, and transgendered persons. We have known long before Abu Ghraib that men, too, are rapable and would benefit from a serious revision of gender relations.

The US trauma therapist Judith Herman put it like this: "Even if the body heals eventually, the psychological scars will have lifelong destructive effects". For women traumatized in war this means that threat continues to be experienced as real even long after the external cause of the threat has ceased to exist. This holds in particular for women in post-war areas where the overall living conditions are dire and re-traumatizing. In this regard I feel especially for the women of Srebenica: they cannot rest until the remains of their men have been found. Every day they are eaten up by feelings of guilt because they have survived. Much remains to be done for their inner peace.

Women who were raped in war learn that they will be ostracized politically and socially and that their violations are still taboo, which constitutes an additional traumatization.

Through their isolation they lose contact with the world. The professional support of our local medica mondiale colleagues gives them the strength to return back to life and into society. The holistic approach of medica mondiale with our political women's rights work and multidisciplinary practice enables women and girls to leave their status and identity as victims, to regain agency, to proudly claim their right to reshape society and to develop their own perspective of a new life in dignity and  self-determination.

The support of these processes is not a question of charity or solidarity. It is a question of political responsibility, because we all live in the same world - a responsibility that all of us bear.

  Pictures
 Videos

Monika Hauser - Portrait

Publications

Publications by Monika Hauser and medica mondiale

medica mondiale's concept of trauma and human rights work. Germany, 2008.

Numerous fact sheets and short publications onmedica mondiale'sprojects in different countries and on different topics can be downloaded (in English and German) from their website www.medicamondiale.org.

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

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