By Tanya Nies
Today is all about women, how they struggle and how they succeed. Across the world there are wars being fought and we see the public suffer under them. Almost 70 years ago, the last big war in Europe ended and brought to light some of the most horrible war crimes in history. But it is not just the war that brought suffering. The following story shows how much further the effects went, especially for those most vulnerable.
“There is nothing good about war, simply nothing.” Ingrid* grew up in Berlin and was only one year old when World War II started. Despite her young age, memories of the war stuck with her; above all the bombings, day and night. The warning of an upcoming bombing which led to hurried packing of the absolute necessities, followed by the fearful waiting for it to be over. Hoping that your house would survive. That you and your family would survive. Sitting in the cellar, she heard the howling of the bombs, saw the smoke and fire rising from hit buildings and this has stayed with her ever since. Whenever she hears sirens she tears up straightaway.
One day on their way home Ingrid and her mum were told to seek shelter in a bunker nearby from an upcoming attack. Next to a school Ingrid was taken by a gut feeling, terrified of going to the bunker and went to the school’s cellar instead for safety. The school was hit once, leaving the exit blocked but no one was injured. The bunker, however, was hit repeatedly and every person in it died. “It was a hint of fate”, she says, well aware that it could have been her in that bunker.
“Looking back everything was horrible, but back then it didn’t appear that way. You simply lived with the war.” Ingrid and her mother often visited the nearby countryside where extended family lived but in end effect stayed in Berlin with her father who worked there. They were lucky enough to not lose their house in the bombings, a fact she is still so grateful for.
She does not see her fate worse than anyone else’s. It affected everyone who had to experience it, which makes it one of her biggest wishes that no one ever has to experience the same. “I’m a pacifist”, she declares, “and yes, it’s the war that made me one.” Living in the nation’s capital was somewhat different though. The war did not end with the unconditional surrender. “Berlin was only worse because it was fought for until the very end. And it was occupied by Russians.” For another 48 hours the Russian army was allowed to do as they pleased in Berlin. Only then did the commanders enforce regulations on their troops. Ingrid does not know how the other countries acted once they had won, she can only talk from experience but she can certainly say it was horrible.
‘The Russians are coming’ was the most feared phrase on the street, even before they came. Their army had built up a reputation and the inhabitants of Berlin tried to protect themselves as best as they could. Now seven years old, Ingrid remembers hiding with family and neighbours in the home’s cellar while the Russian soldiers were patrolling the streets. Yet they came into the cellars and took the women. Back then she obviously did not understand what really was happening; now she knows the women were being raped. “I can still hear the women screaming, fighting not to go outside with the men.” Ingrid also remembers a neighbour dropping to his knees, tearing open his shirt, begging the soldiers to kill him, as long as they’d let his wife be. “I have to tell you though”, she pauses, “it is the war that brutalises people… and I am sure our soldiers did not always behave correctly either, quite the contrary.”
Her mother had a plan to try and escape these attacks: an old hat and horrible, thick glasses which she did not even need. “That way they thought it was my grandmother’s lap I was sitting on”, she remembers. It was successful. Furthermore, to hide from the nightly attacks they fled to the ruins and housed in those cellars. Overall, fourteen people lived there for nine days, being provided with food by the few men who were left. Trying not only to hide from the troops but also from other women who blamed part of their suffering on those women hiding from it. Ingrid herself did not experience any harm, they were friendly to the children, even gave her sweets – which had been stolen from her aunt’s shop just before.
Her father was taken by the Russians on a Sunday morning. Ingrid still remembers the name of the fairy tale he was telling her at that moment. She watched through a window as her father was taken away in a van. She saw him at the one visit her mother and her could do before her father was moved somewhere else, never finding out where he actually was. He was gone for three and a quarter years.
Just over two years after her father was taken, Ingrid lost her mother. As food was rare in Berlin, people went on trips to gather food from the countryside, trading in all their belongings for just a few potatoes or beet roots. On one these trips their train was stopped by some soldiers, Ingrid’s mother was dragged out of the carriage and raped on the tracks. She died a few days later from the aftermath. It was not until she was older that Ingrid found out what actually happened to her mother. “I still see her on the stretcher, on the way to the hospital, the last image I have of her.” She then grew up with her family, “I am so grateful for my family, they were amazing.” A year later, her father returned. It was incredible, but overshadowed by having to tell him that his wife had died a year before.
She shares her story to show what war does to people and why there should never ever be a war again. But if we look at the world today, we see many of those. Her one wish for the world: “We need more pacifists.”
After hearing Ingrid’s story we realise how many more horrors come with a war, and that certain topics are not discussed. After almost 70 years, women and children still suffer under the effects of war – and it is time that this gets recognised and fought against.
*Ingrid is a 74-year-old woman now living in Bavaria, Germany.
By Ivy Qi and Priscillia Charles
PopUp Newsroom interviewed Anup Manota, project manager at Karma Nirvana, a foundation which supports victims of forced marriage.
Historical background of the charity
Anup Manota explains what the charity’s functions are
Ethnic Backgrounds of the victims
The risk of forced marriage for women over the holidays
“There is an increase of calls at the helpline”
A message to the government
How Karma Nirvana is raising awareness
The Charity's events around forced marriage
By Akeem Favor
“We will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”
“As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s speech, given on the 49th anniversary of Gambia’s independence from Britain in early February of this year, starkly frames the situation from which Valerie and Bennet flee.
Valerie and Bennet (pseudonyms adopted for the purpose of this interview) are a lesbian couple who left their home country of Gambia in order to seek a better life in the United Kingdom.
According to the UK Foreign Office, Gambia has a “zero-tolerance” policy toward members of the LGBT community: “The Gambian Criminal Code states that any person who has or attempts to have ‘carnal knowledge’ of any person ‘against the order of nature’ is guilty of a crime and could face 14 years’ imprisonment.”
Bennet’s road to asylum status has been carved in violence and paved with emotional and physical pain. When she and another girl were found together in the school bathroom, both were beaten by staff before Bennet herself was subjected to physical abuse from her mother.
At the age of 25 she was forced into marriage with a man who abused her and cheated on her on a regular basis.
“Things were too much. I wanted to obey my family. I didn’t want my family to disown me,” said Bennet.
“You can’t go to the police and say you were being beaten. He could tell them I am a lesbian and they could throw me in jail.”
Bennet was not alone in her struggle at first. Her brother was also gay. However, he passed away under mysterious circumstances. It is her firm belief that his death was the result of intentional poisoning.
Fleeing to the United Kingdom, Bennet’s situation did not drastically improve. Already pregnant with her second son when she arrived, she spent time focusing on earning money by using her tailoring skills.
Soon after giving birth to her second child, her husband appeared on her doorstep. Through a series of unfortunate events, her husband managed to take her child back to Gambia without her consent.
In 2013, events began to take a turn for the worse. She was taken into custody under the assumption that she had not yet applied for asylum status even though her application was pending.
Pushed to the brink, on November 19th, 2013, Bennet attempted to take her own life. The date of her attempted suicide was also her own birthday.
On December 15th she attempted to take her life once more at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, but was saved by the intervention of Valerie.
“Bennet and I met in the Detention Centre in Bedford. The first day we had an encounter was the day she was trying to commit suicide, because she could not handle the stress any longer,” said Valerie.
“From there I would console and encourage her to know that life still goes on.”
Valerie’s own story was filled with violence and almost included a forced marriage.
“In May 2012, I left Gambia because I am homosexual and my family realized that I never engaged with the opposite sex. They wanted to force me into marriage, to marry a man I have never known or met before,” said Valerie.
“An uncle beat me up during an argument which resulted in me falling down and hurting my left thigh through the edge of a jerk barrel. There and then they told me to my face that they have arranged for a man to marry me.”
Her own experiences seeking asylum in the United Kingdom have not been pleasant. In March of 2013, she was detained for several months at Yarl’swood before being released.
Both Valerie and Bennet have a dim view of the United Kingdom’s asylum seeker process.
“It is good to seek asylum, yes, but in the UK? Not at the moment. It is very stressful and risky, based on my own experience,” said Valerie.
“A lot of people got deported back to their home countries after seeking asylum even though their lives are in danger.”
By: Samantha Killebrew
Zoe Mavroudi, director of the documentary Ruins , speaks on the HIV witch hunt in Greece in 2012 that inspired the film. The full version of the film has been posted below. You can donate to victims at http://ruins-documentary.com/.
Vox pop realised by Elizy Fayer, Leif Wild, Tanya Nies and Victor Fremont
This guy was seen striding along Newcastle city centre today.
The reaction of his comrades to the question "do you know that it is International Women's Day today?" is to be heard on this vox pop.
By Carla Fitoiu and Joshua Kelly
'Durham Women Rising is a consortium of individuals and organisations committed to empowering women and girls in County Durham & Darlington'. It aims both to celebrate women and to tackle the widespread culture of violence that they face every day.
Co-ordinator Lisa Davis talks to Carla Fitoiu about how feminism is changing in the North East and discusses the value of International Women's Day.
Video by Fangyan Mei, Clara and Diya.
Reporting and Editing by Joshua Kelly
Filmed by Aleksandrs Rjabovs, Harry Liu and Nazira Kaiymova
Only 22.6% of MPs are female and there are only four women currently serving in David Cameron's cabinet. Even the Labour Party, which claims to be leading the way in terms of equal representation, has announced that Ed Miliband's election team will be composed entirely of men. Why is there such a profound gender imbalance in British politics?
Joshua Kelly talked to Labour MP Helen Goodman, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.
By Anand Jagatia (Imperial College London)
Many of the most important women in the history of science have no article on Wikipedia. Of those that do, many are brief or incomplete. Why are female contributions to science so underrepresented online? Anand Jagatia, of Imperial College London, went to a Wikipedia Editathon at the Royal Society to find out.