The Trusteeship

Friday Night at Jane Olson’s | March 4, 2011

Jen Olson sharing her Human Rights Watch experiences

While womenʼs rights groups and others working to end sexual violence are under no illusions that the resolution is a panacea, most agree that it is a much needed step in the right direction. They believe that by noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide, the resolution promises to strike a blow at the culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence in conflict zones. That certainly is a first step, but the more important question is: Will the resolution give teeth to efforts to stem sexual violence against women in conflict situations? Jane explained that the Security Council resolution is historic because sexual violence is finally recognized as a weapon and can be punished.

The Trusteeship Annual Retreat formally opened with a sizable Trusteeship group at Jane Olsonʼs stunning home, where members gathered to casually wine and dine on generously passed, gourmet heavy hors dʼoeuvres and desserts. With respect to the approaching Womenʼs International Day, Janeʼs presentation reflected her experiences as long-time Co-Chair of Human Rights Watch and focused on women in the Balkans during the 90ʼs. She explained that the Balkans had emerged as a significant region in the trafficking of women and children to Western Europe and that, since the 1990s, human trafficking has taken place in the context of broader processes of globalization and regionalization. She talked about rape as a weapon of war and that the U.N. Security Council had voted unanimously for a resolution describing rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security. Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.

The highlight of the evening was Janeʼs recalling of her personal experiences in the Balkans. The most poignant and touching story dealt with Janeʼs experience with a group of deeply traumatized women. An unintended break happened while Jane sat with the silent women in a group. A knitter by hobby, Jane pulled out her supplies and started to work on an unfinished project. Soon the  women gently moved in closer to ask her knitting questions.

Jane scrambled to find them the necessary supplies, and within a short time, the group of women were knitting in tandem and talking. And talking while knitting became the first step in their long healing process. Jane discovered that women respond to storytelling and to sharing stories. Those became her tools. It was a deeply felt woman-to-woman understanding. It was an understanding of how women relate and the methods women use to process the ugliest side of humanity.  Janeʼs long-time commitment to making the world better was evidenced by her stories  that evening.  She modestly synthesizes her passion and commitment: “Rememberʼ, she said, “Everything starts with caring.”

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– Melinda