Women’s own responses
Because of the lack of trees inside the camp firewood collection had to take place outside the relative safety of the camp boundaries. Many daytime attacks on women took place as they were collecting wood. To reduce the risk of rape and attack women in the refugee camps organised themselves into groups, some members armed with machetes (pangas) for firewood collection, rather than go alone or in twos and threes. This strategy could succeed when the women encountered small groups of unarmed men but it did not deter attackers who carried guns. Women interviewed said that they chose not to allow male relations to accompany them during the dangerous task of collecting wood because they knew that attackers would kill any man they encountered from a warring clan whereas they would ‘only’ rape a woman.
Some women tried to thwart attackers by changing where they stayed at night. Women had noticed that bandits often attacked tent compounds that had cooking areas attached because it was obvious that women lived there. Most single men living in the camps do not cook and so do not build cooking areas. So women moved out of their compounds at night to sleep in tents for single men. At first women reported that many of them had escaped attacks. Unfortunately, as the bandits got the news of what they were doing they began searching the tents of single men.
In 1993, prior to the UNHCR interventions, as the incidence of rape attacks worsened women in different camps decided to take action to prevent their virgin teenage and young daughters being raped. They began sending their daughters to sleep at night at places they identified to be safe havens. These included the mosques and hospitals inside the camps which are near to the police stations and are heavily fenced and guarded. As the number of minors and teenagers sleeping in these areas increased, the authorities intervened and stopped them. In the case of one hospital, the reason given for ejecting the girls from the hospital grounds was that their being there could draw bandits and an attack that might injure hospital inpatients. The only alternative solution the Dagahaley camp authorities could find was for the girls to be allowed to sleep inside the police compound. However, the mothers and older women refused to accept this, expressing their fear of their daughters being attacked by the police themselves.