Monika Hauser – Germany

Linked with Medica mondiale, and with Self-immolation by oppressed Afghan women is rising.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: For bosniac woomen: “I want to break the taboo and tear down the wall of silence. For the dignity of tortured women”, and for afghan women: “There is a conspiracy between men in the families, in the police, in the judicial system and in the mosques, putting women at their mercy. Violence is everywhere, but the women have never experienced anything else and cannot even recognize and name this as violence. They just say: ‘I feel bad’”.

She says also: “Sexual violence is a part of all wars, but throughout the world it is not discussed, its victims forgotten. However it is the most serious kind of attack on the intimate self. Survivors of war and torture need medical, psychological and therapeutic support, to return to their daily lives and rediscover their dignity. And that is why I wanted to do something”.

And she says: “I have seen many hospitals in developing countries, but I have never experienced conditions as in Kabul”.

Monika Hauser.jpg

Monika Hauser – Germany

She works for Medica Mondiale.

Monika Hauser, an Italian citizen and gynecologist, born in 1959 in Switzerland, is a gynecologist and director of the women’s aid association Medica Mondiale in Cologne, Germany. In 1992, in the middle of the Bosnian war, she opened a therapy center in the city of Zenica for women victims of rape and war trauma. Now more than 80 Bosnian women doctors, nurses, therapists, and other professionals work there. She also founded projects for victims of sexual violence in Kosovo, Albania, and Afghanistan. Medica Mondiale supports local women’s organizations in other countries, including Indonesia, Iraq, and Congo.

There are different kinds of charisma: One person is a good public speaker, the other has an impressive bearing, the third has charisma of action. Monika Hauser, the 46 year-old gynecologist who founded the women’s aid organization Medica Mondiale more than 12 years ago, belongs to this type. I’m meeting Monika in a café in the German city of Cologne, headquarters of Medica Mondiale. Her eyes are friendly and alert, her gestures reflect energy. The organization currently has more than 160 employees caring for women traumatized by war. On the nternational level, the organization lobbies for women’s rights.

In 1992, as the war in Bosnia began and the first reports of mass rapes reached foreign countries, Monika Hauser could not stand the safety of Germany. She wanted ‘to do something’ and traveled on her own to the war zone. Rape was being used as a calculated weapon of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Muslim women especially were held in prison camps, tortured, made pregnant and forced to carry the children of their Serb or Croat rapists.

Perhaps Monika’s mixed background contributed to her motivation to act: her mother tongue is German, her passport Italian, she grew up in Switzerland, her practical medical training was in a clinic in German Essen. Even more important was certainly the fact that she is a politically thinking feminist and a doctor full of sympathy for her patients. The degradation of women to ‘raw material for male ynecologits to distinguish themselves’, as she puts it, has always been unacceptable for her. Together with a psychologist, she formed a self-help group in the clinic in Essen, where women who had experienced abortions or stillbirths could talk. The good cooperation there between doctors and psychologists was a basis for her approach to the work.

After a difficult, adventurous trip, Monika Hauser reached Zenica on the last day of 1992. The Bosnian industrial city 30 kilometers behind the war front was overflowing with refugees from areas occupied by the Serbs. Most of the refugees were women, more or less half had been raped. The doctors presented their concept of therapy to city officials and the Islamic community. A woman who has become pregnant from a rape is at high risk for psychological problems and suicidal tendencies, she explained. Shortly thereafter the Imam of Bosnia issued a Fatwa, declaring that not the victim of rape but the rapist was guilty of the deed, and sanctioning abortion during the first four months of a resulting pregnancy.

While her friends collected donations in Germany for Monika’s project, she got her team of women professionals together: three psychologists, one psychiatrist, two anesthetists, four nurses, one teacher, a secretary and an office manager. Later a Mualima joined them as well, a young Islamic theologian who could give spiritual support to the women.

They also found the right house, which just needed renovation.

Then she quickly went back to Germany for money, medicine, surgical instruments, bedding, soap, everything that in a war zone was either not for sale anymore or too expensive. But on the return trip, in a public bus, Monika encountered the war directly for the first time. The Croatian militia (HVO) forced the passengers to get out, and divided them in groups: Croatians and foreigners to the right, Muslims to the left. Monika thought of the selection ramps at Auschwitz.

She protested to the commander, to no avail. She then took the young, completely distraught Muslim girl Amna by the hand, pulling her along to the waiting Croatian bus. One woman she could save. The others were left behind, as if lost.When Monika arrived with Amna in the Croatian port of Split she alerted the International Red Cross, but after a search they could not find ‘anything special’. Later it turned out that the Muslims were brought to camps and some of the women were raped. ‘I still feel guilty about it’, says Monika. That is the injustice that comes with deep involvement: there are situations that ask too much even of the bravest. The doctor would experience that more than once.

In March 1993, Monika Hauser was once again in Zenica, riding a truck with 25 tons of aid supplies. In April she officially opened the women’s therapy center Medica Zenica, and the first women and children moved in.

But that same month brought the beginning of the ‘war inside the war’.

Croatian and Bosnian soldiers, until then allied against the Serb aggressor, now fought each other. Now grenades also exploded in the center of Zenica, causing deaths and injuries. The helpless United Nations troops began to evacuate all foreigners. They told Monika to leave the country. ‘I did not come here to leave when it got hard’, she reacted angrily. The women from Medica Zenica admire her to this day for her action.

Monika stayed. The war too. Over the next months there was no electricity, no running water, food supplies were low. The doctor only left to return with new supplies, once even with a satellite telephone donated by the German Foreign Office. Transport remained dangerous. The satellite telephone, which became the single working communication link from the city of Zenica to the outside, was almost confiscated by militia members. Even more dangerous were the trips that Monika and other Medica staff members made to save women rape victims. She did not think much about the dangers. “Luckily I was pretty naive then”, she laughs today, “that protected me”.

In the summer of 1993, a supervised housing project Medica 2 opened on the outskirts of Zenica. Medica 3 followed soon after in rural Visoko.

This was pioneering work in every respect. Until today there are hardly any organizations involved with women victims of war-related trauma and rape; and thus expertise and literature are rare. The Bosnian women psychologists tried with much intuition to stabilize their traumatized clients in the middle of an ongoing war, a terribly hard job, but somehow it worked out. The atmosphere in the three houses, home to around 150 women and children, was not conflict free, but there was mutual support and much human warmth.

Monika always did more than was humanly possible. In the winter of 1993, just as she was declared Woman of the Year by German television, the first of 11 human rights prizes, she was physically and emotionally exhausted and returned to Germany. Luckily the military situation around Zenica eased in the spring of 1994, and in November 1995 the Dayton Accords ended armed struggle in Bosnia. This was not the end of Medica Zenica’s work, just the opposite. Its staff members built an Infoteque, drove to the villages with a mobile gynecological clinic, and created vocational training possibilities for women. In the meantime Medica Zenica became independent from the central office in Cologne. Although Monika Hauser repeatedly spent weeks or months in Zenica, her focus was now more in Cologne. There she continued to build Medica Mondiale, completed her training as a medical specialist, worked in a ynecological practice and had a son.

In 1999, the conflict in Kosovo escalated and thousands of Kosovo- Albanian women were raped. Once again she could not just look on, and she often traveled in Kosovo and Albania. In Gjakova in southwestern Kosovo, where there had been many violent crimes against the population, they established an interdisciplinary counseling center with an outpatient clinic. A staff of thirty-five women today supports traumatized women and helps to break through the taboo subject of sexual violence.

This is terribly necessary as even Kosovo’s President Rugova denied the rapes. Victims of rape were expelled from their families or even killed, for bringing shame to them. Women are also extremely discriminated against because of the unwritten clan code Kanun. All reasons for Medica Mondiale to create a legal counseling service with several women lawyers and a lobbying organization for women-friendly legislation.

In 2000, Medica Mondiale also built a women’s therapy center in the Albanian capital of Tirana along the same lines. Eight women doctors, nurses and social workers promote health education in poor eighborhoods.

Medica Mondiale has increasingly developed into an international organization. The Taliban Government in Afghanistan fell at the end of 2001, and since the beginning of 2002 a team has been active in the Afghan capital Kabul. Monika Hauser, with her charisma of action, has been to Kabul on several occasions and what she saw there was deeply shocking. Twenty-three years of war and civil war and five years of the Taliban regime had led to the complete disenfranchisement of women.

Whoever lacks human rights also lacks the right to health, and that was reflected in the women’s clinics the women doctors visited. They found dirty ceilings and walls, sheets stiff with dirt, overfilled beds and only iron tablets for medicine. The staff looked every bit as indifferent and traumatized as the patients. Medica Mondiale was able to make some improvements through its project Doctorane Omid (women doctors of hope), in which Afghan women doctors living in exile in Germany return to their homeland for several weeks or months to work.

Another project is the Legal Aid Fund for women prisoners. Around three quarters of all imprisoned women and children are in jail for ‘moral crimes’, because they were supposed to marry an older man and for that reason ran away, because they had the impudence to choose their own boyfriend or husband, or because they fled a violent husband: All crimes that should not be punished under international human rights standards.

And actually also not under Afghan law, because the new Afghan Government under President Hamid Karsai has signed the international women’s rights convention CEDAW. Since the fall of 2003, Medica Mondiale has been training women legal professionals as lawyers especially aware of women’s rights.

In the meantime seven women lawyers in Kabul and four in Herat work with women prisoners and in more than ninety cases have won their clients’ release. Here also Medica Mondiale did pioneering work: before this there were neither women lawyers nor defense counsels who took the trouble to appear personally in front of the court.

The work in Afghanistan, which includes some small and larger projects, continues to be slow and difficult. The woman doctor was often present when Afghan midwives did house calls to pregnant women for Medica Mondiale. Again and again she met unresponsive women in poor health who had been badly marked by the years of the Taliban regime, the bloodiest patriarchy in the world. But just as often they were moved by the solidarity among the women, their warmth and common bond. That too, they say is a form ‘of dignity of the survivors’. (1000PeaceWomen).

Monika Hauser wurde 1959 in der Schweiz geboren und wuchs dort auf. Als Kind Südtiroler Eltern ist sie italienische Staatsbürgerin. Nach dem Schweizer Abitur folgte ein Medizinstudium in Innsbruck, das sie 1984 mit ihrer Promotion abschloss. Nach ihrem Examen an der Universität Bologna und dem darauf folgenden Erhalt der deutschen Approbation nahm sie 1988 eine Tätigkeit als Assistenzärztin in der Frauenklinik Essen an. 1998 beendete sie ihre Ausbildung zur Fachärztin für Gynäkologie und war unter anderem einige Jahre in einer gynäkologischen Praxis in Köln tätig. (full text).

links:

Pain of Afghan suicide women;
The State University of New York;

Women’s Forum;

3rd Rond Table;

Protectionline.

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