Activism Abroad

July 28, 2009

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend Campus Progress’ national conference in Washington, D.C. Though headlined by prominent speakers such as Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the Daily Show‘s John Oliver, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the portion of the conference that had the most impact on me was a discussion led by the Enough Project’s John Prendergast about conflict minerals.

Enough works to end genocide and crimes against humanity in African countries, including Congo, where civil war has taken the lives of more than 5.4 million people — the highest death toll for any conflict since World War II. At the conference, Prendergast spoke about the sexual violence that has plagued Congo during their civil war. Extreme forms of sexual violence include forcing sons at gunpoint to rape their mothers, rubbing salt in women’s eyes so they can’t identify their attackers, and rampant instances of fistula.

According to Prendergast, while the use of sexual violence is not uncommon in times of war, it is occurring in Congo as a way for militants to exert more territorial control over the country’s mineral-filled regions. A dependence on those minerals by Americans and people in other developed nations is helping fuel this dehumanizing violence.

Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist in Bukavu in Eastern Congo, told Bob Herbert of the New York Times that public rapes are used to destroy the sense of safety and community in a village and, therefore, the village itself.

Prendergast explained that, once these villages are destroyed, militants gain control of the land and thus the minerals contained within them. Gold and the “three Ts” — tin, tantalum, and tungsten — are particularly profitable. These minerals are essential to the functioning of various electronics, including laptops, mp3 players, digital cameras, cell phones, and video games. Given their ubiquitous presence in and value to modern technology, these “conflict minerals” have been linked to brands such as Apple, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, and Nintendo.

The lone silver lining to Prendergast’s speech was the fact that, despite our dirty hands as users of these tainted technologies, grassroots pressure on these companies can decrease or eradicate the use of conflict minerals. An initiative to pressure these companies has begun using, ironically, cell phones. Learn how to clear you texting conscience and join this campaign to pledge to help end the use of conflict minerals.

While there is certainly a desperate need for the type of activism AAUW does to help women in the United States, it is by no means exclusive of also supporting international efforts to enhance equity and justice. Now it’s time to help the victims of some of the most horrific violence in the world.

This post was written by Tom Rosen, a summer fellow for AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund.

AAUWguest By:   |   July 28, 2009

1 Comment

  1. Mandy says:


    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I agree with you about AAUW’s activism not being exclusive of supporting international efforts. In fact, the AAUW International Fellowships are awarded to women abroad to study outside of their home countries, primarily in the U.S., and upon graduation, return home to advocate for the rights of women and girls.

    One great example of an amazing AAUW International Fellow alumna is Florence Adong who interned with the International Criminal Court, wrote a thesis on rape as a weapon of war, earned her degree in law, and then returned home to work for the rights of refugees with the UNHCR. To read more about her story, visit

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