A crowded room consisting of Florida Atlantic University students and faculty members gathered in the Live Oak Pavillion on Wednesday to hear Zainab Hawab Bangura speak on the sensitive issue of sexual violence in areas of conflict around the world.
Bangura was appointed as Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2012 following a lifetime of activism in her home country of Sierra Leone, according to the U.N.’s website.
Being her first speech in 2016, Bangura spoke about raising awareness and increasing the number of influential female leaders in countries ravaged by sexual violence.
“Young girls cannot be what they don’t see,” Bangura said.
Secretary and ‘Her’storian of FAU’s Feminist Graduate Student Association, Selena Quiros found the keynote speaker effective at communicating a global message to a local audience.
“To see someone there, politically representing these issues was really eye opening,” Quiros said. “It’s just something that’s thrown at you because in this country we don’t really hear about global issues too much.”
FAU’s Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs, Gary Perry, explained that the University should feel privileged to have such a noteworthy person speaking on campus.
“This is just an incredible woman doing an incredible job,” Perry said. “It’s remarkable to me that even with the authority and power, if you will, of the United Nations that things don’t get done… if the member nations are not prepared to step up to the plate.”
Following the address, Perry had a chance to speak privately with the U.N. representative.
“I just said to her that it must be very frustrating to know all of this and realize you’re the United Nations and still, you can’t really… bring a resolution to all of these problems,” he said.
Also in attendance at the event was Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, who fielded a question about the city’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
“We intend to have focus groups, continue the education and the awareness and make certain that our law enforcement are aware and are tuned into seeing the signs,” Haynie said. “I understand that a lot of our transit areas are putting up posters, giving awareness of human trafficking.”
Perry conceded that the best course of action, given the state of unsupportive governments in the cause, is to raise awareness.
“You heard the Mayor Susan Haynie,” he said. “Even here in Boca Raton, one of the most affluent parts of the country, trafficking goes on and who’s aware of it?”
Providing gruesome anecdotes of inhumanity against women in areas under the control of terrorist groups, Bangura admits the U.N. cannot keep track of all of the sexual assault taking place.
“The fact is we simply do not know the full extent of these crimes. It is estimated that 10 or 20 more go unreported,” Bangura said. “Many crimes go unpunished, completely hidden.”
Bima Nalerio, a Graduate student seeking her Master’s degree in Social Justice at FAU, is trained to help sex trafficking survivors.
“To see that we have these kinds of leaders that have led the path for human’s rights and women’s rights, it really gives me hope for the future,” Nalerio said. “Until we put human rights above profit margins, human rights will always be violated.”
Nalerio drew a mixed reaction of appall and laughter from the mostly female audience after stating her question to Bangura, asking why men are so destructive.
“I felt like ‘when else am I going to have the opportunity to ask this kind of question to someone with this much experience?’”
Bangura credited prayer and her spirituality in helping her remain strong against the atrocities she faces every day.
“I can’t answer your question,” Bangura said. “What I have learned is that it is man’s inhumanity against man.”