DRC: The ‘rape capital’ of the world

April 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. Rape is a tool of war, strategic rape is used to render whole communities crippled, physically and mentally. This blog has looked at the situation before for women caught in the warzone – in a country where 40 women are raped every day, the situation has reached the level of a global catastrophe. In a new campaign called Congo Now!, a group of 16 UK_based NGOs, charities and campaigning groups have joined together to raise awareness of the continuing violence and civilian suffering in the DRC. Members include Save The Children, CAFOD, Women for Women International, Global Witness and Christian Aid. In a guest post,  Robert Davidson from Congo Now writes for the Gilded Cage Blog on the situation for women and what can be done to make a difference to one of the worst conflicts of our lifetimes.

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s most forgotten conflicts. An estimated 5.4m have lost their lives in the last 15 years, most through preventable disease and malnutrition unleashed by the conflict.

That is the equivalent of the population of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff and Coventry put together. Another 1.7m have been forced from their homes.

Rape has been used as tool of war in this conflict, with children as young as 3 months and women as old as 80 have been attacked; making the DRC the ‘rape capital of the world’, according to Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

Rape is used by rebels and military to keep the population under control, to force people out of their homes, to coerce people into labour and to appease troops that spend much of their lives hunted in the jungle. As Maurizio Giuliano, at the UN puts it: “This is not about opportunistic rape; rather, it is a strategy.”

Women survivors are often ostracised for having been raped; their husband, their family and their community may shun them. All the while the women are stigmatised, there is often complete impunity for the rapists, even if they are known.

The UK Government is one of the largest financial contributors to the DRC government. The UK will spend an average of £198m per year in DRC until 2015. But how this money will be spent is not yet decided.

Last year, 14,591 new cases of sexual violence were reported in DRC, yet there is still only one main rape crisis centre where women can go for support.  Often women have to walk for days in order to receive post rape health care.  The majority of these rapes go completely unprosecuted, perpetuating the idea that rape can be used as a weapon of war.

This situation is unacceptable. Now is the time to act.

Congo Now calls for you to write to International Violence Against Women champion, Lynne Featherstone MP to get the UK government to live up to its commitment: the UK Department for International Development have stated that “improving the lives of girls and women will be a major priority” in the DRC.  So help us hold the government to account on this.

 Now is the time when Lynne Featherstone will be deciding which countries to focus on in her role.  We want to make sure that DRC is at the top of this list.

 Click here to sign the petition and add your voice.

Congo NOW! is a coalition of 16 of the UK’s most active NGOs and UK-based Congolese campaigning organisations.  Our aim is to raise awareness of the ongoing conflict in DRC, the continuing violence and civilian suffering as well as to raise broader awareness of the situation in the country as a whole: both the good and the bad.

We believe, NOW is the time for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo to be genuinely free: free from violence and free from poverty.  You can contribute to this change; act now!

For more information go to www.congonow.org, www.facebook.com/congonow  or www.twitter.com/Congo_Now

“This is not opportunistic rape; it is a strategy”

March 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

AFP: Women in the DRC

 Another report published here that will receive far less attention than it should. Médecins sans Frontières has reported that the levels of mass rapes in Fizi, South Kivu have increased in the seemingly endless bitter conflict in the DRC.

Although cases of rape in the DRC are certainly not rare – used as a weapon of war, rape is a permanent feature in the country’s war, and in this area of South Kiva more than 8,000 rapes were recorded for the year 2010  – this report highlights an emerging trend of large-scale attacks in one targeted location. More than 200 people have been treated for this type of rape since January – ie in the last two months – just in this specific area of the country.

According to MSF, the armed men attack specific villages; take the villagers hostage, tie them up, steal their belongings, beat them, and systematically rape them – women, children, men, the whole village. The idea of rape, already a weapon of war, becomes a military strategy that leaves its victims devastated.

“Mass rapes and violent attacks are happening with alarming regularity in this particular part of the Fizi region,” says Annemarie Loof, MSF head of mission in South Kivu, in a statement to IRIN. “We are extremely concerned about the fate of civilians who are being targeted amid the increasing violence and insecurity in this part of eastern DRC.”

Not just extremely concerning – extremely baffling to try and imagine what does through a human being’s head when they draw up this horrific plan of attack. As this heartbreaking story highlights: this war is nothing to do with women. And yet they must bear the brunt of its pain.

While rape is used in the DRC to shame women, exclude them from their communities and cause a great deal of physical and psychological pain, in these mass attack cases it targets their families and brings an entire community to its knees

 As Maurizio Giuliano, at the UN puts it: “This is not about opportunistic rape; rather, it is a strategy.”

 To learn more about the situation in DRC, I would recommend this site . The campaign, called “Stop raping our greatest resource”, is inevitably grim reading. In South Kivu, an estimated 40 women are raped every single day: nearly 50% of the survivors of sexual attacks are children. 

But, this is an amazing site, full of information, interviews, facts – give it a few minutes of your time and think about donating to help target the biggest humanitarian crisis going on in the world today.

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