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

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“Poverty wears a woman’s face” as governments fail them

November 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

An woman attacked in the DRC by rebels Pic from World in Witness at blogs.ushmm.org/WorldIsWitness/updates/601/

Violence against women is the single biggest threat to peace, according to a report released today by Women for Women International.

The country director for Nigeria, Ngozi Eze, will launch the report called Gender, Conflict and MDGs officially tonight at Amnesty International’s headquarters.

 MDGs (or Millennium Development Goals) are being missed by a very long way, according to the report, which makes grim reading.

 Research with organisations based in conflict zones with a particular focus on Nigeria, has concluded that:

  • Development and Security agendas are not linked
  • Violence against women is the single greatest impediment to development and peace
  • Economic empowerment is key to women’s recovery from conflict
  • Women continue to be left out of formal peace processes
  • Work on security, conflict prevention and peace-building needs to be informed by local realities and women’s needs.

 Women for Women, which helps women in areas of conflict worldwide to rebuild their lives, concluded that the main obstacle to women’s economic empowerment is the lack of security – both inside and outside the home. Other obstacles are the lack of opportunities to market goods, limited movement outside the home due to cultural attitudes and a lack of social protection when work is not possible.

 To me, the key fact to take away from the report is that women’s participation in the 16 peace processes since 2000 has really been minimal. Particularly, five cases are noted – Somalia (2002), Cote D’Ivoire (2003), Nepal (2006), the Philippines (2007) and the Central African Republic (2008) – where no women participated as signatories, mediators, witnesses or negotiators.  The report sums up: “In spite of their contributions to community reconciliation and peace, women are chronically under-represented in security, justice and public sectors, which all play a key role in peace-building.”

 There is a good list of recommendations to help tackle these problems, and some are being put into practice or helped on their way by this inspirational organisation. But worryingly, most involve money or investment of some kind. This might be what’s needed, but it is also something that is not forthcoming in many warzones.

 Today is the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I wish it was as easy as a one day event. The sobering challenges in this report have not seen progress in the first ten years of the Millennium Goals aiming to eliminate poverty, but let’s hope this important piece of work gets the attention it deserves and helps to bring about some changes.

“Sadly, in times of war a woman’s burdens only get heavier, her vulnerabilities more pronounced. She remains locked in poverty, often losing the protection of home and husband, coping with fear and suffering devastating rights violations and violence, including torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and mutilation. Despite these grim realities, she brings enormous energy, leadership and resilience to protecting families and rebuilding fractured communities. “
–          Kate Nustedt, Executive Director, Women for Women

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