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On the Long Road: Burundi
By Alexandra Douglas and Dr. Alexia Nibona

Introduction

War and Health

Health and Peace

A Community Peace and Health Model

FWA’s Philosophy

On the Long Road: DRC
By Alexandra Douglas and Zawadi Nikuze

Summary

The Story You Need to Hear

Learning From Within

The Worst Place to Be a Woman

Conclusion

The Worst Place to Be a Woman: Rape in the DRC

In the course of the conflict in the DRC, the country has become known as “the worst place to be a woman.” Since 1998 when the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries invaded eastern Congo, reports of sexual violence have been widespread and even systematic; there are tens of thousands of known rape cases and it is believed that most actual rapes are not reported. Human rights groups report that rape has been deliberately used on all sides “to terrorize citizens, to exert control over them, or to punish them for perceived collaboration with the enemy,” (Human Rights Watch, “Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone,” July 2009), whoever the “enemy” to one particular militia or military group may be. Moreover, reports of rape have continued to rise during the peace process.

Over eighty-percent of reported rapes are attributed to soldiers (men in uniforms), even though defining who is a soldier amidst the many militias and national armies operating in the DRC is difficult. Nonetheless, it is well documented that the Congolese military (FARDC), which is meant to provide citizen protection and is backed by the United Nations, is one of the main perpetrators of systemic rape.

The physical, psychological, and emotional trauma of sexual violence and rape is overwhelming. Women, especially young girls (the UN Population Fund estimates that 65% of rapes in the DRC are against adolescent girls), frequently suffer deadly or chronic injuries due to rape. Risk of HIV and other STI transmission is also significantly greater if the rape was carried out by a soldier.

However, women and girls are not only traumatized by the act of sexual violence; they also face the negative attitudes and stigmatization of their families and communities. Families often kick young girls out of the house after they have been raped. Husbands will divorce their wives and engagements will be broken off. Women are then required to care for themselves and their children alone, which frequently makes them vulnerable to even further abuse.

In 2009, Rebecca, a former HROC participant, approached Coordinator Zawadi Nikuze in the Mugunga IDP camp and requested a woman-led HROC workshop for women who are survivors of sexual violence. Zawadi, while knowing about the extensive use of sexual violence in the Kivu provinces, did not know that Rebecca had been raped as it had not come out in her past participation in the Basic HROC training. She realized that many women hid their experiences of sexual violence (in general and within the prior HROC workshops) because of stigma and because of re-traumatization through contact with men. She therefore developed a program through which HROC could support women survivors of sexual violence.

Late last year (2009), the Legacy Fund of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting gave HROC-North Kivu a grant to provide a series of HROC workshops to women who are rape survivors in North Kivu. By the time of the field work for this report, three workshops had taken place.

As you can see through Rebecca’s testimony, participating in a women-led, women-only HROC workshop was the necessary condition to enable many women to talk about their experiences of sexual violence. It was also the first time many of these women realized that they were not alone in their experiences.

Although some medical care is available to women who have experienced sexual violence, there are few resources available to women to help them manage the psychological and emotional trauma caused by the experience of rape and the ensuing social stigmatization. Moreover, after the IDP camps closed last fall, these women often find it is impossible to return to their home communities and even harder to access the few resources made available to them.

The HROC program for rape survivors is new. Initial feedback shows that the experience-led approach of HROC has a transformative power in the lives of these women when steps are taken to create a safe-space. AGLI will conduct a full evaluation of the rape survivors program this fall when the program is completed, so look forward to further information!

Next article: Conclusion