DRC-women-fetching-woodWomen & girls cover long distances to fetch firewood, when they are at risk of being attacked and raped.

DR Congo: When Will the Rape of Women and Girls End?

By Mugisho Theophile, Founder, COFAPRI

When Will It Stop?

This question deserves to be asked by any woman.

Sometimes, I wonder how people feel when they hear that a woman or a girl has been raped?

The women of South Kivu province, eastern DRC, have for ages endured many atrocities due to  different wars, and hardships that they daily suffer through their own families.

These women have been victimized and re-victimised, either by society or by their own families.

This is mainly the consequence of a strongly patriarchal society in which man is the only decision maker.

Furthermore, society is also to blame as it supports the use and spread of social and domestic violence since the leaders always fail to sanction the perpetrators of violence in general, and abuse to women and girls – no matter their age, status, religion, etc.

The Violators

The violators are people who are well known by the leaders, and are often also known to the victims.

This gives shame to the whole nation, the families, and the survivors of rape.

It is in this context that very recently on March 31, 2011 – again in South Kivu, that the village of Kikoze was a theatre of rape, of women and girls.

Kikoze, for those who do not know the DRC well, is a small village that is located in the East of the DRC, close to Burundi, in Uvira territory in the high mountains that surround the city of Uvira.

The violators were integrated ex-FRF units of the Force Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (Armed Forces of the DRC - FARDC) who were stationed nearby.

The FRF was a former rebel unit that integrated with the FARDC.

Walking for Help, After the Rape

Many women and girls of Kikoze village were gang-raped, and on April 5, 2011, only nine survivors arrived in Uvira city with the hope of not only of getting assistance, but also reporting the crime they had just survived.

These rape victims were accommodated in the Poste Sanitaire des Victimes Sexuels (PSVS) – the Health Center for Victims of Sexual Abuse, and they were given first-response psychological care.

Also the Arche d’Alliance, a local NGO that supports the victims of sexual abuse in Uvira, DRC, did all their best to get relevant information regarding the incident, with the aim of providing the victims with legal and human rights assistance at that time.

The same PSVS was also ready not only to help the victims  access medical care in the Uvira referral hospital, but as well to help them with financial support from the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

These women and girls did not at all feel lonely as different organizations provided them with resources and assistance  during that time.

The village of Kikoze is far from Uvira city and no road infrastructures exist in the village. Consequently, the victims of this rape were obliged to walk about three days before they could reach the city of Uvira.

After these women and their daughters had received assistance and reported the issue, they had to return back home on foot, just as they came.

For assistance, the above-named organisations gave the women a cloth – here called pagne, or ktenge, and a cooking pan to each.

No Transportation, No Protection

During its weekly briefing,  the United Nations' Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) focused on this incident; they stated that in the DRC, there is still a lack of transportation resources available for its remote villages.

This is one of the major causes that hinder rapid intervention –  and even assistance, as the village people cannot be reached easily.

One may wonder what the situation is in which these raped women returned back to their village?

So far as we know, no protection was given to them at all along the lonely, long way they went on foot until they reached their homes, and particularly –  the people who raped them are still at their place.

Revenge and even death may follow on lives of these unfortunate women.

Indeed, even if these raped women and girls returned home in security, the risk of being violated the second time is obvious since they attempted to seek help outside of their community and shared the details of the incident with human rights monitors.

These women and girls were raped by some of the FARDC recalcitrant units who are based in the area.

An Ever Present Threat

Since the same FARDC units who raped them are presumably still in the surrounding areas with their violators in their ranks, these women are gravely endangering their lives and those of their family members.

We have not forgotten yet that in South Kivu, there is an unfortunate disease of sexual violence, and even the response from the NGO community is  that women are often left vulnerable after seeking assistance from humanitarian organizations.

On this matter, the DRC government still has to do much to protect its population – particularly women and girls, as they are always victims of rapes and other human rights infringement.

They are human beings like anyone, and they deserve and need legal, social, and community protection.

The Shame of the Nation

Considering the context in which South Kivu women are often raped – this  is a shame to the whole nation that claims to apply democracy.

The government of the DRC should be ready to listen to criticisms from here and there regarding the rapes that women and girls have endured now for more than seventeen years.

Failing to curb the waves of violence in society and in the home should be given priority for a better democracy.

What is more shameful is that the same army that is supposed to protect the population is the one that is now raping the women and girls.

Yes, some other people may rape women and girls and accuse the national army, but since the victims have witnessed that the rapists were units of the national army, the truth is held and accordingly, justice should follow.

The DRC government needs to address the extremely violent behaviour of its soldiers.

Alone, the government cannot do anything, but if the people can shun the fear of reporting abuse – and women report and accuse the abuse they undergo in society and in their homes, this would be a very helpful strategy to hinder abuse to women and girls.

A Lack of Will?

The leaders and humanitarian organizations argue that they fail due to lack of resources to surmount the many obstacles, but considering the context in which rapes happen in South Kivu, it is easier to think that their failure to act  is directed toward lack of will to follow through for providing enough – and appropriate care, and protection for the majority of the survivors.

In addition, there is also a lack of creative thinking or recognition of these problems, which defies common sense, and gives the appearance of apathy and unwillingness to help.

Ultimately, people are showing they suffer a lot and do need real assistance.

The nine women and girls who survived the rape of the village of Kikoze demonstrated their courage to speak for their whole community.

This was expressed by their making a dangerous journey to Uvira to seek assistance, denounce the perpetrators, and then return to their village.

I heard that this week the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is supposed to send its team to Kikoze village with the aim of looking into this event of rape.

These women who have  survived and who zealously went to Uvira on foot, have indicated that it is possible that more women and girls were victims of this rape committed by some of the FARDC units in the village of Kikoze.

Never Too Late to Stand Up for Women and Girls

It is never late, if we all can commit with the same aim and motivation to impeding violence on women and girls, the country can still gain fame.

My little share to the issue is what I write here as to raise the awareness regarding these unfortunate women who suffer in their own homes and in the society.

Where, finally will they get peace, if even in their homes they are also raped, beaten, and discriminated against.

We need to think twice on this issue, it is very delicate.

Rape to women and girls will end in the DRC when you and I will totally understand that we were born unto a woman and that we must protect her rights.

Because without her, those who infringe women’s rights would not exist.

You can raise and help your mother, wife, sister, and daughter to enjoy her rights of being female.

COFAPRI is registered in Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Rupublic of Congo.

The organisation operates in rural regions of South Kivu and empowers women through encouraging income-generating activities such as sewing and knitting projects, and the rearing of livestock.

COFAPRI also sponsors the education of children and provides them with school equipment.

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