Women Living in Fear in DR Congo

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is often described as ‘the most
dangerous place in the world to be a woman’. More than 8,000 women
were raped during the fighting of 2009, and over the last fifteen years
it is estimated that over 200,000 women were victims of often violent
sexual assault.

In a country torn apart by war, rape is used as a cheap and effective
weapon by both rebel groups such as the FDLR and LRA to control
the civilian population. The Congolese army is no better. Discipline
within the army is almost non-existent, and with very low wages the
soldiers have to resort to ‘living off the land’ like the rebel fighters,
stealing whatever they choose. Rape provides the means to keep civilians
compliant and scared, prevents them from joining rival groups, and
allows gangs to control the mineral trade around the Congo.

A report by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative last April showed
a shocking 60% of rape victims in South Kivu, a province in Eastern
Congo, were gang raped by armed men. Even more worryingly, an
increasing number of attacks are being carried out by civilians. Some
women are kidnapped by gangs and forced to become ‘bush-wives’, i.e.
sex slaves. Held captive for sometimes months on end, these women
are often forced to give birth to their illegitimate children alone with
no medical support, and many die before they are abandoned by their
captives.

The stigma of rape is strong in the Congo, and its victims are often
abandoned by their husbands and families, who find the shame too
hard to deal with. Left not only psychologically traumatised and alone,
the women are often physically injured from the attack and many
left with STIs such as syphilis and HIV, or pregnant with unwanted
children. However, it is not only women affected by rape. Young girls are
commonly targeted, and there have been a growing number of men and
boys reporting attacks.

SUSU’s Amnesty International is focusing on women’s rights this
semester, with the aim to help rape victims in the Congo one of the
focuses. Charities such as WarChild and Women for Women are
two charities which provide support for those affected by rape. They
provide health care and counselling for those injured and traumatised.

Rebuilding these women’s lives, and therefore helping their whole
families, is a top priority, and these charities work to train these women
in a number of different jobs, or help them start their own businesses.

Keep an eye out for fundraising and awareness events hosted by
Amnesty in partnership with FemSoc over this semester. Hopefully
together we can raise awareness of this issue and help some women
recover from this horrific experience.

Amnesty International meet weekly at 1 PM in the clubs and societies room above the stags head. E-mail amnestyi@soton.ac.uk to get involved.

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