Wednesday 26th March, WILPF in partnership with Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) and World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), organised a side event to the Human Rights Council (HRC) on preventing sexual violence in the DRC. This crime has also been discussed at a High-Level Dialogue this session, proving that it has become an issue that demands international attention.
At the panel, Julienne Lusenge, Vice-President of WILPF DRC, spoke about sexual violence as one of the consequences of the conflict that persists in the country. The uncontrollable arms flow, both licit and illicit, has resulted in a weapon-heavy society where the military, armed groups and civilians commit human rights violations, notably sexual violence, in impunity. At the moment, there are around 60 national and international armed groups within the country.
Sexual violence does not only affect victims, but it hangs over the head of all Congolese women, preventing them from going about their daily routines. For example, women are less likely to leave their homes and undertake long journeys for fear of being raped and attacked.
This has an influence in so many of their human rights. The limitations to their movement hinders their right to work or their right to political participation. For example, rural women are in a difficult position to access justice because they are physically distant from places where they can report violations. In this way, they can risk being raped on their way to see the judge and on their way back, which will mean they will have no option but not to report, contributing even further to the existing impunity.
Julienne Lusenge demanded during her intervention at the High-Level Panel of the HRC that the whole environment needs to be securitised in order for women to lead a life free from fear. For Lusenge security will not be reached through having more military presence, but rather through bringing the services closer to women, to their villages.
But conflict does not happen in a vacuum; the gender inequalities and patriarchal traditions that exist in all our societies are exacerbated when conflict comes about. This is why sexual violence always comes hand in hand with conflict and is extremely exacerbated by it.
It is thus important to bear two points in mind. One: sexual violence needs to be analysed also through a socio-economic lens that goes beyond the conflict. The social concepts of honour, patriarchal systems and stereotypes contribute to the prevalescence of sexual violence. But also number two: the impunity that has resulted from the armed conflict, the flow of weapons, the poverty and the destruction of the social structures have brought the phenomenon of sexual violence that unfortunately exists in all societies to alarming levels.
Men in DRC are not intrinsically worse than in any other country, “we don’t teach our children to rape” as Julienne Lusenge reminded, all root causes need to be addressed, remembering that gender inequality and patriarchy don’t only exist in DRC, they exist worldwide, and all countries can find themselves in this situation if we don’t start working for gender equality now!
Two Ministers of DRC participated at the panel and discussed the idea of creating a hybrid specialised tribunal for cases of sexual violence, formed by international experts and national authorities to end impunity. We hope this idea will be implemented soon and that women’s groups will be engaged in the process.
But in order to prevent this crime, the circulation of arms needs to be controlled.
Also, sexual violence needs to be acknowledged as the harshest expression of gender inequality. Investing in gender equality, arms control and ending impunity will in the long run create a safer environment for the women of DRC.