The widespread sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is well known. But most often the phenomenon is oversimplified by linking it solely to the armed conflict and arguing it is limited to the regions in conflict. The appalling truth is that this scourge is today widespread in the whole territory.
A different vision on women in the DRC
Last week, we organised a side-event called A different vision on women in the DRC. You may ask why we decided to name the event a different vision on women in the DRC? This was to challenge this oversimplification. Why? Because we don’t believe that the subject can be reduced to a sole cause. Sexual violence is a complex topic caused by many factors.
Panelists talked about the root causes of sexual violence in the DRC
Our panelists came from the DRC and using their different life experience, they touched upon a wide variety of factors that are at the root causes of this violence. From militarization, small arms flow and ethnicity, to age and economic dependence, all factors addressed need to be taken into account when preventing and responding to sexual violence.
Panelist Annie Matundu Mbambi, president of WILPF DRC, denounced the role of militarization and arms in spreading of sexual violence in the DRC. One striking example is that according to survivors perpetrators always have an arm (small arm or light weapon) when assaulting their victims.
Panelist Faida Chiroy, gender expert at the Ligue Nationale des Associations Autochtones Pygmés de Congo (Linapyco)), conveyed a message touching on the discrimination against indigenous pygmy people. Imelde Sabushimike from Burundi spoke on behalf of Faida Chiroy. She said that indigenous pygmy women have to face multiple discriminations. According to Faida Chiroy, pygmy people living in the forest are deprived from their land, which puts them in a very vulnerable situation and contributes to their exposure to sexual violence, in this context especially by armed groups. She called for a better representation of indigenous pygmy women in the decision process as part of the solution to prevent sexual violence imposed on pygmy women.
22 years old panelist Priscillia Magamba, a young women working for the Young Women Christian Association in DRC, reminded the role that young women can have in the peace process. Her personal story is an example for young women and girls in the DRC. She participates in a programme that aims to prevent sexual violence. The programme promotes awareness and provides assistance to survivors. It also encourages victims to initiate legal proceedings against perpetrators to end impunity. Survivors are subject to extreme vulnerability as they are marginalized by the society; as a result, young women face a high illiteracy rate. She promoted the development of young women leadership in the DRC.
But of course, like anywhere else in the world, gender inequality and economic dependency plays a definite role in the incidence of sexual violence. Panelist Delphine Brun, expert for the Gender Standby Capacity Project (GenCap), used a diagram that spoke for itself and highlighted that inequality starts in the inequitable sharing of workload between men and women, women working almost twice as many hours a day as men. In many cases, the tasks taken up by women such as going to the forest to get wood puts them at great risk of rape, but gender inequality in the household means that the share of task is not revisited regardless of this danger. She argued that gender inequality in all areas promotes a context propitious to sexual violence.
Outcome of the panel
The whole panel could be summarized in a call for full participation of Congolese women from all backgrounds in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in the DRC.
During their stay, our panelists also provided their expertise to Committee on the Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW Committee) reviewing DRC during its session. Sign up to our news and alerts to be informed as soon as we have the results from the review!
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on women in the DRC and the role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding! Feel free to comment in the field below.