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The Root Causes of Sexual Violence in the DRC

23 July 2013

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
Side event DRC
Side event on DRC. Photo by Joanna DuFour.

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.

Annie Matundu Mbambi, President of WILPF DRC
Annie Matundu Mbambi, President of WILPF DRC. Photo by Joanna DuFour

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.


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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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