Assignment for Oxfam Novib
Eastern Congo is known as the Rape Capital of the World. A country where sexual violence is at the order of the day and among the most heinous in the world. Warring parties, including the Congolese army, use it as a weapon of war. It is strategically used to shame, demoralize and humiliate the enemy. By doing so armed groups assert power and domination over not only the women, but their men as well. And because it often goes unpunished, there is a rise in citizens committing rape.
Upole was raped three years ago but has never told anyone about it. "I did not go to the police. It happened when it was dark and I could not see him so what’s the point? And besides, I have never told my husband. I'm ashamed and afraid that if he finds out, he will chase me away."
Upole’s reaction does not stand on its own. It is typical for women in Congo who are raped to feel ashamed and to not know what to do. Sexual violence is a taboo, highly stigmatized and not something you talk about in a country where women are considered inferior to men. But the consequences are devastating. Survivors are faced with all sorts of medical problems, unwanted pregnancies and genital mutilation. They run the risk of being ostracized by their husbands and their community.
Like many other women in and around the town of Numbi, Upole eventually found support at Oxfam’s local partner organization AVUDS. In recent years the organization has helped over 500 vulnerable women by giving them socio-economic support. The women were taught about their rights and what to do when they are raped. They learned about the importance of seeking immediate medical attention to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies and how to report rape to the police.
Muhosa Aline was raped three years ago and got pregnant. She knew who raped her but did not go the police until a few years later. "At that time I knew it was wrong, but not that it was a crime let alone that I should have gone to the hospital to get treatment. It wasn’t until after AVUD’s training that I knew what to do after you are raped. Eventually I did go to the police, but the rapist had already left this area. I never saw him again."
AVUDS also gave the women 75 dollars and a goat to create a better life for themselves and their family. For Nyira Njishi it meant she no longer had to do the hard labour in the mines to make financial ends meet. "The money enabled me to start a small business and to buy a second goat for breeding. My dream is to buy my own plot of land and build a house on it."
AVUDS also brought the women together in so called mutual solidarity groups. Here women of different tribes pay a contribution to help each other financially when a member gets sick, pregnant or when their business needs and investment. “We bring women from different tribes together precisely because there are a lot of tribal conflicts in this area. We believe it is important they work and live together peacefully and help each other regardless of the tribe they belong to. And for the majority of women it works. Only a few have left because of it," Mathilde Koko Majagi, coordinator of AVUDS, explains.