There is a topic that is dear to my heart that I have been thinking about writing about for some time. It is a far too silent epidemic that has ravaged the lives of countless women around the globe, but particularly in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is an epidemic of rape and horror, there is no other way to put it. The things I will share here are beyond comprehension. If it isn’t already a subject you are familiar with, you will likely wonder how it is that you are just learning about this now. If you’ve been aware of the struggle for years, as I have, you will wonder how this madness still continues.
The Eastern DR Congo has been at war for the past 12 years. Unlike other global conflicts, the countless deaths have largely gone unmentioned by the media. Everyone knows of the genocide in Rwanda, but far fewer are aware that this conflict spread over the border to reek havoc on DRC.
Congo is rich in minerals, void of a great deal of infrastructure, and rife with conflict.
Those minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold – that go to power our laptops, iPods, and Blackberries, have driven the continued conflict. If ever there was an uproar of concern about conflict diamonds, such precious minerals have been just as devastating in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Within this conflict, rape has been used as a weapon of choice to destroy families, livelihoods, and the society as a whole. While DRC is not unique in seeing sexual violence increase during times of conflict, it has been taken to a new level in DRC.
To be blunt, I’ll spell it out. There have been thousands of women and children raped in DRC. Gang rapes are common place, sometimes lasting for days. Women are raped in public as a spectacle for all to see. They are raped in front of their children and husbands. Men are also forced to rape their mothers and children, leaving them also scarred and battered.
The use of extreme torture is often used as well. This includes using foreign objects such as broken bottles and rifles, sometime even firing them off inside a woman. Most recent reports have come back with incidents where gasoline was poured inside the vagina and lit on fire. The stories coming out of DRC are beyond disturbing.
And yet, they continue. They have done so for more than a decade, with limited support or intervention.
Of course sexually transmitted disease is rampant, including HIV/AIDS. Husbands often refuse to accept their wives back into their households after being sexually abused. Women are left to care for their children without support or access to viable livelihoods. Many cases are severe and leave long term reproductive challenges such as fistula, where in extreme cases women and children may have to live with a colostomy bag for the rest of their lives.
Sexual violence has also been seen to normalize and extend far beyond times of conflict. In Liberia, another country where I have the good fortune to work, this has been evident. There was a piece on the New York Times this week by Nicholas Kristof about how the violence has continued past the civil war and children have been targets, check out the video as well for this shocking case.
It is a sad and debilitating look at humanity. Rape and spousal abuse is an issue throughout the world, but what is happening in the DRC needs our attention now.
It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen over night, but we must work to address this tragedy. The week before last I attended a Senate hearing led by Senator Barbara Boxer that addressed this issue. I believe that there is hope that the Congress will begin to pay attention.
Additionally there are resources such as the Enough project, where you can learn more and see what you can do to help. There is also an organization called Raise Hope for Congo that shows you how to make a different in more ethically sound mineral extraction.
It isn’t an easy subject to digest, let alone address, but it has to be done. Thanks for learning more and creating more awareness about this issue.
To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men. – Abraham Lincoln