First Lady of Democratic Republic of Congo Olive Lembe Kabila led 1,700 women in a march against rape on Sunday. Organized by World March of Women along with local women’s groups, the aim was to not only bring international attention to the mass rapes in the nation but also to remove the stigma attached to rape survivors. Besides activists, some rape survivors left the hospital to participate, carrying banners with slogans such as “No to Sexual Terrorism.”
The march concludes the 3rd International Action of the World March of Women, a week-long forum that brought over 1,000 women from all over the world to discuss women’s development, peace and violence against women. The forum was created to strengthen women’s participation in social dialogue as a leading force in conflict prevention and resolution.
Deemed the rape capital of the world, DR Congo had over 17,500 violent sexual assaults in 2009, and 7,685 attacks between January and June of this year. Rape is used as a weapon of war, with the perpetrators being both government troops and rebel soldiers. Although a U.N. document shows the epidemic has been a problem for at least 15 years, rape survivors are only now starting to testify before a high-level U.N. panel.
General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Sharan Burrow notes that the rape epidemic requires a multi-pronged approach. “The only way to achieve [peace] is to tackle every aspect of the conflict, including the illegal exploitation of natural resources, the many shortfalls in terms of governance, the endemic poverty and the lack of decent work opportunities for men and women. Social dialogue is a key factor in securing peace and bringing an end to the intolerable acts of violence committed against women.”