The use of rape as a tactic of war is nothing new – especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo – but the anger and sadness I feel every time I read yet another story about the horrors these women and girls face every day is something I don’t think I can ever escape.
Take, for example, the rage I left when news surfaced that at least 150 women were gang raped during a raid last month by Rwandan rebels in a community of villages in eastern Congo.
Although the men who entered the village during the day claimed they were only there for food and rest, another group of men arrived after dark to wreak havoc on the village’s women. Most women were raped by two to six men at a time and some even in front of their children and families.
Coincidentally, the rebels left the area on the same day that the village’s chief traveled through the area and soon began reporting the sexual violence. The International Medical Corps who were also documenting the rape cases note that “the numbers keep rising…We had heard first 24 rapes, then 56, then 78, then 96, then 156.”
The numbers and severity of the attacks are devastating and have been for years. “Evil in its basest form,” said Hilary Clinton of the widespread rape in the region when she traveled to the Congo in 2009.
Turning Pain to Power
No-one has been more affected by the atrocities women and girls in the Congo face than famous playwright and activist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. And no-one, no-one, instills in me more hope that an end to sexual violence is possible not only in the Congo, but around the world.
If this is the first you’ve heard of Ensler you will thank me. The passion, love, dedication, and unwavering drive with which she fights for a world free from violence is infectious, admirable, and awe-inspiring. For myself and thousands, if not millions, of other women she is my hero.
After learning of the horrific violence taking place in the Congo “including cannibalism, chopping off body parts, rape with tools and weapons, and sexual assault of minors as young as 10 months and elders as old as 87 years” Ensler was propelled into action.
Through her organization V-Day, a movement to end violence against women and girls around the world, Ensler launched a global campaign in partnership with UNICEF in 2007 to raise awareness of the level of sexual violence women in the Congo face and advocate for real change. The campaign, “Stop Raping our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls of Democratic Republic of Congo,” is helping Congolese women break the silence on the atrocities that have been inflicted on them so they can heal and become part of the movement for change.
The campaign is working to build “The City of Joy,” a special facility in the Congo for survivors of sexual violence to seek support and care as they rebuild their lives and communities. The “City of Joy” will provide both a safe space for women to both physically and emotionally heal from the sexual violence they have experienced and learn valuable skills to help them reach economic independence and become leaders in their communities.
The support and love Ensler’s campaign has given the Congolese women has transformed their lives, turning their pain into power, their loss into gain, their despair into hope. The war against women in the Congo may not be over, but the revolution to reclaim their bodies and lives has never been stronger.
Photo by Steve Evans used under a Creative Commons license.