Of all the atrocities that we, the rich and free, are potentially oblivious to, South Kivu must not be one of them. South Kivu is located in the natural resources-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a war-torn area in which a shocking type of violence is systematically destroying women. According to a 2010 Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) and Oxfam report;
“Women in South Kivu are not safe anywhere; they are attacked not only while they farm their fields or collect firewood in the forest but also in the supposed safety of their own homes, often while sleeping at night with their families”.
These disturbing words describe a new “norm” that these women face daily. The report also describes the viciousness of the sexual violence in the affected regions: genital mutilation, instrumentation with foreign objects, forced rape between victims, and gang rape, often in the presence of family members. Reports also indicate that women are targeted regardless of age or pregnancy .
The impacts are unimaginably devastating. Victims are psychologically traumatized, severely injured physically, and exposed to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. But perhaps worst of all, victims are ostracized by their communities as rape is highly stigmatized in South Kivu. In my analysis, the most destructive aspect of this situation is the venerable blanket of silence, which suggests an acceptance of these atrocities by the international community and that we are clearly not reacting to this situation with the urgency required.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “the killing, inflicting of serious bodily or mental harm, deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, or imposing measures intended to prevent births in a group of people”. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to describe the violence against women in the Congo as a type of gender-specific genocide; or “gendercide”. The convention declares these acts are punishable, and highlights every state’s responsibility to ensure eradication of genocide – every state! Interestingly, the CPPCG was first enforced after the Rwandan genocide, during which 20% of the country’s total population met death over just a 3 month period. The Rwandan genocide is often described as having occurred “while the world slept.”
Today, almost two decades later, efforts aimed at preventing similar atrocities seem to fall short when it comes to protecting women in South Kivu. Don’t sleep through this – now is the time to act.
To find out more
1.) Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam International, 2010. “Now, The World is Without Me”: An Investigation of Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. http://www.oxfam.org.uk/resources/policy/conflict_disasters/downloads/rr_sexual_violence_drc_150410.pdf
2.) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Paris, 9 December 1948.
To support organizations that are providing relief
World Vision: http://www.worldvision.ca/Pages/welcome.aspx
Women for Women International: http://www.womenforwomen.org/