Congo Kinshasa |
Gender - Women | Human rights
Many to blame for war crimes against Congo's women
Passing through rugged hills, vast tracts of unoccupied land and pure water masses with very few human settlements, one arrives eastern Congo's main centre Uvira. Could these hills have been once full of human populations? Were they the spoils of war? The greatest crime against humanity of which we are all guilty of is letting this war drag on in silence and waiting too long after the cease fire to help in reconciliation or reconstruction, local women say.
There are hundreds of women who like Esperance are named after hope but fear that they are losing hope. Women have borne the brunt of the cruel devastation of this war and still live with huge scars.
Mawazo has been raped in full view of her family then her uterus been shot at by the Interahamwe. Malaika has been demonised by the rebels by being asked to sleep with her own father or choose death, then raped by five men and even after begging for mercy from the fifth shot in the uterus and lost her mind. She has been lucky to receive some psycho-social support through the Lutheran Church in Bukavu.
Other women have not been as lucky. Upendo has no husband, no education and no shelter. Since being raped by the rebel groups, she was chased away by her husband who found he had no need for her. She works in Bukavu for an organisation that asks women to carry heavy weights for a fee so as to make ends meet. It is some beginning but from the labour in her voice, she is very unhappy and still carries the weight of her experience.
Like the fabric that these women adorn, everyday is the kind of rape they have been subjected to. There is gang rape, incestuous rape, HIV/AIDS infected rape, reproductive organ destructive rape and death rape. All these women have suffered so much and their lives are a contradiction to the bright clothes, matching bags and colourful scarves they wear.
Moving into Bukavu, an urban town, one finds however educated women and a growing civil society organisation. Some of the women were even competing in the recently held general elections. These educated women have vowed to rebuild their society.
Here, human rights activists like Solange carry themselves with dignity. Groups like the Inheritors of Justice also talk about the conflict and indeed corroborate all the rape stories told by rural women. They are filling an important gap by helping the victims of sexual crimes access help and assisting in bringing known perpetrators of the sexual violence to justice. They live under constant death threats due to this.
Here is a more academic approach to a conflict they declare fi
What they cannot understand is the cruel weapon of war that was used against the Congolese people and why the basic fabric of society was torn apart. They see it as an extermination of the Congolese people. They view neighbouring Rwanda with suspicion.
Along with these activists, the Church in the eastern Congo is now trying to play a pivotal role in bringing people together as well as rebuilding families and offering hope through their teachings. In a country where the basic political unit had been reaped apart through so much gender based violence, it is a story of hope that the church has embraced so many outcasts.
Like all good things however, abuse is beginning to creep into church and rural women complain that some men in their churches have all the leadership positions and control the way funds flow into their rural based projects. They are begging for direct access to the funds. The men ask for control, in the name of the father, the women report.
There is however a resounding cry that is heard right across the eastern part that asks the American government to stop the flow of arms into the nation and allow the Congolese to manage their own affairs and be self reliant.
The women however all agree that enough is enough, ask that their stories be heard and ask that they in Congo Kinshasa be left to till their fertile land, run their projects, sing their songs, worship and just enjoy peace as they reconstruct their society. Their specific plea is for those who were raped and violated to receive trauma and counselling.
In the meantime churches are brimming to the full, atop each hill is a church, women step out in elegance and children are still being born. A sign that this dignified society will go on as women sing with gladness as they find therapy, hoping that the international community shall here their voices.
By Judy Amunga Ndibo
Ms Ndibo is a Kenyan lawyer, journalist and a conflict resolution practitioner. She visited Uvira as part of a team from the US-based Christian Peace Makers.
Photos by Unjin Lee
Ms Lee is currently pursuing a MA/Ph.D in Womens' Studies
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