Violence in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has grown worse in the last year—a consequence of the UN-backed Congolese military operation against a militia group known as the FDLR. And, horribly, the incidence of rape has climbed with it. Since the operation began 11 months ago, about 7,000 women and girls have been raped. All sides are to blame.
I visited the region in spring of 2008 and it was hard not to be overwhelmed by all that we heard—the stories told by women who had suffered unspeakably at the hands of armed men, the currents of fear in remote villages where fathers worried for their daughters, the blunt assessment that rape as a weapon of war had worked in deeply corrosive ways and was permeating community life, too.
So it was with some relief that I read a recent op-ed by US Rep. Bill Delahunt about his plan to introduce into the House the International Violence Against Women Act. Originally proposed by then-US Senator Joe Biden and his colleague, Sen. Richard Lugar, the act has been gathering dust this past year—as the number of rape cases spiked in Congo. Delahunt has said the act “will make ending violence against women a high priority and an integral component of American foreign policy.” It will achieve some of that through the funding of survivor services and the training of health workers and police to better address violence.
During congressional hearings earlier this year, Delahunt said lawmakers learned that it’s in the most unstable countries that violence against women goes unchecked. Congo certainly fits that profile. Years of conflict, government neglect, and prolonged economic crises have taken a severe toll on the Congolese, but it is the survivors of rape—many of whom are shunned by their families and consigned to lives of loneliness—who have suffered most.
Learn about what women are doing to overcome the brutality. Watch this Oxfam video shot in eastern Congo in 2008.