The DRC’s up-hill battle to fight gender-based violence

Posted on | juni 15, 2011 | No Comments

The continued use of sexual violence to terrorize women and girls in many countries across the globe, has continued despite many efforts in recent years to bring light to these horrendous gender-based crimes. Therefore women and girls remain trapped living in daily fear, as the numbers of rape victims continuously rises, becoming a common feature of daily life in many countries, especially those embattled in armed conflict.  The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that violence against females is the cause of more death or disability, for girls and women aged 15 to 44, than that of cancer, malaria, traffic injuries and general warfare combined.

One country who has been fighting an up-hill battle against sexual and gender-based violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war, is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Previously the UN has described the Congo as “the rape capital of the world”, after more than 8000 women were reported as raped during the countries conflict in 2009 alone and at least 200,000 cases since 1996.  A survey of 3,436 women in 2006 and 2007, a study published in May by the American Journal of Public Health found that 1.8 million women in DRC had been raped during their lifetime. For the survey period, the rate was 48 rapes every hour.

“Not only is sexual violence more generalized than previously thought, but our findings suggest that future policies and programmes should focus on abuse within families and eliminate the acceptance of and impunity surrounding sexual violence nationwide while also maintaining and enhancing efforts to stop militias from perpetrating rape,” the authors concluded.

In 2006 the country’s laws against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), were revised.  Despite the laws gender-based violence, especially rape, continues to go unpunished due to a lack of enforcement of the rule of law and any key changes of culture. The increase in sexual violence is directly linked to the increase in rebel activity, and is only compounded by both national and international impunity of the crime. While the government has passed stronger laws to punish offenders of such crimes, the effect of these laws has been minimal, as women and girls continue to be raped and assaulted in mass and impunity continues to reign for the perpetrators.  The laws, ignored and misinterpreted, have left escalating numbers of sexual violence survivors unprotected, and perpetrators free to violate again.  The amended passage to the laws in 2006 was placed with the intent to protect civilians and deter would-be perpetrators, however the inaction by judges to enforce the laws in combination with a overall lack of will within the DRC’s legal system are being blamed for the law’s irrelevance in daily life.

“The law is really not recognized among the population and even among magistrates,” explained Marie Josée Mijinga, president of the Association of Women Magistrates. “It is not adapted to the realities of Congolese life.

“In Bantu culture, a woman who has been raped is dirty, and she is excluded from the community,” Mijinga told IRIN. Thus, a woman who has been raped must weigh her desire for justice against the social consequences. Incest survivors are sometimes silenced by other female relatives, afraid of losing the income that the male offender brings the family. “The mother silences the whole thing because she thinks, ‘It’s he who ensures that I eat’,” explained Mijinga. “Between sacrificing a little girl or the whole family, her choice is quickly made.” (IRINNews)

When the penal code was amended in 2006, it was intended to “prevent and severely reprimand infractions relating to sexual violence and to ensure systematic support for the victims of these crimes”, according to the laws text.  Thus the code was to included previously ignored sexual violations addressed in international humanitarian law, including rape warfare, and increase sentencing for perpetrators.  However the laws failure is painfully clear as, as most survivors continue to have little to no faith in the country’s judicial system.  Thus many do not seek to press charges via the current legal frame, but choose to deal with such abuse and attacks via family or community means, most often to avoid the shame and stigma of any public inquiry.  This sadly leaves many survivors forced into marriage with their attackers, as they are most often seen as ‘dirty’ now that they are no longer virgins, and therefore seek to  avoid the shame of being seen as ‘dishonorable”.

The international community has long-sense been aware of the increase level of gender-based violence and use of rape as a weapon during conflict, however the battle to end such practices continues in the face of any UN announcement or condemnation.  It is clear that the international community must seek to press the government of the DRC harder to enforce such laws and seek to provide more awareness and training, including that of the lower community levels, to see that rule of law is enforced and impunity for such crimes is ended once and for all.

AUTHOR: Cassandra Clifford
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E-MAIL: Cassandra [at]


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