Combating gender-based violence in the DRC

LWF staff member Charlotte, in Masisi, DRC. Photo: LWF/ S. Muis
LWF staff member Charlotte, in Masisi, DRC. Photo: LWF/ S. Muis

LWF program officer for DRC and Chad, Susan Muis, speaks to women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the path to recovery from rape.

 

“Every week I have 10 cases of sexual and gender based violence here in Bukombo,” Charlotte says. Bukombo is a village in the Masisi district in the east of the country, which has been devastated by fighting between militia and government troops. The village consists of both a large camp for people who have been displaced by that fighting, and the local host community who are too afraid to return home because of armed groups fighting in and near their villages. The LWF office which was based in Nyabiondo also had to be moved to Masisi center for safety reasons.

Some of the displaced people, both women and men, are victims of sexual violence. Some of them are HIV/AIDS positive and have to cope with war trauma.

The stories that are shared are impressive. They are sad but also inspiring as they show the strength of how to cope with the context in which they live.

Economic and psychosocial support

Some of people have an empty look in their eyes but appreciate the fact that LWF, with support of Finn Church Aid, provides individual and group psychotherapy, besides supporting them with a starter kit to start their own business. For 55 USD per person, some people choose a kit to make cake, others will ask for rice which they can sell for a better price in the village, others palm oil and soap. Upon receiving the starter kit, one of the beneficiaries said important it was they choose by themselves, as this helps them move forward and have a more positive outlook for the future.

Some of the women in the group have been abandoned by their husbands and family because of the violence they experienced or the psychological problems resulting from it. They have to take care of many children. Through a combined approach of psychosocial support and economic support it is easier to overcome negative experiences as it supports their mental healing process and improves their socio-economic situation.

When I asked the women how this project is helping them, one of them replied: “It does improve my life because I feel part of a group that has been going through the same experiences and therefore understands me well. Besides this the economic support changed my life, as I am able to cook more than one meal per day for me and my children. Moreover, I am proud to be able to pay the 5USD school fee for each semester for my children.”

Ten rape cases a week

Later on I walk with Charlotte, the LWF staff member responsible for the psychosocial activities in the three project sites, to a small cottage to discuss in more detail the more sensitive issues.

“We provide treatment to women that have been raped. In this village we have 10 cases a week, which mostly are women and girls but sometimes also young boys,” Charlotte says.

Charlotte is working in three sites but can only be at one site as the other two are inaccessible due to clashes between armed groups and the Congolese army.

In total, the psychosocial activities in Bukombo targets 180 people. One hundred of them have experienced sexual violence, 50 are HIV positive and 30 people suffer war trauma. However, demand for services is much higher than these 180 and that is a challenge.

Charlotte is also putting herself at risk but remains a strong believer of her mission. She explains to women how they can reduce the risk of being raped or sexually assaulted by staying away from alcohol and places where alcohol is consumed, by not going alone into the fields and trying to be home before nightfall. Sadly, this kind of “prevention” is the only means of defence they have. Charlotte speaks in schools, churches and makes home visits to stay in touch with the local population.

Working with the judicial system is challenging. Due to the lack of a functional legal system there is still impunity for offenders.

When I ask her how she keeps positive and what drives her, she starts smiling and says: “ I get a lot of appreciation from the communities where I work, which keeps me going in fulfilling my mission.” Charlotte divorced 12 years ago and raised 8 children. She says proudly that her son is studying to become a doctor. He is doing something good with his life by learning to help other people. Charlotte says this is also strong motivation for her to do this work with LWF in the communities in need.

 

Susan Muis is the LWF program officer for DRC and Chad.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.