While guerrilla warfare in the Congo is oft-reported, the veritable war waged against women in the country is much less known. Problems concerning human rights in the Congo span the gamut from corruption to exploitation to sheer brutal violence. Among the most heinous infractions is the tolerance of systemic rape. Below are nine facts about human rights in the Congo:
- The most recent statistics from the United Nations Department on Sexual Violence in Conflict reports a grotesque 11,769 cases of sexual assault from January 2014 to January 2015 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Armed groups (such as rebel groups, gangs, government authorities and police forces) commit 69% of all reported sexual assaults. This forces women to either die or continue providing for their families while living with sexual assault trauma.
- Government officials and servants perpetrate 31 percent of sexual assaults, illustrating how systemic rape is in the Congo.
- Rape victims are slowly earning reparations in the country, but only in the form of exceptionally inadequate payments. For example, only 30 of the 400 victims of the Songo Mboyo mass rape in 2003 received reparations.
- Although the Congo ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), approximately 48 women are raped every hour.
- The desire to control Congo’s vast natural resources is linked to the systemic rape of women. Rape socially destroys communities and allows neo-colonizers to abduct land from their traditional shepherds.
- The CIA World Fact Book reports a 50% literacy rate among women, further complicating victims’ abilities to report sexual assault.
- HIV among rape victims is presumably high, though no official statistic on how many women contract HIV from sexual assaults exists. The CIA World Fact Book reports 374,100 people in the country live with HIV. However, sampling is never perfect and the true number of people living with HIV is most likely much higher — as is the proportion of people who contract HIV from rape.
- A nationwide survey of 3,436 Congolese women aged 15 to 49 in 2007 found that 22 percent of sexual assaults were issues of domestic violence wherein a family member perpetrated or instigated the sexual assault.
While the statistics paint an exceedingly grim picture, organizations such as Women for Women are working relentlessly to improve human rights in the Congo and improve the living conditions of assault victims and at-risk women. Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who participate in the Women for Women program report higher confidence in their ability to make decisions about their bodies and families, earn a higher living wage and are more likely to report their assaults to an appropriate body of authority.
However, the real issue here is not that women do not know how to handle sexual assault, it is that men–especially those in positions of relative power–systemically carry out sexual assaults. It is paramount that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the U.N. and every other organization and government body working to improve human rights in the Congo, gets one fact straight: women do not need to be taught how to live in fear, men need to be taught that sexual assault is abhorrent and those who choose to commit such unspeakable acts will be held accountable and punished accordingly.
– Spencer Linford