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NEW V-MOMENT: Voices of Grassroots Congolese Women on the Crisis in the DRC

V-Day’s latest V-Moment comes to us from eight Congelese who are working every day to end violence against women and girls in the DRC. We are honored to have Jeanine Gabrielle Ngungu, Justine Masika Bihamb, Kongosi Onia Mussanzi, Chantal Moboni, Drocele Mugomoka, Nounou Booto Meeti, Lydia Masimango and Kenneth Enim Ampi share their words of strength, determination and faith with us.

Jeanine Gabrielle Ngungu: The Screams of Congolese Women

Jeanine Gabrielle Ngungu is a Congolese women's rights who is the Secretary General of Common Cause Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and member of the Congolese women’s Caucus. She advocates for women’s representation and participation in decision-making institutions and peace building in the DRC. She also acts as the focal point and coordinator for the ‘We Can’ Oxfam Novib campaign, which seeks to mobilize men and women to end violence against women. Jeanine is also an active member of the WILPF DRC group addressing violence against women.

The planned vulnerability of Congolese women has reached disturbing proportions so much so that all the indicators of human development are a cause for alarm.

According the United Nations Population Fund and a study on demography and health (EDS 2007), seven out of ten women are affected by domestic violence. It is reported that during the first half of the year 2008, 6,693 women were raped in north and south Kivu in the DRC.

The Congolese woman screams and denounces the dehumanization of her being.
Her screams can be heard from her the cradle when she is rejected because she was born a female. It resounds in her young age when she is removed from school to be precociously married by force. Her scream can be heard from the field where she farms the land with a rudimentary tool and when she carries the harvest like an animal on duty without any right to enjoy the fruit of her labor. Silent and powerless within her family and community, facing inequalities and multiple discriminations inflicted by those supposed to provide her with assistance and protection.

As if that was not enough, for the past fifteen years, she is roaming, forced to displacement, deprived, humiliated, and traumatized, without any assurance for a peaceful and better tomorrow.

Indeed, the conflicts that are occurring in the great Lakes Regions of Africa have exacerbated the suffering and the pain of the Congolese woman. There is thus a trivialization of horrible acts that are incomprehensible to the human conscience. Not only adult women are victims but well more dramatic again, elderly women, young girls and very small children are also been raped, abused and excluded.

In this long journey of hardships and of multiple pains, the Congolese woman screams and denounces ambivalent solidarity from the international community.
The contemplation and the counting of women victims of rapes as well as of other sexual abuses, the mobilization for the management in taking care of the consequences such as the fistula (reconstructive surgery), unwanted pregnancies, orphans, are these enough to heal and change their situation of the survivor? Has – one tried to understand what are the real causes of this suffering that is been downplayed in the parlors and capitals here and elsewhere? The pillages of the resources in the Congo and the illicit trade of weapons are the principal causes and the U.N Security Council Resolution 1756 is clear on this subject as it establishes the link between the war, the illicit trade of the weapons and the exploitation of natural resources. Congolese women are paying the consequences.

Justine Masika Bihamba: The Nuclear Family, Base Of Our Society, No Longer Exists

Justine Masika Bihamba is the 2008 Human Rights Defenders Tulip Award winner. She works at Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles in North Kivu-Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a woman has become a non-protected object, so without justice, she is a victim of abuse of authority and of culture of impunity. Numerous women and men have died as a consequence of sexual violence. Sexual violence is not taken seriously by the judicial system in the DRC, which lacks the will and the resources to act in implementing the law. The only wish of the survivors is to be assured that all the presumed perpetrators of the sexual violence are transferred to justice and judged – and not be rewarded with political and military promotions in offices of the DRC states.

Justice will be possible by the creation of a mixed criminal jurisdiction composed of Foreign and Congolese magistrates including women in charge of judging cases relating to committed international crimes. Such a Criminal Court for the Congo on our Congolese Land will be a positive sign to address impunity

Kongosi Onia Mussanzi: Incurable Wounds And Scars Of Congolese Women

Kongosi Onia Mussanzi is an activist for the Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC) for peace in Ituri and Kivus, DRC.

The East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has become the battlefield where million of women are bearing the pain of sexual violence. This war of exploitation of the minerals has changed to the exploitation of Congolese human resources. Women are the one bearing this burden as they are experiencing daily sexual abuse, torture, killings and all kind of immeasurable atrocities.

Raped women suffer physical, psychological, social trauma, which exceed all understanding of human imagination. The rejection by the society, forced marriage, unwanted pregnancy are the most traumatic experience which affect million of raped Congolese women. Some suffer from fistula; some have gone trough hysterectomy operations, unwanted pregnancies, and many have become HIV positive. Women in Ituri region are forgotten. The International Community, the national government, the fighting factions, civil society and individuals are requested to value and respect the body of Congolese women.

“Abusing a woman is destroying communities and the country”

Chantal Moboni: Congolese Women- What Have You Done To Be Subjected To Such Treatment?

Chantal Moboni is the President of O.N.G A.FE.VA and Vice President of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom DRC in Kinshasa.

Is it a sin to be a Congolese national, a girl of a great and beautiful country, full of mineral ressources (exploited and non exploited)? What is the link between diamond, cassitérite, coltan and Congolese women’s rights? How many Congolese women and girls have today been made to endure rape, have been separated from their loved ones, family, friends and husbands? How many have been forced to become single mothers, contaminated with HIV?
What is the future of Congolese women and young girls?
Were small arms made to be used in such a way against Congolese women, regardless of her weakness? Is it a sin that to be hospitable?
How long will one endure such violence?

Oh, dear beloved American and Europeean women, dear sisters members of international women’s organisations and dear powerful decision makers of this world, could we ever find favor to your eyes for the restoration of the dignity of women in the DRC?

"Morally, verbally, mentally, physically and sexually tortured"

Drocele Mugomoka: Our Most Important Aim Is To Challenge And End Impunity

Madame Mugomoka Mbonwa Drocele is the President of the Forum Congolais des Femmes Rurales. She is the focal point for The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in the east of the DRC and is a member of The International Action Network on Small Arms.

The implication of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government, the UN and other supporting nations is important in this struggle. The installation of an international criminal court for the DRC will help us to punish the authors and those responsible in charge of those who commit armed sexual violence. Congolese women say “NO” to the legitimization of violence by giving power to rebel armed groups! We say “NO” to the nomination of the CNDP rebels in the DRC government. Armed rebel groups have to first be made accountable and made to answer for war crimes (rape, murders, kidnapping) committed against civilians in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri - Rutchuru, Kiwanja, Masisi Jomba, Lubero ect. We ask that more attention be given to the women in Ituri who are neglected and are suffering in the hands of the LRA (Ugandan rebel groups). We request that social centers be constructed in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, to reinforce the overwhelmed existing structures in the Eastern provinces that deal with enormous cases of sexual violence and other victims of the consequences of the proliferation of the small arms fuelling conflicts.

In solidarity for peace in the world.

Nounou Booto Meeti: Violence Against Women And Small Arms

Nounou Booto Meeti is a journalist and human rights activist. She is a member of The International Action Network on Small Arms and The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (DRC).

Violence against women and girls is aided by the use and traffic of small arms. Small arms facilitate rape and sexual violence, and the conscious destruction of over 50% of the Congolese population.
Despite the 2003 UN Security Council embargo on weapons entering the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), guns have come across the borders with surrounding countries - Angola, Burundi, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda - but also from America, Europe, South Africa and the former Soviet Union.
The lack of international and national laws governing the arms trade takes a large part of the blame for the easy entry of guns into the DRC. International arms dealers have ways to get around national laws to supply arms to anyone who wants them.
Where is the conscience of the arms trade? Why sell so many weapons to a country where there are record levels of sexual violence?
Countries need to ensure that they do not sell/transfer arms where they are likely to be used to commit human rights violations such as rape and sexual violence.
How can we remain silent when arms have generated a permanent situation of insecurity?

Lydia Masimango: Support V-Day Actions - “Women Can”

Lydia Masimango is a legal adviser and human rights activist and is a member of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in the UK and COMMON CAUSE UK.

I visited Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in 2007. I met, spoke and listened to local women victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse, who were surprised but pleased to see a Congolese woman; a black one from the European Diaspora coming to visit them (my dream is for more of us should get together and visit as many women and girls as possible). They have told us about their suffering and despair and they wanted the war to end!!! They told us to tell the people of the world that they wanted peace. I promised I would pass on the message. I just did.
The Congo war has claimed more lives than any conflict since the end of World War II. An estimated 5 million people have died here since 1996, with over 250,000 victims of rape. There is even revelation that U.N. peacekeepers themselves are contributing to Congo’s frenzy of sexual assault. All these atrocities are ignored by the world media and in total international impunity. This is not acceptable in the 21st century. Women around the world regardless must stay connected to challenge this evil. Violence against women in any shape or form is not acceptable. Our mothers and sisters in Congo are crying for help. We can no longer afford to sit down in our little sofas and do nothing. Every little helps. You have already started to help if you are reading this message. Support V-Day’s actions. Deep down I believe “women can “.
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During my visit at Panzi Hospital, I was really upset to see women in such a hopeless state together with their children, they had no place to go. Women cannot stay in the hospital forever!! I thought "La Case de La Femme", a roof over their head where they can finally take a “break” and rebuild their lives. Another dream though which has become true for me is being able to help a small number of Congolese women victim of rape coming form refugee camps in Zambia. With the help of my local church, we have been able to find shelter and colleges for them and play groups for their children as well as helped them integrate in the UK.

Kenneth Enim Ampi: Violence Against Women In The Democratic Republic Of Congo

Kenneth Enim Ampi is a journalist and women’s rights activist. She works for Femmes des Médias pour la Justice au Congo in Kinshasha, DRC.

Violence against Congolese women, which has at other times been suppressed, has surfaced and is sparing few. The elite woman, the educated, entrepreneurs and human rights defenders, the rural grand mothers, mothers, young girls even baby girls, all have been enduring various forms of violence for the past decade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This dual phenomena of gender based violence - domestic and sexual violence- is totally degrading Congolese women and is reaching disturbing proportions under the passive eye of national and international decision-makers. Notwithstanding the different legal instruments ratified protecting Congolese women, women continue to rot under the weight of excessive abuse, notably: sexual violence, domestic or conjugal violence, structural, institutional and professional violence, cultural violence, verbal, intellectual or mental violence.

This recurrent phenomenon of domestic and sexual violence done to Congolese women is destroying the social fabric and compromises the development of the DRC. Women are considered as a weapon to annihilate and humiliate the enemy during armed conflicts as demonstrated in the east of the DRC. Violence against women is so extreme in the DRC that it is bonded to the Congolese women as if the concept was only created to designate the Congolese. The dignity of Congolese women is scorned. If those in the East of the DRC start to hope for a relief, it means only that the threats are moving to the West.

Currently, the women in the West of the country are experiencing extreme violence, particularly in almost all the towns bordering Angola, precisely in the forest of Mayombe in the province of the Bas-Congo. Trafficking of women is being practiced in these areas, as Congolese military officers deport Congolese women to Angola under the pretence of delivering them to a fertile area near the borders where they could easily cultivate the land. In exchange, these Congolese military officers receive money from their Angolan counterparts for the traffic of these innocent young women. The few women who have escaped, and those who have been rescued/freed after intense lobbying conducted by local human rights defenders, have reported horrific ordeal of abuses endured in Kabinda (the one of the provinces of the Angola), which is in reality, sexual slavery.

The women reported how they remained camped in holes of fusiliers, systematically raped nights and days by Angolan military officers. At the time of their liberation for deportation back to the DRC, the Angolan military officers proceeded to the vaginal check/inspection of each of woman, this, to ensure that none of them carries or is hiding any diamonds. Among the deported women, there were cases of pregnancies, of malnutrition, and sexually transmitted infections.

Similarly to armed conflicts, poverty in DRC is also a catalyst of violence against women. The existing shortage of drinking water in the peripheral areas around the capital of the country mean that the Congolese women, who constitute the essential pillar of the Congolese families, must walk daily to get fresh water and risk acts of rapes and indescribable violence. Obliged to get up early in the morning (between 3am and 5am) to supply drinking water, they often fall into the net of ruthless men who do not hesitate to abuse them. In the interest of the survival of their families, women also travel the roads to supply bread. These women are at the mercy of crooks, some of them men in uniforms, kuluna (destitute young men) and other outlaws. While women go to buy bread at dawn, they are intercepted by these bandits who submit them to extortions coupled with rape.

In most cases, women do not recover from the violence, as many women have endured forms of violence that carry fatal consequences and/or lasting mental and physical trauma such as fistulas and HIV/ Aids. This new wave of rape and violence done to women has resulted in the increased prevalence of the HIV/AIDS virus and other sexual transmitted diseases found in poor Congolese women, and has oppressed the personal development of each woman, as well as that of the whole Congolese community.

The Congolese Nation will continue to perish slowly but surely; if urgent actions are not taken at the national and international level to address violence against women. For it is said, to promote or invest in women, is to promote the whole Nation.

As a women’s Human Rights defense organization, the Women of Media for t Justice in Congo (FMJC) stretched to resolve the question of Violence Against Women. FMJC organizes education workshops and meetings in order to raise awareness about violence against women and to inform laws relating to the rights of the women particularly the law on sexual violence. FMJC also educates women on the problems of "peace and security" and "rights of the woman" using UN SC RES 1325. The FMJC invites all women to report abuse relating to rape and violence committed on women and girls, and teaches them how to go to court in case of a dispute. FMJC, reduced intellectual ignorance of women through the literacy program and remedial education which benefits mothers and young daughters in the Lingwala commune in the city of Kinshasa.

REMEDY TO VAW
In order to address and remedy this situation, a combined effort at all level of DRC society is necessary. Congolese women and men within the civil society, the Congolese State/Institution/public and private sectors and the International Community, each have to demonstrate a will to achieve the following:

• To continue to sensitize the Congolese community, in order to break the silence of women victims of domestic and sexual violence and all the forms of violence against women or human right abuses.

• To raise awareness to all the levels of the population about the different legal framework that protects women and girls

• To break the cultural barriers impeding the emergence and empowerment of the Congolese women

• To review and harmonize the different laws on the rights of the woman

• To put in measure action plans for the implementation and application of laws protecting women

• To integrate in the school program/education curriculum, several materials educating about human rights and specifically the rights of women (in order to initiate as early as possible, the respect of women’s rights to Congolese at the base of foundation of education,)

• To inform and train the security agents (police, army and intelligences services) about the respect and the protection of the rights of women for the effective application of the laws on the protection of the woman

• To harshly punish the perpetrators of violence against women as well as the corrupt judicial operators

• To make the judicial procedures easier to encourage the victims to report and denounce the crimes

• To restore PEACE and the security in the entire territory of the DRC

• To establish the State of the rights in the DRC

• To accompany the DRC in the promotion, defense and application of the rights of women

• To establish a policy on the accessibility to drinking water

• To create a national fund for the integral promotion of women in the DRC