Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Posted by Melanne Verveer
April 30, 2011
Silhouette of Rape Victim Behind Screen at Clinic in Congo

Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) includes the use of rape and sexual terror as a tactic of war in the conflict-affected eastern provinces, as well as pervasive violence against women and girls throughout the rest of the country. I was with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 when she traveled to the DRC, where we were deeply distressed by what we saw. Secretary Clinton sought President Kabila's commitment to take stronger action to combat this scourge, improve the protection of citizens and prosecute offenders. We commend the Government of the DRC for its development of a strategy to combat GBV, and encourage further efforts to fully engage women in the country's economic and political development.

Since that trip, the United States has developed a comprehensive strategy to address SGBV in the DRC. The strategy aligns with those of the DRC Government and the United Nations, and is intended to further advance the efforts that are already being undertaken. In partnership with the Congolese government and civil society, the U.S. government's four key objectives in this strategy are to: 1) reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV; 2) increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations; 3) improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV; and 4) increase access to quality services for SGBV survivors.

Consistent with the strategy, the U.S. government, through USAID and the Departments of State and Defense, funds a wide range of programs addressing SGBV throughout the DRC. This includes the $17 million to prevent and respond to SGBV that Secretary Clinton announced in August 2009. This funding was awarded to international non-governmental organizations which in turn partner with local non-governmental and community-based organizations. Additional programming includes three, five year USAID projects aimed to address and prevent SGBV, announced by the U.S. Ambassador in December 2010, and a three-year, $15-million initiative to scale up SGBV programs in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) platforms.

In February of this year, I returned to the DRC with a State Department and Congressional delegation. We met with government officials, local and international NGO leaders, Congolese women, United Nations and World Bank senior officials, and the diplomatic community in both Kinshasa and Bukavu. While the DRC's problems are immense, there are signs of change. Since Secretary Clinton's visit, the international pressure to end impunity is beginning to pay off. The military justice system has been strengthened, as measured by the increased numbers of arrests, investigations, and planned prosecutions. Advances have been made, for example, on the cases of those implicated in recent mass rapes in North and South Kivu. Progress also continues to be made in the government's effort to establish specialized mixed chambers, which we hope will strengthen the Congolese justice system through long-term capacity building. The specialized chambers, which will draw on international expertise, will serve as a forum within the DRC to prosecute major violators of international humanitarian law.

In addition to the work being done on SGBV, I saw how increasing women's participation in all aspects of the country's political and economic life would enhance the value of women and overall security of the country. With or without conflict, it is clear that the low status of women in the DRC is a contributing factor to the high rate of SGBV in the county. The DRC cannot move ahead without the full inclusion of women politically -- in the upcoming elections, for example -- economically, through agriculture and beyond, and socially, through a robust civil society movement. Congolese women played a catalytic role during the 2002 peace negotiations and the 2006 elections, and they must continue to be fully engaged. To achieve this, U.S. government assistance programs in the DRC seek to promote women's participation in all spheres of political and economic life.

We remain committed to working with the DRC government, the United Nations, and other international and local partners to strengthen the DRC government's capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including through their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for war crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children. In addition, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country's economic and political development. That is why it is critical that we promote women's access to small grants and skills training, which is essential to civil society's ability to effectively impact the DRC's growth and stability. Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do.

Comments

Comments

Tommye G.
|
District Of Columbia, USA
May 1, 2011

Tommye G. in Washington, DC writes:

Even with women having a seat at the table, we must somehow educate males at an early age that rape is unacceptable and that respect for women is respect for mothers and sisters as well as unacquainted women. Even in advanced societies this message is not as strong as it can be. Look at the murdered coed at the University of VA. Her assailant was a boyfriend. Such familiar and casual violence against women means we have to eradicate the feeling of power that men feel over women. This has to start at the cradle everywhere.

Victoria
May 1, 2011

Victoria in Africa writes:

Women are an always badly affected by political and social violence all through Africa. working with the women from DRC through education and financial aid will improve their social-economic status besides giving them a voice.

Pacifique M.
|
South Africa
May 1, 2011

Pacifique S. in South Africa writes:

If the the current, the future governements of the DRC and the United Nations, and other international and local partners remain committed to working with you, onto strengthening the DRC government's capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including through their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for war crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children then we can start hoping for a peaceful, stable and prosperous DRC.

I also deeply thank you for the following:

"In addition, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country's economic and political development. That is why it is critical that we promote women's access to small grants and skills training, which is essential to civil society's ability to effectively impact the DRC's growth and stability. Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do."

Many, many thanks again for your special care for the DRC and its people.

DUNCAN O.
|
Kenya
May 7, 2011

Duncan in Kenya writes:

I am one of the men that is doing everything possible to ensure that children, girls and women are safe and free from sexual abuse and i am doing this by empowering them with practical prevention and self protection life saving skills.No where in the World will law and police patrols solve rape problems unless the vulnerable population are directly empowered with wit skills/strategies which help them identify,avoid,prevent and protect themselves from some situations or circumstances which can lead to rape.

Rape has been a tactic of war since time immemorial but rape also exists in times of peace so if we have to effectively address the issue then it must be a continous process.

In the case of D R Congo women ,girls and even children must be equipped with simple skills which can come in handy in times of danger and we must agree that not all situations are impossible to contain no matter how difficult they may look. Remember even males in civilian clothes are taking advantage to commit rape.

We are very ready to come to Congo and equip women, girls and children with the strategies we are using to address the issue here in Kenya if we can be funded.

Since 1998 we have directly reached and empowered 1.5 million women, girls and children in Kenya with anti rape strategies that can actually work to prevent and stop rape.

Thank you

Yours sincerely

Duncan O.

Program Officer

DOLPHIN ANTI RAPE AND AIDS CONTROL OUTREACH

phillip g.
|
Michigan, USA
December 12, 2011

Phillip G. in Michigan writes:

i'm a black man. i feel sorry for the congo women. i dont think the organizations are doing too much of anything because this has been going on ever since i was in veitnam. i would like to send money but i dont think it will get to the proper hands. you would have to change your policys and let me send my hard working money to the individual congo woman who suffers. identify her as living in her country, meet her by correspondence. i dont want to hear her story because my mother was raped and she dont like men too well. take care and god bless you. for real. phil.

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