More Than 16 Days: Violence Against the Women of the DRC
Day 11 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written by MaryBeth Bognar, a YPAI co-organizer, who is pursuing a future in human rights work, recently traveled to Ghana and is also a volunteer researcher for She’s The First to their schools in Uganda and South Sudan.
Violence against women occurs in countries all around the world. Whether your country is rich or poor, developed or developing, you’re living in the “good” area of town or “bad,” it exists around you. As women, we are unfortunately subjected to treatment that in many cases only affects our gender. We might feel the fear of walking home in the dark from staying late at work, with our keys and/or pepper spray in our hand. We might become trapped in a relationship with someone we thought we could trust who is now causing us harm in the blink of an eye. Maybe we even decide to take a risk to give ourselves a better life and end up stuck in sex slavery after deception that is of no fault of our own. Maybe it’s even our own families who have betrayed us, cultural practices engrained and we are forced into a marriage we don’t want or to live a life after FGM. The possibilities can be overwhelming, and even cause us to want to give up—live our life in fear and not raise up to meet our goals and our potential. The world seems to be rooting against us sometimes, but the reality is that it needs us more than ever.
I don’t believe that any type of violence against women is better or worse than any other. Each kind leaves it’s own scar; whether that scar be physical or emotional. However, there are some places in the world where certain types of violence happen more often. One country has even been named the “rape capital of the world”. Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the largest countries in Africa. It has faced a war that has been going on for over 20 years, over 5 million people have lost their lives. During this war, it is estimated today that 48 women are raped every hour. It is extremely common for many women to be raped multiple times. These numbers seem extremely high. How can a war be going on for so long that we never hear about? How have so many people died whose names we have not heard? How is this high rate of sexual violence occurring without more action and awareness circulating? When a conflict is not covered in the media, or shed light on by the world, it is easy to slip through the cracks of our day to day lives. Unless you are someone specifically researching these areas, it may never cross in front of you. The fact that it is happening at such a great distance from many of us can sometimes make it not even seem real. But the question comes down to this; what if it were your country, your family, your life? Wouldn’t you hope that the rest of the world would help you, instead of standing idly by as your fear and suffering continues?
It is important to realize that these atrocities are real. They are happening every day, every minute. It is also important to remember, however, that there is hope. Women specifically have shown us time and time again just how strong, inspiring, and empowering they are. Specifically in DRC, women are in hospitals with horrific fistulas as a result of the sexual violence perpetrated on them. Many of these women, while in hospitals, are given schooling by volunteers and taught entrepreneurial skills so that when they are well enough to leave they know that a better life can be achieved.
It has been said time and time again that women are roughly half of society. If they are left, it is impossible for the world as a whole to move forward. This is of course true for DRC. Though it faces much violence, corruption, and greed, a positive future for this country is not impossible. However, it must include women. It needs their voices, their care, their skills and hardwork, and it needs to respect them as human beings. Through this empowerment, women can create more jobs, help to keep society more steady and peaceful, and with each person having an equal say in how to transition their country they can help to create a better life not only for all women of DRC, but all people of this beautiful country as well.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.