Sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo 4

Sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Photography by Simon Murphy
Introduction by Billy Briggs

The horror of sexual violence continues to destroy the lives of countless women in the Democratic Republic of Congo and photographer Simon Murphy visited the benighted nation to document the work of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund.

A study in 2011 found that 1,152 women were raped every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo – that’s equal to 48 women every hour.

In some areas in the eastern South Kivu province, up to 70 per cent of women have been raped at least once. Over the last 20 years, wars and relentless fighting between rebel groups seeking to control the region’s vast mineral wealth, have left 5.4million people dead and the population deeply traumatised.

Sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war to destabilise families and communities. Women who have been subjected to dreadful physical attacks are often thrown out by their husbands, families and villages because of the stigma associated with being raped.

SCIAF has been working with these women, and children born of rape, for many years. When Val Morgan, SCIAF’s media officer, first travelled to South Kivu in 2008, there was only one hospital in the region that could operate on women who had been violently attacked, and only a handful of prosecutions had been brought against their attackers. The high level of impunity has also led to sexual violence being more common in civilian life.

With money donated in Scotland, SCIAF trained 22 doctors in fistula surgery, helping women harmed by rape and childbirth complications, and medical equipment was given to hospitals and health centres in South Kivu. Over 12,000 women have now been treated. In addition to medical care, SCIAF have helped 1,700 women to set up small businesses so they can support themselves, and given them comfort and support through self-help groups. Working with an organisation of lawyers, free legal aid has been given to nearly 3,000 women so they could take their attackers to court and get justice.

In the years since 2008, over 1,400 rapists have been prosecuted and put in jail.

When a child is born of rape they often struggle to become legal citizens as their father’s name is needed to register the birth.

This means the children don’t legally exist and they can’t get healthcare, go to school or work when they’re older.

SCIAF helps these mothers and children to identify men in their family who can become male guardians, and the charity pays fees to register the birth as the three month limit for registering births for free has often been exceeded.

In a community hall in Rambira village, about two hours’ drive from the South Kivu capital of Bukavu, Morgan was fortunate to witness a naming ceremony which involved more than 20 children receiving birth certificates and becoming legal citizens of the DR Congo.

Helping the most vulnerable members of society is at the heart of SCIAF’s work in places like the DR Congo. Even women who have not been physically attacked still face incredible hardship. Around 60 per cent of hungry people in the world today are women. Women’s harvests are 30 per cent smaller than those of men, who get better tools, seeds, farm equipment and training.

Providing the right support to women can help to transform many lives. By giving women farmers good seeds and training, developing countries could grow around 30% more food and this alone could lift a staggering 150 million people out of extreme poverty.

This work with women in DR Congo, Rwanda and Malawi, helping them to grow more food, support themselves and play an active part in their communities is a vital part of SCIAF’s work. Morgan said: “I would urge people to do what they can to help so that together more women can be given the support them need to overcome the terrible difficulties they face.”

Thanks to Val Morgan. media and communications officer for SCIAF.

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