DRC: Changing the Sexual Violence Narrative

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has claimed an untold number of lives, with the UNHCR estimating that 2.7 million citizens are displaced within the country. Since early 2013, with the end of the M23 rebel group insurgency, the government has made the commitment to address two immediate legacies of war: sexual violence and the use of child soldiers.

At the height of the conflict, one report found that an average of 48 women were raped every hour in the DRC, earning the most violent area the title of ‘Rape Capital of the World’.

Congolese politician Jeanine Mabunda has stepped into the newly-developed role of Presidential Adviser on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment. She says fighting impunity is a major issue in changing the narrative of sexual violence after two decades of conflict.

Sexual crimes that have gone unpunished, and even ignored by authorities is one of the biggest issues she faces. But Ms Mubunda hopes to alter the way citizens and others around the world think of the country, and says there is hope.

Ms Mabunda said that a campaign to "break the silence", a series of mobile courts to bring justice to a local level, and holding perpetrators accountable has improved the situation.

"After one year we were able to record 135 cases of military officers, or military soldiers, being convicted of rape cases," she explained at United States Institute of Peace discussion.

"It included the conviction of a high-ranked general, General Kakwavu, who used to be a warlord in the Ugandan Frontiers, and who raped two minor girls of 12 and 13 years. It took the people of Congo, or the State of Congo 7 years to file the case properly.”

"It was emblematic, not only for me but for the Army, to prove to the rest of the world that they were able to sanction within their own rank. And they did it, it's not me, it's them."

At a local level, counselling for rape victims is imperative.

For six years Antoinette Mbila has been helping the women of her village and others in South Kivu recover from the trauma of rape or sexual assault. Trained by the ICRC as a psycho-social counselor, she leads a small team at the “Maison d’Ecoute” (Listening House) in Irangi.

The ICRC has completed a campaign in the region to encourage women to get medical and psycho-social help, and to raise awareness on the radio as well as organizing community theater events.

"Changing behavior is a process, it doesn't happen overnight," Ms Mbila told the ICRC.

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