The title of a very poignant article in Ms. Magazine is called “Not Women Anymore…”, but I think a more apt title would be “Not Human Anymore”. Of course, that makes no sense, but it seems to be the reality for rape victims living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
I knew it was bad. I knew the war-torn countries’ various militia groups utilized rape as a tool of war. I just did not truly comprehend the magnitude of destruction.
Imagine being gang-raped, and then having to save up money for two years before traveling 60 kilometers (~40 miles) to the only gynecologist in the eastern part of your country. Imagine, too, that during those two years, your vagina had been so damaged that a constant stream of blood oozed from it. And imagine doing this all alone, because in this society a woman who has been raped is almost immediately ostracized from her husband, family and community. It is as if she no longer exists. That is what it is like for the tens of thousands of women and girls of the DRC.
Some facts about the war:
• Started in 1994 when the Rwandan Tutsi government sent militias into DRC after the Hutu responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.
• Rwandan government formed an “alliance” to overthrow the dictator of DRC.
• Uganda and Burundi helped Rwanda b/c of the diamond mining opportunities to be found in the DRC.
• Kinshasa, in the east, is perhaps the only city where a true semblance of peace has been achieved.
• The rest of the country is still controlled by various and extremely ruthless militia groups.
• Since 1996, 4 million people have died because of the war (most from starvation and disease).
• For 14 years, no government employee has been paid. None. Zero. Zip, zilch.
And international support?
• Peacekeeping size = 12,000 soldiers for an area the size of Western Europe
• As contrast, the number of peacekeepers sent to tiny Kosovo numbered in the 40,000.
• UN has reported 150 cases of sexual assault by peacekeepers.
• Peacekeepers pay for sex or for trading valuable things, like *gasp*, food and clothing.
• When asked for more money, the UN gave barely any to help the people of the DRC.
The violence and the lack of medical support:
• Different militia groups use different methods of rape, but the ultimate goal is the extermination of a people – in the DRC, rape victims are no longer accepted into society, and even if they were, the rapes often cause significant damage preventing future childbearing.
• 30% of rape victims are infected with HIV; 60% combatants have the virus.
• The few hospitals around are looted, leaving doctors and nurses with nothing to treat the women with.
The article is a disturbing one. I cannot fathom it because I live in a nation that has health care, isn’t war-torn, and prosecutes (for the most part) people who commit heinous crimes like rape. In “my” society, in general, women are not utterly isolated and ostracized after being raped. I really cannot wrap my mind around living in an environment of constant fear, pain, suffering, helplessness, and hopelessness. No one should. And that no international support is being given to these women is, while not shocking, still appalling.
• http://www.womenforwomen.org/drchelp.html ; http://www.womenforwomen.org/iqform.aspx
• Anglo American (www.angloamerican.co.uk); Banro (www.banro.com); First Quantum (www.first-quantum.com) are mining organizations working in the DRC. At the very least, they should be encouraged to help the women in the DRC get medical attention.
• Contact the UN (U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, United Nations, First Ave. at 46th St., New York, NY 10017) and encourage more funding for the DRC.