Torture, trauma, mass rape

 Democratic Republic of Congo
 Maternal Health
 9th Oct 2017

By Stépha Rouichi, Advocacy Manager for CARE DRC

I have lived and worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo for almost four years. But during my recent visit to the Kasai region I realized just how much of a nightmare the daily life for many women, men and children is. The region has seen unrest, conflict and instability for the past year, resulting in more than 1.4 million internally displaced people. I spoke to many women, men and children. Each and everyone has their own sad story of suffering. Many of the girls I spoke to who were raped did not complain about the psychological and physical pain they are going through. They try to keep going, try to forget, try to survive. This conflict is hard on everyone. People go to bed hungry, they have lost their loved ones, they had to leave their homes. But the amount of suffering many women and girls have to go through – sexual violence, rape, the stigma associated with it – is immeasurable.

From our work with women and girls who have experienced sexual violence, we know that they often fear retaliation from their own family members and often from the perpetrators as well. In some cases, reporting would also jeopardize their chances of finding a husband.

When I visited a maternity center in the region, I was introduced to a very young woman, a survivor of sexual violence. Miphie is 23 years old, is married and has three children. When I met her, she was breastfeeding her youngest child. She is very quiet, hardly looks at me when she speaks. “I don’t like this story of my life. But I need to tell it,” she says.

“It happened last March. I was cultivating our fields with my husband and three other men. The fields are about 60 kilometers away from our home. I was the only woman. We spent the afternoon weeding. At around 4 pm, when we started our journey back home, four armed men stopped us. They started hitting my husband and the other men with sticks and they tied them up. I was alone with my baby in my arms. One of the armed took my child away from me. They tore my clothes in pieces and they raped me in turn, in front of my husband and the other men in the village. They were very violent. After having raped me, they stole our machetes, our work clothes, and cell phones. They also took all my money.” Miphie was in severe pain for several days and stayed in hospital for three days. She feels physically better, but the villagers do not allow her to move on. “They insult me, call me a whore. I don’t want to go out anymore. I feel so ashamed.” Miphie says that at least her husband stayed with her. Many husbands leave their wives after they were raped. Her family has to pay a goat and two chickens to her family in-law though, to “redeem her honor”.

The horror women like Miphie have to deal with is outrageous to me. I look at this young woman who has gone through violence, humiliation and injustice of an unbelievable scale. Her story is one of collective rape, trauma, humiliation… It’s easy to feel helpless when listening to stories like Miphie’s. But we are not helpless, and there is a lot that CARE, other organizations and the international community can do. CARE’s work to support survivors of sexual violence, train health staff, better equip health centers and train medical and psychosocial staff shows what we can achieve to support women and girls. Our work with communities to prevent sexual violence, broadcast messages to break the taboo of talking about it and lifting the stigma off survivors is vital. But much more needs to be done.  CARE’s needs assessment in Kasai showed that the coverage of sexual and reproductive health services is still very poor. There are not enough essential medicines and supplies, a lack of trained staff and health facilities. So far, the UN appeal for Kasai is only 40 percent funded. Only 156,000 people, out of 1.4 million displaced, have received assistance. To make sure that women and girls like the ones I have met receive the help that they need and deserve, donors immediately need to increase their funding.

For more of our work in Democratic Republic of Congo, click here.

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