When we think about our world compared to a hundred years ago, it seems like we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of human rights, right? While I definitely agree that there have been improvements made in the modern age, I was completely caught off guard when I heard about the humanitarian crisis happening in the Congo, right now. In the United States, women make up more than half of all college students. Women have the capacity to be CEO’s and mothers at the same time. In the Congo, however, women routinely suffer from extreme sexual violence at the hands of soldiers who act with impunity. My research shows that based on their inferior social status in the DRC, Congolese women continue to suffer from violent sexual crimes primarily as a result of women’s exclusion from the construction of political social institutions, the negative stigma attached to raped women, and the military promotion of rape as a weapon of war.
Since 1994, armed conflict has devastated the structure of the DRC, resulting in corruption and a lack of security for its citizens. Quarreling armies have made women targets as an ethnic war rages within the DRC. Ethnic conflicts between the Congolese Tutsis and the Rwandan Hutus spilled over into the Congo and created the need for complete political, cultural, and physical separation of the tribes. However, armies have engaged in conflicts over territory for decades, exhibiting ruthless violence against anyone not of their kind. This transformed the DRC into a war zone, one in which there is no central power to stop the violence.
Furthermore, DRC tradition exacerbates the situation more by establishing an especially negative stigma to women who have been raped. Women serve as prime targets, as they are already defenseless relative to men in their society. Once the soldiers accomplish their mission of raping and pillaging opposing communities, female victims are rejected by their own communities because Congolese culture holds that raped women are even less desirable or worthy than the female gender in general.
The corrupt military culture in the DRC also promotes violence against women because soldiers often find it in their best interest to take advantage of females in society. The lower status of women makes it easy for soldiers to escape punishment because their crimes are often overlooked by men as being serious. Soldiers engage in systematic rape with the intention of satisfying their own personal desires while simultaneously torturing the population of their rivals.
The political, cultural, and military traditions of the DRC effectively allow sexual violence against women to continue and go unpunished. The resulting trauma and alienation that women experience fulfills the military goal of terrorizing communities, furthering the overall cause of war, asserting power by segmenting societies. War among ethnicities has increasingly incorporated females as victims, as women’s bodies are used as weapons of war. This gender imbalance places females at the mercy of males, resulting in power struggles in which the men always prevail. Until women have a voice in the politics of the DRC, its society will not be constructed in a way that is specific to their needs and they will remain vulnerable to acts of violence that strip them further of power and dignity.
Inspired? One of the most important ways that you can help is by raising awareness. I, personally, found out about this humanitarian crisis through an episode of Law and Order. Help make our world a better place by encouraging others to get involved in their communities and take action in world affairs. One way to help is by looking at this website: www.fallingwhistles.com. This group seeks to help the child soldiers who are taught and forced to commit crimes starting from very young ages. Read their stories and make a contribution- buy a whistle and represent their voices that cannot be heard as easily.
Have you heard of any other organizations that seek to help those in need in the Congo? Let us know and spread the word!