48 Women Were Raped Every Hour In Congo And These Women Did Something About It
In the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo lies the small town of Minova. While it is – because of its presence on the mountain – a breathtaking view of the Lake Kivu, Minova was also described by the United Nations as the rape capital of the world. It achieved this tag after episode upon episode of horrific rape incidents, estimated by a 2011 study to be as frequent as 48 women each hour.
After a failed court case to bring the rapists to book, after there was no decline in the rate of occurrences, after gang rapes gained ground and women were raped in front of their kids, Justine Masika Bihamba co-founder of Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles knew that she could not remain silent.
Just like she says about her organization that offers pyshco-social, medical and legal help to victims, “I chose this work because my passion for the women and young people who are suffering from this human cruelty is so great that I dream of contributing to the mobilization of communities against the violence, as well as getting Congolese authorities to focus on the causes, and not the consequences, of the sexual violence,” the middle aged woman chose the difficult way out.
In 2012, supported by a small group of female activists, Bihamba called for the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda on live radio, accusing the rebel leader of war crimes on 13 counts, including torture, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, and murder.
She moved away from the region after she was repeatedly threatened for the broadcast.
Speaking to Vice in 2015, Bihamba said,”I blame all the actors, The multinational companies just exploiting our country for minerals by supporting wars, our neighbors who fuel the wars so they can get our minerals as they don’t have them in their countries — Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. And the Congolese political leaders, who let impunity continue.”
She argued that even with the increased attention on Congo by international bodies, there was no visible change and that this fueled her decision and that of the other women to wade themselves out of their distress.
Neema Namadamu, an activist who set up a free internet cafe for women described her motive to be the desire to offer Congolese women a wider view of the world, to connect them with faraway places in which women had rights. She is also of the opinion that the international bodies designated to fighting the rape crimes are teeming with the perpetrators of the act, and that it is impossible for it to end when they benefit -both financially- from the occurrences.
Her claims are fed by the popularity of rape culture among Congolese men, an idea that is founded on the faulty backdrop of traditions that make women second fiddle. Rape is viewed as an exertion of power and Bosco who goaded on the many others who committed such crimes ordered his subjects in the army to go into towns and rape women.
While the DRC is still recovering from a brutal last few years, one cannot help but applaud the efforts of women like Bihambi, Namadamu and the host of other women who helped to make a difference. And through them one is reminded of the many big wins that can happen when we choose to take a stand.