Belinda Otas / New African Woman Magazine – 2011-04-27 00:41:32
Eighteen Influential African Women on
Atrocities In The Congo
Belinda Otas / New African Woman Magazine
News about DR Congo and the atrocities against women has all but disappeared from the news in recent times. We cannot blame the news media for not saying much lately, there has been a lot going on in the world, from Japan to Egypt to Libya. It has been an overwhelming four months. Nevertheless, some of Africa’s influential women and authors of critically acclaimed books have added their voice to outcry for action. In their own words, Women Speak: We Owe It To The Women Of The Congo.
Chika Unigwe: “Rape as an orchestrated weapon of war is a cold hearted and a most despicable crime by men who were (presumably born of women). It is designed to stigmatise and humiliate women in the worst possible way. We owe it our sisters to use our visibility and our voices to show our support of them, our solidarity with them, our empathy (and sympathy) of their trauma, and just as importantly denounce the crime and call the world’s attention to it so that it is stemmed.”
Chika Unigwe is an Afro-Belgian writer of Nigerian origin and author of On Black Sisters’ Street.
Aminatta Forna: “The enjoinder ‘women and children first’ has come to take on the opposite meaning in too many modern conflicts. In Sierra Leone where my family live I saw this first hand. Every woman in our village was raped the day the rebels overran the area. They included my aunts, my cousins, and the woman who took care of me when I was a child. Too often these events are reported in the Western media as random acts of violence. They are anything but random.
The mass rape of women, the torture and beating of civilians: these events are planned, coordinated and executed with the precision of any military operation. Their purpose is to cow a civilian population into compliance. It’s important we understand that before anything else, because it helps us understand what to do. The International Criminal Court in The Hague have arrested some of the commanders of armies responsible and charged them with war crimes. There are still more of them out there and the ICC intends to issue more warrants.
People the world over need to send a clear message to these men that there is no such thing as impunity. If you do one thing to help the women of the Congo, please write to ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo at the ICC in The Hague and pledge your support. It’s the best chance we have of bringing an end to the terror.”
Aminatta Forna is an author and has written three books, including The Memory of Love.
laila Lalamiâ€¦ “The war that has plagued the Democratic Republic of the Congo has made victims of all of its women-they have endured loss and grief, violence and rape, hunger and disease. This violence must stop. And it must stop now, for the sake of future generations of Congolese. All people of conscience, men and women, must bear witness to this violence and support local Congolese organisations that provide long-term moral and material assistance to these women.”
Laila Lalami is a US-based Moroccan writer and author of The Secret Son.
Sefi Atta: “What is happening to the women of eastern Congo is atrocious, but far worse is the fact that the rest of the world fails them. The way we respond defines our humanity and anyone who has any opportunity to speak out on their behalf or do something to rectify their situation should ask themselves this question: If you and your children were being raped, would you rather that others remain silent and distance themselves from you?”
Sefi Atta is a US based Nigerian writer. Her books include, News from Home and Swallow.
Ngozi Achebe: “No question in my mind about what needs to be done. The international community can start by holding the leaders of the country including the President accountable for what his army does not just the military commanders and their thugs. Women also need to fight this particular battle themselves in their own way, commensurate with their local culture. What do I mean? In some of these conflicts, the victims sometimes know the perpetuators. They should keep records, even oral documentation of these criminals and be active locally to someday bring them to justice. The world should empower the women to stand up, along with their own men, to this evil – one person at a time. Where do we come in? By petitions, and yes sometimes targeted aid to put pressure on these ‘see no evil, do nothing’ governments. The UN needs the ‘teeth’ to mean what they say.”
Ngozi Achebe is a physician, mother and author of Onadoe’s Daughter.
Maaza Mengiste: “Those who are committing violence against the women of the Congo do so because they do not think the rest of us can or will do anything to stop it. They believe that we will hear the news and — overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of tragedies in the world, concerned with only what is happening in our own communities — we will ignore this degradation of women who are very much like our own mothers, sisters and daughters. Geographical distance doesn’t lessen our obligation to stand for what is just and right in this world. We have the ability to make the type of change that can accumulate and build momentum until slowly or suddenly, but surely, this stops. Take the first step, listen to their stories, read what is happening, reach out and ask what you can do.”
Maaza Mengsite was born in Ethiopia and is the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze.
Z Salbi: “Women are the glue that holds society together during chaos and conflict, and we are reminded of their resilience and capacity for hope. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over 5 million lives have been lost and hundreds of thousands of women raped in a strategic campaign to destroy women, their families and communities.
Yet, in the midst of this, Congolese women still tell us their visions of building bridges of peace in their own country as well as for their sisters in Africa and around the world. The time has come for us to help echo the voices of the women of Congo as they break their silence; these issues do not only impact women in Africa. Women are the key to sustainable peace in Congo and globally.”
Zainab Salbi, CEO and Founder of Women for Women International,
Christine Karumba: “It Takes Men to Stop Rape in Congo. The fact that rape victims are breaking the silence around the horrific sexual violence endemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is crucial for building peace and stability in the country. Women have started to speak out on their devastating experiences. Men, by in large, have remained mute while playing a strong part in stigmatising and excluding rape survivors. But without involving Congolese men, it will be difficult to address this problem successfully.”
Christine Karumba is the Country Director of Women for Women International in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Myne Whitman: “Sometime in the summer, I saw RUINED, a Pulitzer Award-winning play by Lynn Nottage, which told of women in a village in Congo who accept to work in a bar/brothel, after being brutalized by soldiers in the war. This may have been fiction, but the emotions the actors raised in me broke my heart that some real women did go through these things and it continues to happen.
One thing that helped me withstand the play was the resilient spirit that shone through, the humanity these women retained through it all and their hope for a better future, and making ways to adapt and come through it stronger. What we can do to help stop these war crimes targeted at women is to continue to support such works that bring them to the public stage, in plays, art, movies, books and documentaries. We can support by taking action as part of charities and lobby groups.”
Myne Whitman is a US-based Nigerian write and author of A Heart To Mend.
Shailja Patel: “The real perpetrators of rape in the Congo are the corporations and international mining cartels that drive the carnage, in order to protect their access to mineral resources. Increasingly, the data shows that the international attention generated by “rape reporting” has done more harm than good to Congolese women. Congolese militia now know that they can generate headlines by planning mass rapes, and they use the threat of mass rape as a negotiating chip.
So our job is not to “raise awareness.” It is to name, call out, and hold accountable the international corporations, mining cartels, and political interests who are extracting resources from the region and arming and funding the militias. And to demand fair trade in Congolese minerals, which are in all our cellphones, laptops and other tech toys. That is the only way to halt the suffering of women in the Congo.”
Shailja Patel is a US-based Kenyan activist, writer and poet of Indian descent. She’s the author of Migritude.
Lauri Kubuitsile: “It is devastating to hear about the terrible ordeals women in the Eastern DRC have to endure. It’s time the world names and shames those involved including those illegally removing the mineral resources of the area which is the foundation for the conflict. The leaders of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda must be held accountable for their inability to end the conflict and to stop the LRA and the other militias operating almost with impunity within their borders. 5.4 million people have died already in this conflict- if it were in Sweden or Australia would the world be so apathetic? I don’t think so. And as always in such conflicts it is, yet again, the women who must carry the heaviest burden.”
Lauri Kubuitsile is a Botswana-based writer and has written over 10 books, including Anything for Money.
Yaba Badoe: “Systematic rape and pillage have been used as weapons of war since time immemorial. In 2008 I met women victims of rape in Bosnia. What struck me was that despite the horrendous psychological and physical damage inflicted on them during the Balkans war, many women choose to talk about their ordeal. Talking takes tremendous courage. It turns a victim into a survivor: a woman with agency and power to transform lives. What I do as a filmmaker and writer is listen attentively to what these brave women say. I listen, record their testimonies, and then broadcast their experiences to as many people as possible, so that we learn from their incredible resolve to live. We learn and, hopefully, we never forget.”
Yaba Badoe is a filmmaker and author of True Murder.
Ogo Ogbata : “It’s important that the women of Eastern DR Congo see themselves as people who have the power to change their circumstances rather than helpless victims. Power comes from knowledge and women by nature are custodians of both knowledge and power. The mothers, sisters and aunts of Congo should resist local traditions that justify violence as well as teach their young (right from the cradle!) how to treat women with respect and resolve conflict without violence.
As they stand up in the nooks and crannies of their communities and cry out against this sad state of affairs, change will come. Women from the world over, who write, speak or have the ability to influence an audience should support local charities that rehabilitate abused women, and encourage constructive conversations about this issue both on and off the Internet. Violence against the women of DR Congo is violence to women everywhere.”
Ogo Ogbata is the author of Egg-Larva-Pupa Woman.
Folake Taylor: “It’s the deadliest conflict since World War Two. More than 4 million people have died, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped.” Those were Anderson Cooper’s words on the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s easy to detach ourselves from the plight of others or feel like it does not affect us because it is not happening next door.
But just imagine for a minute that a man could take possession of your body against your wishes and instead of being taken to the ER, having a rape kit processed on you, getting whatever medical care you need including AIDS prophylaxis, STD treatment, surveillance for pregnancy, psychological help, you get nothing. And it could happen to you again next week because nobody is really looking out for you. And then you still have to go on living, if you survive the ordeal.
You may not physically be able to go to the DR of Congo and help. You may not be able to take time off work and volunteer. But there is one thing you can do. You can pull up a browser on your laptop, Google “women of the Democratic Republic of Congo” and go to one of the sites that come up to donate money. Mention them in a blog post or article. Talk to your friends about them. Help to raise awareness and encourage others to help in whatever little way they can. Every little counts. They are our sisters. Just imagine, it could have been you. You are no better.”
Folake Taylor is the author of The Only Way is Up: The Journey of an Immigrant.
Nana Ayebia Clarke: “The Democratic Republic of Congo — a nation of some 68 million people in central Africa – has been thrown into chaos by military conflict and remains a place where social injustices persist in daily life, though rarely reported as “newsworthy” events. While the war was supposed to have ended officially in 2003, violence remains pervasive especially in the eastern part of the country as government and rebel troop’s fight over control of precious resources and terrorize civilians. Mass rapes weigh heavily on the population — particularly on women and girls.
Rape has been used as a ‘weapon of war’ to cower women into submission. A society that does not value its women is an impoverished society. For those of us who are active agents for change in the international community, we must support them by writing/publishing/singing/painting their stories as a way of raising awareness about their plight in the international community. Today, Congolese women are engaged in peace-building, both in the DRC and abroad in an attempt at moving them from victims to active and valued citizens with choices. Their voices — inspired by different experiences and perspectives deserve our greater recognition!”
Nana Ayebia Clarke is a Ghanaian-born publisher specializing in African & Caribbean writing.
Abidemi Sanusi: “Congo: We, The Women, Speak. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, was adopted by the Assembly of the African Union in 2003. It is now 2011, and when I listen to the reports coming from the DRC, where rape is systemically used as a weapon of war, I resolve not to turn away, but to write about it and keep on writing about it, until it stops.”
Abidemi Sanusi is a Nigerian writer based in London and author of Eyo.
Stella Damasus: “We need to work with the government. Appoint and elect a representative that will be supported by all the women that will ask the govt to legislate capital punishments for violence against women. They have to create the awareness to the world so that the govt has no choice than to implement to avoid foreign intervention.”
Stella Damasus is a Nigerian actress.
Muadi Mukenge: “Sexual violence is a form of social control used to buttress the unregulated extraction of vital mineral resources to the international market. Any response to end sexual violence must always include recommendations to G-8 governments for political and economic policy approaches that will stabilize Congolese society, provide diverse livelihood options, reverse the trend of hyper-militarization, and challenge the history of foreign intervention into Congolese political and economic affairs.
Influential women must use their position to present policy reforms and not humanitarian approaches as solutions to ending the gross injustice against Congolese women and children. Influential women must link with the Congolese Diaspora, Congo advocates and Congolese civil society to inform their messages to global leaders and multinationals. Influential women must reject media and popular jargon that the Congolese context is too complex. It is not. What is missing is the political will at the national and global levels.
Sexual violence will stop when foreign governments who fund renegade armed groups in the Congo have their military aid cut by their bilateral partners. Sexual violence will stop when the perpetrators of rape are actually held accountable for their actions. Influential women must mobilise in large numbers in major policy spaces to insist on action and not empty proclamations which sit on dusty shelves in Geneva, New York, Washington DC, London, Brussels, Addis Ababa, etc. The Congo did not know systemic sexual violence prior to 1997 – we must ask ourselves why it is prevalent now.”
Muadi Mukenge is the Program Director of Global Fund for Women in Sub-Saharan Africa and lead author of author of the report, Funding a Movement Against Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: 2004-2009.
Naama Haviv : “What is happening to the women of Congo is so horrific that any collection of words on a page cannot come close to describing it. If I told you that I met a four year-old girl, lying next to her mother in the rape ward of a Goma hospital, both mother and daughter torn to shreds by rape — would that compel you to act?
If I told you that I met a 17-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and given as a “wife” to an entire rebel army unit, who escaped, then was recaptured, then escaped again, only to find herself alone and pregnant — would that move your conscience?
The information about Congo’s devastating war is out there — we have all heard the statistics, cried at the stories. Words are not enough. Somehow, we need to close the gap between information and action. And there is action we can take. The crisis in Congo is complex, but a key economic driver is a brutal war over Congo’s rich mineral resources — minerals that wind up in our daily electronics products like cell phones and laptops — you can email the 21 largest electronics companies directly. Each of us, as an individual and as a consumer, can let the electronics companies know that we would purchase verifiably conflict-free products when they become available. And we can pledge that we will stick with Congo for the long haul — do the hard work of restoring Congo’s security system and state infrastructure so that its women and children can live and thrive — in peace.
Naama Haviv is Assistant Director at Jewish World Watch, the NGO behind the film, Congo Women Rising.