Last night on BBC3 I watched what was a harrowing documentary film about the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to take a look, and take in the subject matter, then I urge you to tell everyone you know about it and get them to watch it as well.
The programme ‘The world’s most dangerous place for women‘ is available right now on BBC iPlayer (link). I would also suggest that you write to the BBC and request that the film remain available to watch on iPlayer for longer than the default 7 days (30 if you download it).
The story follows a young Congolese woman Judith Wanga (Jude) who was born in DRC, but was sent with her older sister to the UK with their uncle at the age of 3. Her parents, sent their two youngest daughters because they feared that the onset of conflict in the region would be dangerous for their daughters and to protect them, they pooled their money and resources to allow them to leave and live and grow up in London, UK.
Jude is a typical Londoner, but one who, like most first generation immigrants, has deep ties with the country of their birth and the families they have left behind. Up until her return, she had not seen her parents in 20 years.
The reunion with her parents at the beginning of the film, is wonderful, but the purpose of her trip is twofold. To reunite her family and experience the joy of being ‘home’, but more importantly for the wider audience, to highlight the plight of Congolese women who have to endure rape, mutilation, humiliation, torture and death at the hands of Soldiers, Police and Militia in this very troubled part of the world.
Jude travels to the eastern Congo, close to the Rwandan border, where factions fight for control of the countries mineral and precious metal wealth is taking place. In these regions, rape of women is routinely used to destroy villages and communities and keep them subjugated. It is so common place that one of the women in the film, Masika, who has been a multiple victim said in an interview
‘…a civilian rapes, a policeman rapes, a soldier rapes. Womanhood has been destroyed. A woman has become worthless’
This statement expressed and read over was for me, one of the most powerful statements in the film. The realisation that women are brutalised and have to endure not only the physical and mental suffering that such a personal and violent attack on their body entails, but also have to deal with the potential for disease in the form of HIV and AIDs, potential pregnancy, but also the social isolation and stigma from their families and their communities more often than not ostracized by their families and thrown out of their homes and villages because of shame.
Due to how these women are viewed after an attack and it’s aftermath in terms of social exclusion, it is said that the majority of victims of rape don’t report it to any authority. As a result, official figures are determined to be the tip of the iceberg.
You are left with a feeling of despair, although there is hope in the region with initiatives by women for women, to help rebuild their lives through programmes of education and provision of safe houses and places of recuperation.
However the problems in DRC won’t go away overnight. The generational aspect and the multiplicity of factors contributing to it’s continued use as a method of subjugation and torture, including the fact that military commanders are reported to stand over boy soldiers urging them to commit these heinous crimes, the fact that women soldiers participate in the lure and capture of vulnerable women and stand by as their sisters are brutalised, the fact that husbands, brothers, fathers of raped women are able to ‘dispose’ of their women and any babies that may have resulted from the rape, as if they were rubbish, does not bode well for a swift change to social attitudes.
The problem of the use of rape against women in the DRC is one that must be brought into the full glare of the media spotlight. Strategic plans to eradicate the practice and re-educate the Congolese communities and any other communities where this practice is commonplace and systematic must be brought to the UN for action by all member states. The public must be made aware that it exists and must be encouraged to pressure their governments to participate in finding the resources to action such a plan. Commercial enterprises must be strongly encouraged to volunteer substantial resources, finance and otherwise to enable the start, continuity and resolution of strategic initiatives to counteract and support the generations of victims of this horrendous situation.
I myself only learned of what was going on through watching this programme. Thank you Jude for agreeing to go and bring this to my attention. I have now brought it to your attention.
Do watch it the programme, do read Jude’s article published at Guardian.co.uk, do find out more, find out what you can do. Start a Facebook page, a twitter campaign. Urge the companies that you work for to make this cause a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.
These women need our support. They need our action. Please see the main BBC website, if you read down to the comments, the show’s producer has posted links to charities doing work in this area. Find ways of supporting them in any way that you can.