Combatants on all sides of the conflict in the Congo use rape and sexual violence as “weapons of war,” says a prominent campaigning journalist. The epidemic of sexual violence cannot be divorced from the issue of conflict minerals, said Chouchou Namegabe (right), in the keynote speech to a major conference on “Informed Activism: Armed Conflict, Scarce Resources, and Congo,” organized by the Enough Project.
Many women are reluctant to report incidents of sexual violence because of the social stigma, so Namegabe, a recipient of the Knights International Journalism Award, co-founded the South Kivu Women’s Media Association to train women to be reporters in order to expose the atrocities inflicted on women in the eastern Congo. She recently described such horrors and explained her motivation in a recent interview with National Public Radio’s The World:
The issue is important for me because it’s touching the right of men, the right of women. And I feel concerned because I’m a woman too. And also I’m a journalist. I saw that I couldn’t do anything. I don’t have guns to fight against it, but I’ve got my microphone, to use it, to fight against the rape and sexual violence. That’s why we give the microphone to victims, to tell their stories. Because somewhere it’s the first way to heal their internal wound, to talk about it, to make it known, to call for actions, because we want it to end. It’s really a big crime.
Women felt “abandoned” by Congo’s failing state as they became prey to an rampant sexual violence, Namegabe recently told a Washington conference, but the region’s civil society activists are fighting back.
With at least 1000 rapes per day – more than one a minute – the DRC has the world’s worst recorded incidence of “sexual terrorism,” US Senator Richard Durbin recently told the conference at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, jointly organized with the National Endowment for Democracy and the Eastern Congo Initiative.
The South Kivu Women’s Media Association is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.