Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo — I have been back in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for two weeks now meeting with leaders, activists, social workers, therapists, recent survivors, business owners, UN officials. There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the situation on the ground remains the same if not worse. Just a few weeks ago more than 600 women were raped on the Congo-Angola border, and more than 15,000 women have been raped in Eastern Congo this year. The massacres and recruiting of child soldiers continue. The indiscriminate and random killings rage on.
The good news is that there is palpable change in the women. Just last month, the Women’s World March brought out thousands of Congolese women who vocally and proudly stood up for their rights. The women of Congo have broken the silence and are claiming their voices and vision. They are resilient and brilliant. They have huge dreams and ambitions (even if they are often muted by the massive trauma and violence). They are outspoken leaders and visionaries and they could and should lead Congo out of her misery. They are indeed building a movement. There is AFEM, a network of women journalists, run by Congolese women reporting on the war and daily news throughout the region. There are the Green Mamas, a collective of survivors who have planted fields of vegetables, and who are not only surviving off the profits, but bringing more and more women into the process. There are hundreds of local women’s groups creating businesses, building leadership, fighting for judicial reform, developing healthcare and education, and there is V-Day’s City of Joy, a revolutionary community for survivors of gender violence where women will turn their pain to power. It opens Feb. 4, and it is owned and run by the Congolese.
It is very clear now that those of us supporting from the outside need to listen and take direction from women on the ground. We need to be very careful that in our well-intended rush to help end sexual violence we don’t institutionalize victimization or create a self-sustaining and self-perpetuating business of rape. We need to keep the focus razor sharp on the root causes of the war, and not only on the consequences.
There are so many questions.
Why, when so many war criminals have been identified, have the vast majority of them not been arrested or held accountable? Why, after 13 years, are there still weekly massacres and thousands of rapes and former child soldiers being brought back into the militias when the world knows exactly what is going on? Who is invested in keeping it this way? Why is the UN spending $3 million a day on peacekeepers who are there to supposedly protect the women, but whose main contribution seems to be taking photographs of the devastated women after they’ve been raped? Why isn’t $1 million a day of that money going for training, paying, and feeding a Congolese army that in a very short time could be capable of purging the FDLR and protecting the borders of the Congo? Why are the failed (as the ICG recently stated) military strategies Kimia 2 and Amani Leo still being implemented by the Security Counsel and the Congolese government? Where is President Obama, who as a senator shepherded a piece of legislation, SB 2125, the Obama Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006? There, he seemed to understand that “both the real and perceived presence of armed groups hostile to the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi continue to serve as a major source of regional instability and an apparent pretext for continued interference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by its neighbors [Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi].” Why has he suddenly gone silent? Who changed his thinking? Why, when it is known that the war in Congo is an economic war fought over the mines and minerals, isn’t there monitoring in place of the flow of gold, copper and coltain by now? Why continue to do very expensive, elaborate and time-consuming UN reports without any follow up or enforcement of law? Why are we still arguing over the definition of genocide and femicide and spending fortunes counting the numbers of raped women rather than stopping the atrocities?
Here and now we actually need to end the rape. We need to say NO MORE. No more millions spent counting the raped and studying the raped. No more gratuitous rape interviews. (I think the Congolese women should declare a story strike.) No more gawking. No more tragic photographs of nameless black women. No more pity. No more feigning ignorance about the situation. No more minerals stolen out from under the people. No more raped and re-raped and re-re-raped. No more children born of rape. No more fistula. No more stigmatization. No more destroyed vaginas. No more brutalized wombs and bladders and colons. No more dead raped nine-month-old babies or 80-year-old mamas. No more money being spent on or made on rape. NO MORE RAPE.