Rape as War Strategy in Congo. The Women that the World Forgot

She is thrown on the ground, with her legs broken; raped and treated like an animal. And then, she is rejected by her own family, because virginity is everything in that corner of the world; the very foundation of society.Even though society itself is dying, devastated not by bombs but by an assault at the very heart of its history:motherhood.This is the story of thousands of women in Congo, in an Africa forgotten by the most important international media, which remember to spare of word for it only when global reports on violence are published.Just a few lines, an article at best, and then the spotlights go off.Congo isn’t included in the agenda of the mass media and the atrocities that take place in that country do not concern us directly…

“To this day,” says Mbiye Diku, president of Tam Tam d’Afrique, an association of Congolese women; as well as senior gynecologist and obstetrician at INMP (The National Institute for the Promotion of Health of Migrant Populations and the Fight against Poverty-Related Disease, supported by the Italian Ministry of Health), “we continue to think of Congo’s horrors as an isolated story affecting just a corner of Africa, without consequences for Europe or America.Yet, it is a short-sighted vision.The children of ethnic rape are lonely kids, without families of their own and presented with a load of hatred as a gift from the moment of their birth.And they will find a way to unleash it outside of Congo.”

Since the 1990s, when an internal political conflict for control over mineral-rich regions started, between the government army and rebel groups supported by Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, sexual violence has been systematically usedagainst civilians, women in particular.“An assault against a mother is an assault against the very essence of our people,” explained Dr. Diku.“Given that our culture is entirely based on motherhood, the victims of violence are robbed of their social role, because once raped, the girls cannot find a place in society any more.In this way, systematic violence leads to ethnic depletion and consequent weakening of the ability to rise against those in power.

To crush the spirit of resistance, fathers have been forced to rape their daughters, or sons forced to rape their mothers, which is an annihilation of the very human essence.”After experiencing such violence many women will try to kill themselves.“This type of violence is an actual strategy of war,” said Solange Nyamulisa, director of the nonprofit International Action Aid.

This entire drama unfolds in front of the indifference of the Western world engaged in other war spectacles, which are seen as economically more important, due to both commercial prospects and possible post-war reconstruction efforts. In March, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published data on sexual violence in Ituri – a north-eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo – where as many as 2447 cases have been recorded in 2013 only.These being only the cases when victims have reported the violence to human rights associations in order to get help, the actual number can be twice as high.

The strategy is rooted in superstition.Small girls are preyed upon because sex with a virgin could “bring immortality”; pregnant women are gutted and buried alive in order to “make earth more fertile”; and old ladies, even over eighty, get raped because, according to tribal lore, intercourse with an older woman will make one rich.

Dr. Denis Mukwege’s “Panzi” hospital is located in Bukavu, in eastern Congo. It was meant to be a maternity ward, but it became a shelter for all those women who lost their pregnancy due to violence.“I must protect my own sanity,” explained Dr. Denis Mukwege.“I learned how to be insensitive, in order to be able to treat patients who leak urine and fecal matter, due to lacerations caused by gang rape.Women come here, who have been brutalized with truncheons, knives and bayonets stuck in their bodies and left without a vagina, a bladder or a rectum.

Translation provided by ProLingua