Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence, sexual or otherwise, that is due to gender inequalities. It is recognised as a human rights abuse. Women and girls are the main victims, as gender-based violence is rooted in traditionally unequal power relation ships in society, although boys and men are also targets of sexual violence. It is particularly common during armed conflict, where it is often used deliberately as a weapon of war, and in post-conflict situations.
Gender-based violence is a violation of a woman’s right to equality and freedom from harm. It undermines achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
There has been conflict between different armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for nearly ten years, and this has left deep scars in society. About 3.5 million people have died as a result of the conflict, large numbers of people have been displaced and there is poverty and malnutrition. The problem of rape and sexual violence is widespread. This has also contributed to the rapid spread of HIV. The effects of both violence and HIV and AIDS are not just physical, but psychological and social too.
La Province de l’Église Anglicane du Congo – PEAC (the Anglican Church of Congo) has eight dioceses in DRC. It seeks to serve God by contributing to the fight against HIV and AIDS, and trying to restore hope among people who have suffered so much through the conflict. PEAC understands that if the church is to be a source of hope that people can trust, then we must demonstrate the love of God in practical ways. For example, PEAC works with women who have been raped.
Some of the activities that PEAC organise include:
Raising awareness – raising women’s awareness of the issues surrounding rape, to encourage women to report cases. Many women are afraid to speak up because they fear social rejection, and that their husbands will abandon them. Young girls, often encouraged by their parents, prefer to stay silent because they fear that otherwise they will not be able to find a marriage partner. It is important to raise awareness among men and the older generation to punish rapists and not to reject raped women.
Providing medical help – helping women obtain medical help to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS. It is important to take antiretroviral drugs within three days of the rape for them to be most effective. However, fear of stigma means that many women hesitate to come forward. There is also the problem of enabling women in remote rural areas to receive help in time.
Providing prayer and counselling – regular prayer and counselling sessions are provided by trained female counsellors. It is important that the counsellors are women, as many women who have been raped find it easier to share their feelings and talk to another woman.
Income-generating activities – practical training in various income-generating activities can give the women a new focus and self-reliance to help them get through their trauma.
PEAC has found many difficulties in this work, particularly the social discrimination faced by women who have been raped. Husbands will often reject their wives, as if it were their fault. In a country where armed men can do as they want and where the justice system is corrupt, many attackers are never punished for rape. It is important to increase awareness of the problems and mobilise communities to prevent these attacks, condemn the attackers and to look after women who have suffered violence. Women also need training to advocate against sexual violence.
Despite these problems, most of the women we work with find relief and comfort in counselling. They value the support and the opportunity to express their worries, and they gain peace and hope to live positively.
Baliesima Kadukima Albert is the Co-ordinator of the Health and HIV and AIDS Programme for the Anglican Church of Congo (PEAC), Beni, DRC.
PO Box 25586, Kampala, Uganda.
One girl who came to us was an 18 year old student who had been raped by a neighbour. She only came forward several months after wards when this man died of AIDS. Unfortunately, she also tested positive for HIV. When she came she was suicidal and felt worthless, but regular counselling has helped her regain confidence and hope.
Another case was a 35 year old teacher who had been raped on her way back from market by a group of men. Because of her shame and fear of social discrimination she had decided to leave her home and return to live with her parents, but after counselling sessions along with her husband, they have decided to continue their life together.
Reducing the risk of sexual violence in emergencies
- Design and locate camps for refugees or internally displaced people in consultation with refugees and displaced people to increase physical security.
- Ensure that public water points, latrines and other facilities (schools, health posts) are located in secure areas and within easy walking distance of people’s shelters.
- Where possible, assist each family to have its own latrine, and provide tools and materials for this.
- Public sanitary facilities for men and women should be separate, especially for bathing.
- Ensure there are women health staff, security staff and interpreters.
- Include women in the distribution of shelter, food and other supplies.
- Provide clothing and sanitary packs for girls and women.
- Provide fuel-efficient stoves to reduce the need for firewood, as women are vulnerable when they go to collect firewood.
- Include women in camp decision-making processes about health, sanitation, reproductive health and food distribution.
- Ensure communities are informed about the services available for survivors of violence, such as emergency medical help. Identify those who are particularly at risk such as orphans and single female-headed households.
- Identify, train and support community-based support workers to prevent, recognise and respond to gender-based violence, to provide emotional support, information, referral and advocacy.
- Train women in their rights, such as refugee status.
- Develop support groups for survivors of gender-based violence and their families.
Adapted from Protecting the Future: HIV Prevention, Care and Support Among Displaced and War-Affected Populations, IRC, Kumarian Press, 2003.