This entry is again on the Congo as the nation has just celebrated 50 years of independence from Belgium (my own country!) and I am trying to imagine the future of a state where 1200 women, men and children are dying every day because of the conflict and humanitarian crisis, which rage in the eastern provinces.
The scale of violence in DRC is well documented. More than 5.4 million have died since the conflict began in 1998. The death toll is equivalent to an Asian Tsunami every six months or so and a September 11th every 2.5 days. And yet, the world is still largely ignoring it.
Women have been specifically targeted: in the first 9 months of 2009 alone, there were 7,500 reported cases of rape in eastern DRC. Girls as young as two and women as old as 80 have been victims of rape and sexual violence (Human Rights Watch). In the eastern province of South Kivu, one woman is being raped every two hours. (OCHA, 2010)
But despite this backdrop of war, poverty and sexual violence, women in DRC are holding families together and rebuilding their communities, according to a new report by Women for Women International, an international charity working with women in areas of conflict around the world. “Their resilience and strength shines through,” says Christine Karumba, WfWI Programme Director for the DRC. “One woman can change anything. Many women can change everything.”
“DRC 2010 Stronger Women, Stronger Nations”, based on interviews with 1800 women and 200 men in rural and urban areas in the eastern provinces, shows that:
Out of every 100 women in DRC:
40 have lost their home
80 do not own a mattresses
40 never attended school
50 eat only one meal a day
80 earn US $1 or less per day
80 are from villages that have been attacked
80 think their current village will be attacked
50 have spouses who left because of war
50 are afraid to work outside of their home
80 are unhappy with their lives today
70 think about hurting themselves
75 have lost family members due to the war
80 have lost family due to illness.
Yet, 93% are working and continue to support their families
And 63 believe there can be peace in the DRC
The WfWI report founds that:
1. Health and emotional well-being are severely degraded by violence. The war is taking its toll on family structures. The constant atmosphere of violence and insecurity and the breakdown of the family due to war is leading to a near mental health epidemic in the eastern province of Kivu.
2. Health and wealth go hand in hand. Almost all (93%) of women are working. Despite the number of women working, 95% are living in absolute poverty, and women in our sample are well below accepted average income levels.
3. Women with higher income levels have better physical health and well-being. They save more money to support their families and eat more meals per day. They are respected by their families and communities, think less about hurting themselves, and know where to seek help and information.
4. The war burdens women with increased responsibilities. Only 2.4% of women reported that their husbands remain at home. This separation inflicted by the war leaves women to shoulder enormous burdens as they take over tasks formerly carried out by men in addition to those for which they are traditionally responsible. Lack of security makes these tasks even harder.
5. Men suffer along with women. Men have been affected by sexual violence at a higher level than previously understood, with similar emotional effects as women. Male abuse victims suffer from extremely high rates of unemployment.
6. Group participation offers enormous recovery benefits.
Overall 80% of women surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that being part of a group helps them make friends, express themselves, increase their incomes, and be part of their community.
Women for Women International is calling on the international community, the UK government and the UN to work with the Congolese government to:
• Improve the security situation
• Address mental health
• Invest in women
•Involve men in solutions for women
• Channel local momentum for peace
Since 2004, WfWI has provided support to 31,195 women in the DRC. 11,811 women are currently in the DRC programme. The year-long programme offers women rights awareness and life-skills training, development of vocational and business skills and opportunities for micro-finance and help in identifying potential markets for self employment.
Watch WfWI video on women in the Congo and their work there (as seen on 60 minutes).