Wartime Rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Violation of Body and Status

One of the defining aspects of the conflict in the DRC is the systematic and torturous perpetration of rape as a weapon of war; it is an epidemic. It is harmful in various dimensions, having “devastating repercussions for international security, and it threatens prospects for post-conflict peace and reconstruction”[1]. According to a study by the American Journal of Public Health, 1,152 women are raped every day in the country[2]. But what does rape mean for a surviving woman’s life? It means exile.

What are the Effects of Wartime Rape?

Wartime rape in the DRC represents a widespread atrocity, embedded in the constructs of the conflict. It is evidential of the gendered structures that plague conflict[3]. This barbarity of wartime rape culture is incredibly harmful on a woman’s physical and mental health, including the spreading of HIV and the horrific physical harm caused, as one woman states, “sometimes the rebels shove corn cobs or gun barrels into the women’s vaginas after they’ve raped them”[4]. The immediate effects felt by victims of wartime rape are detrimental, but survivors are in most cases destined to suffer further.

The societal stigma of wartime rape for survivors is extremely harmful. In this way, rape as a weapon of war in the DRC is not only a violation of a woman’s body and intimacy, but it represents a violation of a woman’s status and her quality of life. Following an attack of rape, women in the DRC are at great risk of rejection by their husbands, their families and their communities, often being banished as a result of their victimisation. These women become ‘criminals’ as a result of crimes committed against them, as they are dishonoured and treated as valueless. The rejection and social stigmatization as a result of wartime rape can have life-altering consequences, as a report by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam International describes how spousal and community abandonment lead to isolation and homelessness[5]. One victim states that as a result of her rape, “I have to sleep in the church because I have no house”[6]. The quality of life for survivors of wartime rape in DRC can become devastating, as the blaming of victims of rape and consequential stigmatization of these women only reinforces the cycle.

What Can Be Done?

The notion of the victim blaming of women is a crucial consideration in the acceptance and combatting of wartime rape and victim’s consequential stigmatization and exile. This issue is certainly not confined to the boundaries of conflict and represents an emphasis on the structures present in everyday society, wherein women are questioned in their role in rape; Was it because of their choice of clothing? Where they asking for it?

Through the acceptance of the detrimental effects that gendered societal structures have on a global scale, attempts to tackle the issue can be developed. Attitudes towards rape must be addressed on a very local scale in order to educate and familiarise communities with the actualities of rape. Furthermore, justice for the victims of wartime rape is an essential component in the tackling of attitudes, wherein if women receive the justice and support they deserve, the reality of the situation may gradually become increasingly accepted.

Discussion

The conflict within the DRC has become defined through the widespread and systematic perpetration of rape. It represents not only a gendered attack of women, but a violation of women physically, psychologically and of her status. The use of rape as a wartime weapon has immediate effect on a woman’s life, resulting in stigmatization, rejection and often even exile from their communities. There is a complete neglect to accept or support rape survivors in communities, violating their status as individuals. Wartime rape is not just an attack on the body; it is an attack on a woman’s life. If the detrimental effects a woman faces after she has fallen victim to a heinous crime are to improve, it is vital to consider and accept the gendered societal structures that persist in order to achieve any progress.

blog post 2

Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

http://www.ibtimes.com/drc-rape-crisis-127-congolese-women-raped-during-armed-attack-eastern-democratic-1922735

Footnotes:

[1] Cohen, Dara Kay. ‘Explaining rape during civil war: cross national evidence (1980-2009)’. American Political Science Review. August 2013. Vol 107, No. 3. P.461.

[2] Peterman, Amber., Palermo, Tia. And Bredenkamp, Caryn. ‘Estimates and determinates of sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’. American Journal of Public Health. June 2011. Vol 101, No. 6. Pp.1060-1067.

[3] Ward, Caterine Arrabal. ‘Significance of wartime rape. In Marcia Texler Segal, Vasilikie Demos (eds.) Gendered Perspectives on Conflict and Violence: Part A (Advances in Gender Research, Volume 18A) Emerald Group Publishing. Pp.189-212.

[4] Taylor, Diane. ‘Aged one to 90, the victims of hidden war against women’. The Guardian. Web. 5 December 2008.

[5] Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam International. ‘“Now the world is without me”: An investigation of sexual violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’. April 2010.

[6] Taylor, Diane. ‘Aged one to 90’. The Guardian.

Bibliography:

Baaz, Maria Eriksson & Stern, Maria. ‘Why do soldiers rape? Masculinity, violence and sexuality in the armed forces in the Congo (DRC)’. International Studies Quarterly. 2009. Vol 53. Pp.495-518.

Cohen, Dara Kay. ‘Explaining rape during civil war: cross national evidence (1980-2009)’. American Political Science Review. August 2013. Vol 107, No. 3. Pp.461-477.

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Oxfam International. ‘“Now, the world is without me”: An investigation of sexual violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’. April 2010.

Peterman, Amber., Palermo, Tia. And Bredenkamp, Caryn. ‘Estimates and determinates of sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’. American Journal of Public Health. June 2011. Vol 101, No. 6. Pp.1060-1067.

Taylor, Diane. ‘Aged one to 90, the victims of hidden war against women’. The Guardian. 5 December 2008. Web. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/dec/05/congo-rape-testimonies-walungu

Ward, Caterine Arrabal. ‘Significance of wartime rape’. In Marcia Texler Segal, Vasilikie Demos (eds.) Gendered Perspectives on Conflict and Violence: Part A (Advances in Gender Research, Volume 18A) Emerald Group Publishing. Pp.189-212.

 

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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