November 25, 2022
Testimonial of two survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo
This November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we would like to remind of the urgent need to fight against sexual violence against women in South Kivu (Eastern Congo).
Since 2015, Doctors of the World has been working to eradicate sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly in South Kivu. After 7 years of collaboration with the Panzi hospital, directed by Dr. Mukwege, winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, DotW is now conducting prevention, medical and psychosocial care and advocacy activities in the health zone of Uvira and in the city of Bukavu (South Kivu).
“Early and forced marriages, unwanted pregnancies linked to sexual abuse, unsafe abortion practices of pregnancy (IVG): in the DRC, and particularly in South Kivu, gender-based violence is everywhere. And it is not decreasing, or not very noticeably. We know that from an OCHA report in 2020, GBV increased by 86% that year compared to 2019, this violence concerns more and more minors and young girls under 18 years of age are becoming pregnant. In the face of this violence, stigmatization and lack of care are still common for many victims,” explains Eric Wynants, deputy coordinator of DotW in DRC, who has coordinated the project to combat violence in Panzi.
In South Kivu, a region marked by ongoing conflict and an alarming humanitarian situation, rape has long been used as a weapon of war by the warring parties. Today, rape has spread in Congolese society, particularly through demobilized former child soldiers, militiamen, ex-rebels and various armed groups. The victims seem to be increasingly young, sometimes under the age of ten. This violence is in addition to other violence committed in a domestic or criminal context. In order to help the victims of this violence, DotW intervenes in the territory of Uvira and in the city of Bukavu. Our organization carries out community prevention activities, offers health care and provides psychosocial support, promotes the reintegration of victims into the workforce and refers them for legal advice. Given the tense security situation and the lack of humanitarian organizations present in certain areas, the intervention of DotW is essential.
In Itombwe and Minembwe, as part of prevention activities, community groups made up of about 50 people – opinion leaders, victims of violence, representatives of civil society – are meeting. The objective: to analyze the causes and aggravating factors that reinforce sexual violence and to define a series of locations to eradicate it.
“To demonstrate an example of a community action for prevention, during a period of time, many women who went to fetch water from Lake Kivu (on the outskirts of Bukavu) early in the morning were sexually abused. The road was poorly lit, and insecurity was at its worst. Following community discussions, it was decided to install public lighting. This drastically reduced the number of incidents,” adds Eric Wynants.
Women who have been sexually assaulted should go to a health center as soon as possible, in order to obtain a post-rape kit that includes treatment for HIV, hepatitis B vaccine, treatment for other sexually transmitted infections (syphilis, gonorrhoea, etc.), and the morning-after pill. More generally, victims of violence must be promptly treated. In order to provide information on this subject, DotW community groups go to the villages, explaining the existence of these services and the possibilities of medical care in the health centers supported by the organization. In addition, a medical-legal certificate is systematically established and allows victims to file a complaint. DotW also provides psychosocial support and mental health care to survivors, allowing them to express their feelings and to free themselves in part from the trauma experienced. The psychosocial assistants also inform them about their rights and/or refer them to specialized legal actors.
Finally, DotW carries out advocacy work within communities and at the political level: “Through a coalition of mayors and territorial administrators, we mobilize the political authorities to take measures to prevent and fight against sexual violence and to denounce those responsible,” adds Eric Wynants.
“In order to improve the condition of victims of sexual violence, it is essential to offer them an integrated response: facilitating their access to health care and medication in medical facilities, to safe abortion if necessary and to offer psychosocial and mental health support. In addition, enabling them to pursue vocational training or develop their own livelihoods is another step towards personal reconstruction,” concludes Eric Wynants.
To read about the experiences of 2 survivors of GBV and the support they received from DotW, take a look at the articles below.
© Caroline Thirion