I was recently in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to help train staff of an international aid organization on how to involve men in helping to reduce violence against women. While I’ve spent time working in post-conflict regions over the years, Goma was striking for the extent of violence and the limited reach of the national government (particularly in terms of protecting women). Plus the United Nations peacekeeping force in Goma is not nearly large enough for the complex needs of protecting the civilian population. Violence has plagued the DRC and its neighbors for decades, and rape as a weapon of war is an enduring hallmark of the conflict.
The world was once again reminded of this last month. Just two weeks after I was in the DRC, a four-day rampage took place during which nearly 500 women and girls, and some boys and men, were raped in and around the village of Luvungi in a campaign of ongoing terror waged by armed militia groups. To date, it’s been estimated that armed groups and soldiers from the Congolese military have raped more than 200,000 women.
My reaction, along with my colleagues working on these issues, was outrage. The outrage is compounded by the fact that this is more of the same. Eastern Congo has been written off in large part by the powers that rule the U.N. The current U.N. mandate is too narrow, the number of peacekeeping troops too small, and the governments of both the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Rwanda are not doing enough to protect civilians and disarm the multiple armed groups.
News of the atrocities drew widespread international condemnation – and conspicuous silence. Neither the DRC’s government nor the relevant regional bodies – including the African Union, which declared 2010 to 2020 the “African Women’s Decade” – have publicly condemned the violence. Their silence speaks volumes.
It’s time for more of us to speak out. A consortium of groups including the U.N. Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders, of which I am a member, have called for immediate and urgent action to hold accountable the perpetrators of this violence and to take measures to prevent such violence from occurring ever again.
You can add your voice by endorsing our statement. It’s a small act but collectively we can demand that the international community take action to stop the violence against women.
A view of the Democratic Republic of Congo from Rwanda.
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