Introduction: Ending Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo
A City of Joy
For over a decade now civil war has been tearing apart the heart of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s the deadliest conflict since World War II, with over five million deaths – a number quickly rising due to the escalation in conflict over the past few weeks.
Though the war is being waged by the Congolese army, foreign-backed rebels, and home-grown militias fighting over land and power, the most frequent targets are women. Since the conflict began in 1997, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been brutally raped. In some villages as many as 90 percent of the women have been raped; men in the villages are usually unarmed, and incapable of fighting back.
Sexual violence is often used in conflict zones to torture and humiliate women and families, and to destroy families. The problem in the DRC is considered to be the worst in the world (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/18/world/africa/18congo.html?pagewanted=1 ). In addition to the psychological impact, survivors are often physically mutilated, as well as having unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. However, severe medical shortages and a poor health infrastructure in the DRC create a barrier for survivors in need of assistance.
Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo is one of the major centers helping these women and girls, but after repairing their physical wounds, there is often little the doctors there can do to help. In an interview by 60 minutes, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a doctor at Panzi Hospital explained (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/01/11/60minutes/main3701249.shtml ): "You know, they're in deep pain. But it's not just physical pain. It's psychological pain that you can see. Here at the hospital, we've seen women who've stopped living.”
V-Day and UNICEF, on behalf of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, have developed a campaign entitled “Stop Raping our Greatest Resource, Power to Women and Girls of the DRC” (http://www.stoprapeindrc.org/ ). One result of this campaign is the establishment of the City of Joy at the Panzi Hospital — a center for women for women who have survived rape and torture, where they will receive medical treatment, education, leadership training, and a chance to earn income. The City of Joy will provide women in eastern Congo with the additional care that Dr. Mukwege was unable to provide.
The Union for Reform Judaism has been helping African women through its Nothing But Nets campaign (http://urj.org/relief/nets/), which recently sent 17,500 malaria preventing bed nets to a Ugandan refugee camp that houses many victims of sexual violence from the Congo. But we can do more. By teaching our congregations about the conflict that is tearing apart lives and families in the Congo, we can support the work of V-Day and UNICEF, the work of Panzi Hospital and the City of Joy, and the work of Dr. Mukwege. Together we can put an end to violence against women in the Congo.