Women and Girls as Victims in DRC
Women have been tortured, genitally maimed, raped and killed at times disembowelled to kill a foetus along with its mother in the 1990s Balkans wars, during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (to which the war in Congo is directly linked). The trend has prompted campaigns at the United Nations and in independent organizations around the world demanding that the abuses against women during war and in refugee camps be addressed, and that women also be given prominent places at peace resolution tables.
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The Congo report , describes graphically the horrific abuses of a war fought out of sight, where the number of international peacekeepers is marginally small in numbers. The authors reported that mass rapes, often to demoralize enemies, seem to take place everywhere.
In the eastern region of South Kivu, the report said, a Congolese rebel army allied to Rwanda had buried women alive after ramming sticks into their vaginas, to terrorize the local population . According to Usaid report, the majority of the accounts of traumatic fistula have emerged from the DRC, where armed conflict in eastern Congo has led to tens of thousands of women and girls suffering from sexual violence.
Traumatic fistula is reported to be a significant problem mostly in the Traumatic Gynaecologic Fistula as a consequence of sexual violence in Conflict Settings: A Literature Review from Usaid, September 6–8, 2005 explains that Traumatic gynaecologic fistula is an injury that occurs due to direct traumatic tearing of the vaginal tissues, as a result of violent sexual assault, including rape, mass rape, and the forced insertion of objects into a woman’s vagina. A woman or girl who sustains this injury is rendered incontinent of urine and/or faces.
Together with the horrible physical consequences of her condition, she must also bear the psychological sequel of sexual assault, as well as the double social stigmatization due both to her unpleasant incontinent state and to her socially undesirable status as a victim of sexual assault. The poor health situation of women and girls in DRC is in part as a result of lack of access to basic services and to humanitarian assistance generally offered by the United Nations.
The primary causes of this lack of UN access are due to poor infrastructure and denial of access by parties to conflict. As a result, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been facing economic, social and political problems related to the war, which have had a negative impact on the whole population, particularly on women. The restriction on nationwide movement has complicated for a long time the coordination of humanitarian assistance and economic activities between the eastern and western areas of the country.
In some instances, armed groups have deliberately denied humanitarian aid workers access to certain regions within DRC by setting up regularly checkpoints along roads and rivers, demanding payment for granting permission to pass various armed forces check point. This makes travel between urban areas and remote areas more difficult and insecure. In other cases, poor infrastructure or other logistical obstacles hinder delivery of humanitarian assistance. Both of these elements combined with the sheer size of the country make DRC the most expensive country to deliver aid to in the world.
In other instances, staff of international NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN agencies and MONUC have been intimidated, harassed, taken hostage and deliberately targeted by combatants and killed by the armed groups, such as the brutal murders of six members of ICRC in Ituri District in 2001. War, poverty and the breakdown of traditional coping mechanisms have forced children (girls) onto the streets or away from their original home environment into situations where they are facing neglect and exploitation.
Refugees International describes the complexity of the situation for these children by listing the many categories used to describe them: children in the street (during the day), children of the street (during day and night), children in prison, child labourers, child prostitutes, children accused of sorcery, demobilized or escaped child soldiers, unaccompanied displaced children, displaced children and abandoned children. A new category has also been created for children orphaned by AIDS. All of these young girls are in serious need of protection and assistance.
Many fit into more than one of these categories. The number of Congolese girls on the street in urban areas has increased, according to UNICEF and other agencies operating in DRC. AI reports that the number of street girls in the Eastern cities increased significantly. Young girls who are orphaned and separated from their families or other caregivers are at particular risk of neglect and abuse. These girls are discriminated against access to services and are subject to sexual violence. The result is that many have adolescent pregnancies, become child-mothers or are forced to turn to sex work to survive.
Street children are criminalized under Congolese law and are regularly targeted for roundups by authorities, police and /or military and other forms of abuse by various sectors of society. Separation from families also increases young people’s risk of forced recruitment by armed groups. Other children are left in such desperate economic circumstances that they may voluntarily join armed groups in search of food and security. Recruitment and use of girls by the different armed groups is difficult to assess.
The numbers of girl recruits is likely to be lower than that of boys according to M Wessells. . No End is in Sight and to find no other sources, girls are notably present in different group’s army. While it appears that some girls receive military training, few probably see combat. Girls are typically used for domestic work and sex. Many girls remain wives of commanders and may even return with them to their country of origin for foreign groups (Rwandese and Ugandans). Others may resort to prostitution to support themselves and their children after being abandoned or widowed.