Speakers discuss sexual violence in Congo

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February 27, 2009

12:40 AM

The Raise Hope for Congo Speakers Tour came to the College of William and Mary Tuesday.

Raise Hope for Congo is a national campaign working to protect and empower Congolese women and girls who are victims of sexual violence that is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The campaign concentrates on spreading the word about the current atrocities and motivating people to get involved.

The speakers were brought to campus by EMPOWER Congo, a campus group that aims to promote awareness about the sexual violence in the region and to raise money to benefit the cause.

The representatives who spoke from Raise Hope for Congo were David Sullivan, a research associate, Sarina Virk, a campaign assistant, and Sylvie Maunga, a Congolese lawyer and activist.

“The Congo is endowed with natural resources that have continually attracted violent interaction from abroad,” Sullivan said.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently engaged in one of the deadliest conflicts the world has seen since World War II. Since 1996, almost 5.5 million people have died, and one million more have been displaced from their homes.

Amidst the raging battles, approximately 200,000 women have been raped since the start of the war. Sullivan said that although there has been progress for peace on a political level through ceasefires, democratic elections in 2006 and the involvement of the United Nations, there has been very little effort made on the ground to stop violence against civilians.

“Rather than fighting against each other, the foreign soldiers take it out on the natives,” Sullivan said.

Armed groups use violence, mostly sexual violence, to traumatize, control and dominate the population.

“Sexual violence is a terror tactic used by militias like weapons to traumatize the communities,” Maunga said.

Maunga went on to say that women are considered the spirit of the nation, and by attacking women, the soldiers believe they are destabilizing the country.

Efforts are now being made in the Congo to mobilize the women to protect themselves against sexual violence.

“The countries involved in this have no interest in the women,” Maunga said. “As a result, women have to take matters into their own hands.”

Activists are helping women get back on their feet by helping them become financially independent by teaching them profitable skills, such as making soap. Additionally, they are training women to become eligible for government positions, in the hope that putting women in power may help bring an end to sexual violence.

Currently, Sullivan said, there are no consequences for the violence going on in the Congo.

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