In the Congo women and girls face threats every day from armed militias, the military, and even the police who are supposed to protect them. Militias use rape as a weapon of war, destroying communities by targeting women, the backbone of Congolese society.
What is Sexual and Gender Based Violence, or SGBV?
Sexual violence is an act of a sexual nature by force, or by threat of force or coercion.
Gender-based violence is violence against women based on women’s subordinate status in society. It includes any act or threat by men or male dominated institutions that inflict physical, sexual, or psychological harm on a woman or girl because of their gender. While at a comparatively lower level, men, too, are subjected to sexual torture.
Tens of thousands of women and girls have been the victims of sexual violence in the Congo. Attacks are common and access to medical and psychological support is very limited. Victims of sexual violence are often too afraid or ashamed to seek treatment and can be shunned by society and their families because of their experiences.
Armed groups, along with the Congolese National Army, are guilty of gang rapes, rapes leading to injury and death, and abductions of women and girls. Ending and preventing sexual violence in eastern Congo will require political and financial commitments to reforming Congo's security, justice, and economic institutions. In April 2011 the U.S. State Department released a strategy to work with the Congolese government and the United Nations to address sexual and gender-based violence in the Congo.
Some funding and programmatic expertise has been put into reducing impunity, but very little has been done to increase protection and improve the security sector towards protecting vulnerable communities in eastern Congo.
The U.S. government has four key objectives:
- Increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations.
- Reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV.
- Improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV.
- Increase access to quality services for survivors of SGBV.
Moving forward, the U.S. government should:
- Pressure the government of Congo to prosecute the worst offenders.
- Expand training of combat units to protect the most vulnerable.
- Work with the U.N. Security Council to deploy a Group of Experts on Civilian Protection in Congo, which would be composed of international specialists, in order to propose independent recommendations to the Security Council about how to protect civilian populations.