Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

The War on Women’s Bodies

18 Feb

Today Amisi, Marceline, and I are getting together a list of supplies we will be sending down to the centers in Mboko and Kikonde. This list includes basic necessities such as rice, beans, cooking oil, and soap. Thanks to these staples, survivors of sexual violence can take time to recover in the physical and mental safety of the centers.
Despite the fact that women provide the economic backbone of the Congo, it is horrifying to think that many are barely able to sustain themselves and their children. This is particularly tragic in the case of rape survivors. Rape carries a strong social stigma for women in Congo, and therefore the consequences in such socially centered communities are devastating. Women who are raped are often rejected by their communities, and even by their families. Some women at the centers will tell you about their husbands kicking them out of the house after they were raped. These women are falsely labeled as “prostitutes”, and because of the social stigma, they are often unable to participate economically in their community. Some of these women end up becoming prostitutes, as being already labeled as such means that it may be the only economic option available. Thus, what does a woman do to provide for herself and her children? She may end up selling her body, even after it has been ravaged against her will.

Of course, prostitution is widely available throughout this part of East Africa, especially since men don’t really have to worry about any social consequences for their sexual behavior. Abortion? Forget it, a woman can be thrown in jail for even saying she wants an abortion. Contraceptives? Only if the man agrees to it. A saying among a lot of men around here is that “you can’t taste the lollipop without removing the wrapper”. Translation: condoms are for suckers.

In this war-torn and politically unstable region, it has been an all-out war on women’s bodies, both in the form of rape and in economic terms as well. The message seems pretty clear: a woman’s body does not belong to herself, but instead to the man with the gun or the man with the fat pocketbook. The total breakdown of law and order and the nature of the war allow for this culture to germinate, as it would happen anywhere in the world under similar circumstances. Honestly, there is nothing more infuriating about working in the Congo than having to think about these realities.

This is why the SOS FED centers are so vital to building peace and equality. Women can recover without starving or selling their bodies. They can cultivate communally, harvesting produce in tranquil fields among others who have shared their experiences. They will have an income, through which they can buy soap and cooking oil themselves, and send their children to school. These women can return to their communities through interventions from the reintegration staff; they will tell their community leaders that these women should not be shunned.

Soap, rice, beans, cooking oil. We will pack it onto a big fuso (transport truck) and send it down into Fizi. When the harvest for beans and manioc occurs, we will get a fuso to bring the produce up to Uvira so the women can sell it at a higher price. The women of the Congo endure.

Congolese women in Baraka, Fizi Territory

Congolese women in Baraka, Fizi Territory


Posted Feb 18th, 2011

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