SOS Femmes en Dangers (SOS FED) is a local organization in South Kivu whose mission is to help women who have been victims of sexual violence. On July 29th Ned and I had the opportunity to visit SOS FED’s refuge center in Mboko, deep in Fizi Territory. The center is for women who have been victims of sexual violence at the hands of the roving bands of soldiers that infest the jungles of Fizi. The services that the center provides are simple, but women who go there are given a safe place to recover from the physical and mental trauma of their experience.
In the Congo, soldiers of all affiliations use sexual violence against women to terrorize the population into submission. After a woman has been violated, she will often find herself ostracized by her community and rejected by her family. In addition to the obstacles to reintegration, she may often suffer from any number of health problems stemming from physical and sexual abuse, including severe genital mutilation.
Soldiers will also abduct women and hold them as virtual slaves in military camps in “the bush”. The women are subjected to constant physical and sexual abuse, and may be kept for as long as three years. If a woman has had children in the bush, they are often killed before she is released.
The SOS FED field center gives women who have been violated a safe place to stay and recover. When I visited, there were eighteen women living at the center. One of them had just come out of the bush five days ago; she was only 19, but already had had three children by soldiers. There are only two big bedrooms at the center, so the women are stacked nine to a room. Some of the women are bedridden due to illness. The center is low on food and medicine.
Along with SOS FED staff member Amisi Munga, Ned and I recorded the testimony of four of the women. We also interviewed the site director, a tall, austere woman named Mariamu “Marie” Bashishibe. Marie talked at length about the suffering of these women. Marie told us about the fates of those who cannot stay at the center; the capacity of the center is very small, and therefore it can barely make a dent in helping the hundreds of women who are victimized each year. These women in Fizi Territory can expect to receive no assistance from the government; in fact, many of them have been victimized by soldiers of their own government, and not just by militia or invading rebels from Rwanda and Burundi.
Despite the suffering they had endured, these women demonstrated enormous strength and courage. I was moved by the fact that they were very open to telling their stories on camera. They asked us to take their pictures. Their hospitality was unparalleled; they prepared for us a large feast of rice, beans, and fish, and before I left Marie presented me with a chicken as a gift from the women.
Right now, we are working on completely translating the interviews with the women from Kibembe so we can get a clearer picture of their experiences. Today there is no justice for them, but hopefully by giving them a voice, someone out there will listen.
Posted By Walter James
Posted Aug 3rd, 2009