Congo, Democratic Republic of the

V-Day and UNICEF urge protection for women and girls in eastern DR Congo

UNICEF Image
© V-Day/Paula Allen
The V-Day and UNICEF campaign seeks protection and justice for hundreds of thousands of women and girls who have been raped or are at risk in eastern DR Congo.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 6 August 2007 – Highlighting the issue of violence against women and girls, renowned US playwright and ‘V-Day’ founder Eve Ensler has chronicled her firsthand encounters with women in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where sexual violence has become a routine weapon of war.

Ms. Ensler’s account appears in the new issue of Glamour Magazine. It also marks the launch of ‘Stop Raping our Greatest Resource’ – a campaign initiated by the women of eastern DRC along with UNICEF and V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.

The campaign is being conducted on behalf of UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a joint initiative of 10 UN agencies, including UNICEF.

Physical and emotional wounds

UNICEF estimates that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the conflict began in eastern DRC more than a decade ago. As in other conflict zones around the world, sexual violence there has been used to torture and humiliate women and girls, and to destroy families.

In addition to its severe psychological impact, sexual violence leaves many survivors with genital lesions, traumatic fistulae and other physical wounds, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ05-2197/Pirozzi
Women lie on beds under a tent at a UNICEF-assisted centre for victims of sexual violence in Goma, North Kivu Province.

The campaign launched by V-Day and UNICEF calls for halting the violence and ending impunity for those who commit such atrocities.

Playwright takes on a global problem

Ms. Ensler, author of the award-winning play ‘The Vagina Monologues’, founded V-Day to raise funds and awareness through benefit productions of the play. In 2007, more than 3,000 V-Day events took place worldwide.

“Before I went to the Congo, I’d spent the past 10 years working on V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls,” Ms. Ensler writes in her magazine story. “I’d travelled to the rape mines of the world – places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and Haiti, where rape has been used as a tool of war.

“But nothing I ever experienced felt as ghastly, terrifying and complete as the sexual torture and attempted destruction of the female species here,” she continues. “The violence is a threat to all; young girls and village elders alike are at risk. It is not too strong to call this a femicide, to say that the future of the Congo’s women is in serious jeopardy.”

In the article, Ms. Ensler goes on to describes her June visit to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where UNICEF funds medical assistance, counselling and other support for women who have endured sexual violence.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ05-1243/LeMoyne
A teenage girl who suffered sexual abuse in the Mai Mai militia stands in the doorway of a UNICEF-supported hospital in Goma, waiting to be examined by doctors.

Working to end the danger

“When you have spoken to these women and girls, and listened to their stories, you clearly understand just how devastating their circumstances are,” says UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, who has also travelled to eastern DRC.

“Simple, everyday tasks, like gathering wood or fetching water, expose them to grave danger,” adds Ms. Veneman. “They must be allowed to live in a secure environment.”

The V-Day and UNICEF campaign calls for measures to ensure that state-armed forces and police do not perpetrate sexual violence against women and girls in DRC. And it urges the full implementation and enforcement of national laws that protect and empower women.

Giving women and girls a sense that justice will be done is an important step in advancing the nation’s healing process, UNICEF believes.

However, DRC is just one of the countries where UNICEF is working to end violence against women and girls. Across the globe, armed groups use rape and other forms of sexual violence as both a military tactic and a means to claim spoils of war. For UNICEF and its partners – including V-Day – the priorities for addressing this crisis are clear: Prevent sexual violence, end impunity and provide the necessary health and social services to help victims recover and rebuild their lives.


 

 

Video


7 August 2007:
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman speaks about meeting with victims of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo, and UNICEF's efforts to stop sexual violence worldwide.
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Video


6 August 2007:
Child Protection Officer Pamela Shifman explains the problem of sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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