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Teresa Lamas – WNN Improve It
(WNN) Madrid, SPAIN, WESTERN EUROPE: Congolese journalist Caddy Adzuba Furaha has for years been reporting on the sexual aggressions suffered by the women of her country where thousands of women have been and continue to be used as weapons of war. Reporting on thousands of women from the Kivu region west of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have suffered sexual violence by Rwandese rebel groups that operate in the country, this journalist denounces the armed forces who have been slaughtering people, ransacking villages and brutalizing Congolese civil society while international media and governments remain silent.
In a captivating one-on-one interview Adzuba Furaha talks with Madrid, Spain based journalist Teresa Lamas as she shares how women’s bodies in the Congo are the ones who have provided the battlefield of war. Only now are Congolese women beginning to talk candidly in public about their own experience of rape.
Teresa Lamas: How can sexual violence turn into a weapon of war?
Caddy Adzuba Furaha: Sexual violence turns into a weapon of war when it is used systematically. When the rebels plan to sack a village, they use as a strategy the raping of all the women and girls with the aim of breaking the community through destroying women’s bodies. This way, they manage to separate their members so they become weaker and unable to defend themselves from the situation they are into.
It is not about getting into a house and raping all the women, regardless of their age. Armed rebels mutilate women’s genitals while they oblige family members to look and participate in the aggression. Women bodies are turned into a battleground, that is why we say it is femicide, genocide of women.
Rebels also kidnap the women to use them as sex slaves during months or years. Boys and girls born in this context are rejected by the community. People lose their humanity, their lives, their homes, their children and become internally displaced or refugees. The whole country is affected by this situation.
TL: Why through the women?
CAF: Armed groups realized that over the years of crisis and dictatorship, the rise in poverty has made social fabric to lose its value. When worker salaries stopped being paid, mainly men workers, women started to take over local economy starting trades, orchards and small enterprises re-activating community life. Both in villages and large cities, women were building the local economy. So destroying them, you end up with the life of the entire community.
At a national and international level the consequences are devastating. In addition to psychological trauma, 66% of women who have suffered this violence are seriously ill with HIV / AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases or fistula among other diseases.
TL: How do you work to raise awareness from the radio?
CAF: As journalists and women from the DRC, we created the Association of Women on the Media to denounce the situation. We wanted women to break the silence of the tradition that forbids them to talk about rape. They were afraid of being stigmatized; therefore, the work begins to end discrimination against women who have been raped.
We struggled to open up a space on the radio dedicated to talk about these issues, because women were not in decision-making positions, and managers in the radio preferred to talk about sports. We faced a negligent country towards our situation; people did not understand the gravity of what was happening.
We spoke with the authorities and made strikes in conventional radios to demand a space to talk. Before, we described in the radio what was happening in the villages, what we saw was many women raped, sick, murdered, and disappeared. This information came to NGOs that were working on the ground and they started treating the women. Encouraged by the outcome of our work, women began to talk by themselves in the radio about what happened to them.
Radio is very important in the DRC, every family has a receiver, that is why it is vital to raise awareness through it. From Radio Okapi, a project supported by the United Nations, we get to the whole country.
TL: How do you work to assist the victims?
CAF: We created the association “Women’s Alliance for the Promotion of Human Values” (AFIDEP), in which we work with demobilized women, and with children born as a result of violations or who lost their families, so that they can have an education and grow up in a loving family. We treat women who have suffered sexual violence and support them so they can slowly start working through micro-financing.
We also work with the community as a whole doing what we call “group de-traumatization”, in which we gather the community to talk about what each person has been through, aiming at the creation of a support network in which people can help each other overcoming their trauma.
TL: Why is the international community not taking action in the face of the conflict?
CAF: Actors on this war are not only African, multinationals play a major role and they act behind their States. Everyone wants to have their share of illegal wealth. Behind this conflict there are the United States, France, Belgium, England etc. These years of trying to make peace between the countries of the Great Lakes have been for nothing. We know that without the engagement of western countries we cannot solve this conflict.
Companies that manufacture computers and mobile phones are not in Africa and they are the ones who benefit. As they need coltan and other raw materials to make their products, they fuel the conflict by financing various rebel groups to continue their war.
The West is the hand pulling the strings behind each part of the conflict, which is why we ask them to engage in the search for peace.
TL: Is there no interest in ending the conflict?
CAF: Foreign rebels of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda came to the DRC in 1994, along with refugees from the Rwandan conflict. At that time, French soldiers from the United Nations mission were there securing the border. We Congolese people ask ourselves how is it possible that alongside the refugees, those who led the genocide crossed the border to our country with their weapons, which they would later use against Congolese civilians to create chaos and control the mines.
We ask the international community and our government why the Congolese army does not defend us. We are told that we are under an arm embargo, thus our army has no means to defend civilian population. The only answer we get is that there is no interest in bringing peace to the region.
TL: What have you achieved with your work at the international level?
CAF: Things start to move slowly in the international scene. The United States has banned their multinationals the use of Congolese raw materials. Also, there is more and more research on the links between the exploitation of mineral resources and the continuation of the conflict.
We have also managed to draw attention to the sexual violence that occurs in our country. We presented a complaint in the International Criminal Court taking evidence and a list of victims. We have tried to bring their lawyers to make appropriate inquiries to seek justice. Two Congolese are now facing the Court. At first, the sexual violence was not among the charges against them, until 2009 when we reported what was happening.
We demand the prosecution of the leaders of the Rwandan Liberation Front, who include the perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda and continue gathering evidence and pushing the International Criminal Court to take action against these groups.
For more information on this topic:
- CONNECT & LISTEN to Radio Okapi in Kinshasa, DRC – Democratic Republic of the Congo
- AFEM On the Move – Women Media Association of South Kivu – Promotion and Defense of women’s rights through the media
Based in Madrid, Spain Teresa Lamas is a journalist who specializes in gender, social justice and international cooperation in development.
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