Breaking the silence in Eastern Congo | Africa | DW | 04.06.2012
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Breaking the silence in Eastern Congo

Eastern Congo is known as the 'rape capital of the world'. Scores of women are raped every day. Therese Mema is a women's rights activist determined to help victims and survivors regain self confidence.

An average of 40 women ranging from a tender to an elderly age, are subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence every day in Eastern Congo. Most victims remain traumatized and are left with permanent damages mentally and physically. They are often rejected socially by their own families and partners. One woman though, is making a difference amongst rape victims and survivors . Therese Mema Mapenzi is a women rights activist based in Eastern Congo. Speaking to DW she says it's important to give an ear to those hurting in silence.

DW: What is the situation at the moment in relation to sexual violence?

Therese Mema: We can say that there is a reduction of sexual violence in some places in Eastern Congo. But in other places such as Mwenga territory in South Kivu, North Kivu, Masisi and Minova, rebels do still practice sexual violence. It is difficult to say that the violence is over or not, because the rebels still exist. They come in villages and attack any time they want. The FDLR are always around these areas and they attack civilians anytime they want without any resistance from government authorities. We sometimes don't even feel safe with our own military forces. Because some of them do wear military uniforms and attack civilians and rape women.

Why do you think there is so much rape in Eastern Congo?

According to my experience, rapists in Eastern Congo just want to humiliate and downgrade people living in some communities. Sometimes I think that these rebels want all of us Congolese to leave the country.

Is there any connection between rapes and natural resources?

Yes there is. In former times during Mobutu's regime when rebel groups didn't exist, there was no violence like these. It all started during the war period. This is when rebel groups went in the forest and discovered natural resources, and this is when they started raping women.

You work with Missio, how is this organization involved in trying to help the people and the population in this region?

Our mission is to go to villages and talk to women about traumatic memories and sufferings they have. By talking to them, they get to know the importance of talking about sexual violence. We normally let them know that sexual violence has numerous consequences, and if they don't speak about it, no one will know how to help them. We also encourage them to regain their self confidence and know their rights. But that can only be done, if we know the people we are speaking to and know what kind of problems they have. That's why we opened our offices in villages, to make it easier for us to go to them and them to come and talk to us.

As you might know in our culture it is a shame for a woman to say that she was raped. She normally keeps these traumatic stories and sufferings to her self as a secret.

Author: Chrispin Mwakideu

Editor: Asumpta Lattus

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