Responding to Rape as a Weapon of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo: CIDA's Actions in an Evaluative Framework
IN THIS ARTICLE
A seventy-year-old woman unveils the story of her rape in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):
Stories like this woman’s are common in the DRC, so common, in fact, that the Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Noeleen Heyzer, has claimed that “Nearly all the women interviewed in Kinshasa or in the Eastern DRC … have been victims of sexual violence and rape” (UNIFEM 2006). Noting that many rapes remain unreported, the Joint Initiative on Sexual Violence against Women and Children has placed the incidence of rapes at at least 40,000 between the 1998 outbreak of the DRC’s most recent conflict and a 2003 analysis (cited in Amnesty International 2004a:13; World Health Organization n.d.).
These 40,000 plus cases of sexual violence are not isolated incidents, not merely tens of thousands of individual cases of permanent physical disability and psychological devastation piled atop one another. Victims do suffer individually, but their communities suffer as well; rape in the DRC has become a ‘weapon of war,’ a further means of ravaging entire towns and villages already rife with murder and infrastructural disrepair. It brings bodily and mental harm upon those subjected to it, but by sparking societal scorn of those raped and reducing victims’ capacity to be economically productive, it also stymies whole communities.
Thus, if the international community is to help heal the victims of the DRC’s wartime rapes, it not only must provide treatment for those individuals physically attacked but also, conceptualizing entire communities as having been raped, must consider broader community development concerns. The Joint Initiative on Sexual Violence Against Women and Children in the DRC, a recent United Nations (UN) endeavour to which the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has donated over 15 million dollars, holds promise because it recognizes both individuals’ medical/psychological concerns and the need for “socio-economic reintegration” of victims (CIDA 2006b). Nonetheless, the degree to which this new program will in practice stimulate the sociological revival and economic development of entire towns and villages remains to be seen.
Rape: Beyond Personal Aggression
In the West, rape has come to be regarded as an attempt for one individual to gain power over another, i.e., as an act of personal aggression. In the context of Africa’s deadliest war on record (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict 2006), however, rape has surpassed the level of interpersonal attack to become a weapon of war, an attack of one entire group upon another.
Following many years of instability, a late-1990s coup served as the precursor to the DRC’s most recent war, begun in 1998. Multiple parties have become embroiled in the fighting, including the country’s Mai Mai militia, as well as fighters from Angola, Burundi, Chad, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Most if not all of these parties have employed rape as a weapon of war (Kern 2006; Pratt and Werchick 2004:9). Though the adversaries have agreed to a ceasefire, and though many of the foreign troops officially withdrew in 2002, sporadic violence persists, and combatants have continued to rape women, men, and children that they consider adversaries.
One feature of rape as a form of group attack lies in the number of people perpetrating each rape. Gang rapes have become so prevalent in the DRC that in a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the town of Baraka, more than eighty percent of victims have claimed that two to five fighters raped them (Clarkson 2004:17), and Amnesty International adds that up to twenty assailants may participate in a single rape incident (2004a:19). The more striking characteristic, however, is that such rapes are carried out not only by groups but also against groups. Amnesty International cites instances of collective rape, in which combatants physically violate multiple victims at once (p. 20); nonetheless, even when attackers rape individual women, men, girls, or boys, they seek to attack entire communities. Amnesty describes rape as a weapon of war as “a deliberate strategy of warfare to destabilise the opposition forces … and to secure control through fear and intimidation” (2004b). Clarkson too emphasizes that such rapes are intended to devastate communities at large: “As a weapon of war sexual violence is highly effective. The outcome is a traumatized, impoverished population” (p. 17).
Rape accomplishes this communal degradation in several ways. First, cultural beliefs allow communities to view the rape of a single person as an attack on several. Pratt and Werchick claim that a victim’s “whole family is deeply shamed by association” (2004:12) and add that by law, at least the law in place in 2004, to rape a woman is to commit “a crime against the honor of the husband” (p. 17). While such a legal standard emphasizes a lack of concern for women, it also allows the rapes of a few people to serve as proxy attacks on many. Also, rapes frequently render virgins permanently unmarriageable, but if young raped women do manage to marry, their families again suffer because few men will offer them dowries (Pratt and Werchick 2004:12).
Furthermore, even if the rest of their communities were to remain intact, those raped would find themselves less able to contribute economically, both because of the medical and psychological destruction rapes cause and because rapes occurring in the context of normal productive activities make victims reluctant to resume those previously innocent pursuits. While assaulting their victims, rapists may resort to almost every possible means of physical brutality: bayoneting of limbs (Phiri and Alford 2006:27); amputation of various body parts (Kern 2006); “mutilation” of eyes, ears, and lips (Goodwin 2004:18); burning (Kern 2006); and/or blinding of victims by scraping their eyes with salt (Kern 2006). Acts of sexual torture may prove even more grotesque; as in the opening quotation, in which a woman admitted that her rapist had threatened to slice her, and presumably her genitals, with a machete, many rapists have shoved machetes, knives, wood, glass, nails, sand, sticks, or even hot peppers into women’s vaginas (Amnesty International 2004b; Goodwin 2004:18; Kern 2006). In some instances, attackers have squeezed guns through their victims’ genitalia and shot (Amnesty International 2004a:12; Kern 2006; Goodwin 2004:19).
Even when they survive such attacks, those raped emerge so badly damaged that some must undergo four or five surgical operations (Kern 2006; Sisulu 2004:45). Many survivors face fistulae, sterility, and sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhoea; even quotidian concerns such as urination and menstruation often become nightmarish for the raped (Pratt and Werchick 2004:12). HIV/AIDS too impacts rape victims, with estimates of the number of victims infected ranging from 12 percent in a particular region (Pratt and Werchick 2004:12) to 25 to 33 percent in general (Kern 2006), and combined with the lack of antiretroviral treatment, the prevalence of the illness leads Goodwin to claim that rapes “all too often become automatic death sentences” (2004:19). Rape can also shatter its victims psychologically, leading to depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and trauma can be so severe that some victims refuse to speak (Kern 2006).
Difficulty finding treatment exacerbates the problem. Goodwin reports that those raped “must walk for days or weeks, often with massive injuries, and risk new capture by roving rebel bands, before reaching assistance” (2004:19) and tells of one seventy-year-old rape victim who spent three years “in the bush” before she finally received treatment (p. 18). Even if the victims can access medical centres, the centres may be able to provide only meagre care; Pratt and Werchick report that as of 2004, Maniema province offered a single part-time gynaecologist (2004:15), and in addition to calling mental health care “practically non-existent,” Amnesty International has claimed that many “inadequately trained” health-care workers do not know “how to treat STDs” (2004b). In addition, treatment carries financial costs to patients, whose already extreme poverty – with many people having approximately 0.20 U.S. dollars per day (Amnesty International 2004b) – has worsened because of the economic devastation that war rapes themselves wreak. Thus, mental and medical damages often persist, and if those raped must struggle to walk or to perform normal bodily functions, or if they withdraw from society to such an extent that they cannot even talk to others, then contributing to their communities’ economic well-being – through collecting food or walking to fish markets, for example – becomes increasingly difficult. If only a few people suffered rapes, then economic consequences would be limited, affecting select families only; enough Congolese have been raped, however, that the combined effects of each victim’s diminished productivity severely impair entire communities.
Furthermore, because rapes often occur while women are harvesting crops or walking to market, once-innocent settings become socially constructed as dangerous battlegrounds, and victims come to fear the very arenas upon which their communities’ economic livelihoods depend: “Fear of going to fields and markets, sites where rapes often take place, has resulted in spiralling malnutrition and economic loss” (Pratt and Werchick 2004:7). Kern further elaborates upon these consequences: “Thus, in fertile lands with a year-round growing season, people in the country are beginning to go hungry” (2006).
In addition, sexual attackers often force community members to turn against each other. In some cases, combatants have coerced family members to rape one another (Amnesty International 2004:14); in others, according to Human Rights Watch, “children were reportedly forced to hold their mothers down while they were raped” (2002:39). Beyond physical aggression, rape as a weapon of war activates cultural beliefs that result in the marginalization of its victims, especially women and children, thus preventing those victims from receiving psychosocial support and depriving them of income. Frequently considered “contaminated” (Kern 2006), rape survivors may be blamed for their attacks and denounced as married to their rapists (Clarkson 2004:17). Thus, communities re-conceptualize those raped as enemies and place them outside their universes of moral obligation.1 Such re-conceptualization allows communities to abandon those raped; husbands may leave their raped wives or, not only depriving the women of homes but also of communities, may demand that their wives and children leave their villages (Kern 2006). Hence, these physically and emotionally shattered women must often care for themselves and their children, far away from the only economic activities they have ever undertaken (Amnesty International 2004b). Furthermore, when rapists impregnate women, husbands and in-laws may pressure the mothers to murder their newborn children or to dispose of such children on the streets (Kern 2006).
In the context of war, rape not only leaves many women to fend for themselves but frequently leaves these women to resurrect communities; in many battles, men die, but women, broken-boned and traumatized, survive amidst societal destruction (Phiri and Alford 2006:27; Amnesty International 2004a:36).* In addition to killing about 3.9 million people (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict 2006), conflict in the DRC has devastated both farmland and social infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools (Amnesty International 2004a:7). Citing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Amnesty reports that over 70 percent of the population lacks “even basic health care” and that about 16 percent of the DRC’s population, and 30 percent of the population in select areas, is malnourished (p. 8). The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict adds that “severe food insecurity” afflicts more than 70 percent of the Congolese. Also according to the Watchlist, in 2003, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) claimed that about half of Congolese children “of primary school age” did not attend school; according to the Small Arms Survey, between 1999 and 2004, fighters ruined 211 of the Djugu Territory’s 228 school buildings (cited in Watchlist).
As they seek to rebuild such communities, in addition to confronting physical and psychological limitations, raped women must overcome the traditional devaluation of their sex and the limited rights afforded them. UNIFEM has described the “role of women in Congolese society … [as one of] complete exclusion …” (2006). Under Congolese law, women have traditionally been required to “obey their husbands” (Human Rights Watch 2002:20), and a widow, by tradition, may be “considered to be the property of the husband’s family” (Amnesty International 2004a:10, quoting a Congolese activist). Though women perform about 80 percent of the country’s farm work (UNIFEM 2006), they frequently do not own the land they till – or any other possessions (Amnesty International 2004a:11). Furthermore, women’s non-profit organizations have begun to advocate on behalf of rape victims, allowing women some leadership (Amnesty International 2004a:12), but only 10.2 percent of the country’s parliamentarians are female (United Nations Development Programme 2006). Devaluation of women and girls has manifested itself in the DRC’s literacy rates, for according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), while 22 percent of the DRC’s men are illiterate, a full 42 percent of the country’s women are (2005).
Any aid agencies determined to improve the lives of those raped during war must first and foremost conceptualize such rapes as two-fold attacks: attacks upon the individual victims and attacks upon their communities.
Treatment of individuals raped requires better medical care. It requires staff with specialized knowledge of how to repair some of the most destructive injuries that the human body could endure. Furthermore, it necessitates that the entire population have access to such staff; even if properly equipped, the two hospitals present in the eastern DRC in 2004 simply cannot provide care for all in the region, especially when many people cannot afford to travel to them (Pratt and Werchick 2004:14-15). In their report on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development, Pratt and Werchick recommend expanding access through “mobile teams of rape specialists” that could not only provide treatment themselves but also transport medical supplies and transfer knowledge to any staff already on the ground (p. 22). The availability of affordable (or in a country where few people can afford anything, free) medications, including antiretroviral drugs, is also essential.
Individual psychotherapy must also be integral to any aid strategy. Claiming that Congolese organizations attempting to provide counselling often “lack training and resources” (Pratt and Werchick 2004:16), Pratt and Werchick suggest that the international community educate therapists on the ground (p. 22). Nonetheless, the international community must recognize, as CIDA’s Nancy Clifford has explained, that the “western psychological framework” many not apply to the Congolese (2006). Thus if possible, local personnel that recognize rape as psychology devastating to women (as opposed to merely harmful to their husbands) and that know how to treat psychological symptoms as manifested in the Congolese population should provide psychological treatment. When, as is often the case, such personnel are unavailable, outside therapists well-versed in local cultures may provide the care, but if foreign professionals unfamiliar with the region are brought to the DRC, they must work in conjunction with local staff, especially with women that can explain how rape affects females in the Congolese context. In other words, training for therapists must not be limited to training in Western psychological and psychiatric concepts but must include education about the idiosyncrasies of local cultures, particularly the ways in which locals view rape – as a crime that induces guilt in its victims, for example, and as an act that permanently sullies the reputations of all forced to endure it.
Programmers must also recognize the mental frameworks of entire communities. Aid responses frequently focus on the victims of various calamities; nonetheless, because groups have not only suffered from but also committed the DRC’s war rapes, interventions must confront existing group antagonisms. In writing about conflicts in general, Collier et al. claim that disrupted “family and community links ... weaken the constraints on opportunistic and criminal behavior” (2003:15) and ultimately lead to “an expectation of corruption” (p. 21). If rape as a weapon of war is to cease to threaten the Congolese population, then such an ‘expectation’ must dwindle away; when reintegrated into communities, former fighters must be provided with constructive activities and ‘expected’ to contribute to, rather than to detract from, societal well-being. Pratt and Werchick note the current emphasis on the normalization of ex-combatants:
The reintegration of tens of thousands of both the authors of these crimes and the survivors into their families and the society at large is a crucial precondition to successful reconstruction and transition into a peaceful and productive democracy. … Prevention of rape and a successful political transition including demobilization of irregular forces and national military integration are therefore closely linked. Where DDR [disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration] is being carried out, perpetrators are often reintegrating into communities alongside their victims, with no planned security or protection measures. (2004:14)
While Pratt and Werchick remain justified in supporting the demilitarization of former fighters, their interest in “security or protection measures” highlights their ‘expectation’ that ex-combatants will retain battlefield mentalities and persist in threatening their communities. Under the Collier et al. framework, communities and ex-combatants must revise their mentalities if they are to resist future abuses. Because societal ‘expectations’ are socially constructed, i.e., because mentalities remain rooted in the communities that hold them, outside agencies cannot re-mould Congolese mindsets. They must instead collaborate with Congolese communities, which alone hold the power to move themselves from war/danger orientations to peace/safety orientations.
Pratt and Werchick also note that the Congolese economy currently holds few opportunities for ex-combatants, thus limiting their possibilities for productive engagement: “Until citizens feel secure enough to access agricultural fields and trade routes freely, the economy in the East will not recover sufficiently to provide employment opportunities to absorb the many perpetrators of violence, whose acts have often been linked to their poverty” (2004:16). As individual rape victims heal, they will become better able to participate in their traditional farm labour and market activities and thus to stimulate the DRC’s economy. Nonetheless, they must first overcome their “[f]ear” (Pratt and Werchick 2004:7) of the fields, roads, and marketplaces where their rapists attacked them. Because these economic arenas have become socially constructed as harmful, they must be socially re-constructed as safe; observers must not expect individual women to venture back to the sites of their rapes until their communities have begun to strip these places of their brutal images. Pratt and Werchick speak of “communal labor groups for firewood collection, trading, and agricultural activities,” presumably created so that group members can “protect” one another from potential attacks (2004:23).
Such collectivities might provide more than ‘safety in numbers,’ however; by working together peacefully in once-dangerous areas, community members might begin to view these arenas as relatively innocuous once again. Such initiatives might prove particularly effective if former combatants were to join the groups, replacing the images of angry, power-seeking soldiers marauding through fields with images of disarmed, demobilized, and reintegrated ex-combatants participating unthreateningly in community life. Of course, this proposition may be overly optimistic; the effectiveness of ex-combatant participation would depend upon the degree to which former fighters had truly abandoned violence, and if ex-combatants maintain the belligerent attitudes and behaviours they have been trained to express, then their presences will never be conducive to communal feelings of safety. Whether or not ex-combatants participate, however, the involvement of communally respected religious leaders in these economic expeditions might help victims reconstruct their perceptions of the fields and markets. Because people may view the actions of spiritual figures as divinely sanctioned, religious leaders’ presences in once-dangerous areas may encourage villagers to conceptualize those areas as serene once again.
An alternate means of economically empowering rape victims is to engage them in new forms of productivity, those unmarred by memories of torture. Pratt and Werchick explain that at the Doctors on Call for Service and Panzi hospitals, raped women have begun sewing and knitting (2004:16). Nevertheless, in a country with great poverty and little intact economic infrastructure, economic initiatives will be most beneficial if they both empower raped women and satisfy the country’s economic needs; clothes-making skills may help many women to profit and thus to purchase food for their families, but some must continue to farm so that others have food to buy.
In particular, treatment of rape victims requires the economic and social empowerment of the women and children that communities have abandoned: “Survivors of violence -- especially women and girls who have been rejected by their families -- have become among the most vulnerable of individuals, with no means of economic support and often no place to live” (Pratt and Werchick 2004:16). Pratt and Werchick suggest that aid workers support survivors’ “reintegration” into their home communities/reconciliation with their families and that they encourage mothers not to discard of children born of rape (p. 22). Nonetheless, international organizations cannot coerce the Congolese into valuing women they consider, as Kern writes, “contaminated” (2006). The Congolese base their conceptualizations of rape survivors on long-held cultural beliefs, and if they are to re-conceptualize the raped and their children as innocents deserving of care rather than as criminals, locals must stimulate the change. Amnesty International reports that “local women’s or human rights organizations,” as well as “outspoken” rape survivors “ready to challenge openly discriminatory attitudes they face,” have convinced communities to acknowledge survivors’ human dignity (2004a:34). Amnesty calls for the international community to help “combat discrimination” (p. 34), but instead of appearing to impose foreign beliefs upon the Congolese, international aid workers must work in concert with the DRC’s civil society.
Because many raped women also must rebuild their communities, general economic and infrastructural development assistance is essential to survivors’ recoveries. Again, those raped have not merely survived personalized sexual attacks; they have survived war. In addition to health care specifically designed to treat rape-related injuries, they must have access to medical treatment for their families’ general concerns, including tuberculosis, malaria, and childbirth complications. As detailed above, they must be able to resume agricultural work; Pratt and Werchick advocate the donation of “seeds and tools” (2004:16) to war-torn communities.
Furthermore, because raped women frequently bear responsibility for reviving their communities, many observers have described the recognition of women’s personhood as essential to their – and their communities’ – empowerment. If Congolese society denies women agency, then these women, often disproportionately represented among the war’s survivors, will lack the authority to improve their communities. Based on their interviews of various Congolese, Pratt and Werchick have noted widespread support for “‘know-your-rights’ campaigns” (2004:18) and have recommended that Congolese law “strengthen women’s status” (p. 22). In particular, analysts have recommended the revocation of the law requiring husbands to sanction any legal complaints that their wives undertake (Human Rights Watch 2002:84-85) because that law might prevent women from accusing their attackers in court.
Indeed, the attempt to bring ‘justice’ upon the perpetrators is one of the more complex responses to rape as a weapon of war. Amnesty International makes a heart-wrenching appeal for retribution by quoting a 12-year-old girl that begged “that these soldiers … be put in prison” and claimed that such incarceration would bring her “peace” (2004a:36). Pratt and Werchick also suggest that punishing “a few well-known perpetrators” might discourage other combatants and ex-combatants from continuing to rape (2004:17). Amnesty, however, characterizes the eastern DRC as “widely lawless,” noting that many civil courts “do not function properly,” and adds that the expense of legal proceedings prevents many victims from attempting judicial action (2004a:37). As such, Congolese courts rarely have tried war rapists for their crimes (Amnesty International 2004a:36). Furthermore, under both the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which the DRC is party, mass rape as a weapon of war qualifies both as a war crime and a crime against humanity (Human Rights Watch 2002:86-87). Though the ICC began investigating multiple allegations of war crimes in the DRC, including rape, in June of 2004, not a single perpetrator has yet faced trial (ICC 2004; ICC 2006). Thus, prosecution will take time, and many perpetrators will live unpunished – even “unidentified” (Pratt and Werchick 2004:17). Furthermore, though Amnesty International claims that several victims favour formal trials (2004a:37), Pratt and Werchick note that many Congolese prefer, or at least accept, more fluid notions of ‘justice’:
Many survivors defined “justice” as finding acceptance by their families and communities rather than as seeing their perpetrators punished. This attitude may result from a lack of confidence in the justice system and/or a fear of reprisals, but it may also stem from the traditional notion of justice as a conflict resolution mechanism with the goal of healing the community, whereby elders would “adjudicate” cases by ordering a wrongdoer to make restitution to the family of the aggrieved. (2004:17)
Thus, though international efforts to help the DRC prosecute rapists may prevent future cases of rape and may satisfy some victims, judiciaries can never condemn all the criminals, and aid agencies will need to take communal reconciliation techniques into account.
Finally, several observers have argued in favour of increased security for the DRC in the hope that this will prevent further rapes. Security begins with the absence of foreign fighters, for Pratt and Werchick report that Congolese combatants blame the rapes they commit upon outside fighters and thus claim that local rebels will rape less often when their foreign “cover” disappears (2004:19). Security also involves the presence of police and peacekeeping forces, but these peacekeepers may not provide as much assistance as the international community might desire, as the allegations that UN peacekeeping forces have themselves raped Congolese women have demonstrated.
In sum, the international community must consider ten key questions when addressing rape as a weapon of war in the DRC:
1) Do the responses increase individuals’ access to affordable medical care for rape-related injuries?
2) Do they support therapists knowledgeable about both psychological disorders and cultural phenomena?
3) Will international aid workers collaborate with Congolese organizations seeking to shift their societies from war/danger mentalities to peace/safety mentalities?
4) How might the international community support the local re-conceptualization of economic arenas (fields, markets, et cetera) as safe havens, thus encouraging people to resume productivity?
5) Do the responses support Congolese organizations in reversing the processes of victim abandonment?
6) Do they provide locals with general economic and infrastructural assistance that can create income-generating opportunities for both victims and ex-combatants and can help surviving women rebuild their communities?
7) Do the responses help Congolese organizations promote women’s rights?
8) Do they, while seeking to improve the DRC’s judicial capacity, promote reconciliation efforts that locals respect?
9) Do the responses promote peace and security and establish enforceable conduct standards for security personnel?
10) Overall, do international responses recognize these rapes as attacks both upon the individual victims and upon their communities, and do they seek to rectify the problems suffered at both levels?
Evaluating CIDA's Response
From 2006 through 2009, CIDA’s Project Against Sexual Violence will designate 15,500,000 Canadian dollars to the Joint Initiative on Sexual Violence Against Women and Children in the DRC, run by UNFPA and supported by various parties, particularly the Belgian government. As a whole, the UNFPA program collaborates with DRC governmental departments, such as the Ministry of the Female Condition; with non-governmental organizations; and with other UN agencies, such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNIFEM, and UNICEF. While the Joint Initiative works with rape survivors in the provinces of Orientale, Maniema, and Eqauteur, CIDA has directed its aid toward North and South Kivu, the provinces its programmers consider “Worst-affected” (Clifford 2006).
CIDA aims both to prevent future acts of rape as a war weapon and to aid 15,000 or more of those who have already endured it (Clifford 2006). The agency’s website describes its methods as four-fold: “The project responds to all facets of the problem: medical care, psychological support, socio-economic reintegration and access to civilian justice” (2006b). The question that remains, then, is whether or not CIDA’s activities address the ten questions crucial to assisting survivors of wartime rape.
Does this response increase individuals’ access to affordable medical care for rape-related injuries?
Because CIDA has identified “medical care” as one of its four integral components, its response does, at least in principle, satisfy victims’ health needs. Without publicizing many specific details, the UNDP and UNFPA have explained that the broader Joint Initiative supports both increased availability of medical care and greater training of medical staff (2006:4). One of CIDA’s Senior Policy Analysts, Nancy Clifford, also indicates the agency’s willingness to collaborate with traditional healers (2006), which might increase the program’s legitimacy in Congolese eyes.
Does CIDA support therapists knowledgeable about both psychological disorders and cultural phenomena?
CIDA appears to acknowledge the need for cultural sensitivity. Clifford speaks of “Integrat[ing] interventions in existing community settings” and notes the importance of “cultural resources,” such as traditional healers and religious leaders. She also urges aid workers to “understand the overriding concerns expressed by the rape victims (… [and] others affected)” and advocates “Local ownership of issues and solutions,” and she emphasizes that a “western psychological framework” may not apply to the Congolese (2006). Nonetheless, the extent to which program administrators incorporate such cultural understanding into their psychotherapeutic initiatives remains unclear, for CIDA has published few details. In its ‘multi-sectoral model’ for responding to ‘gender-based violence,’ UNFPA stresses the “training and on-going supervision” of (presumably local) counsellors (Ward and Marsh 2006:17), but the content of that training remains unknown.
Will international aid workers collaborate with Congolese organizations seeking to shift their societies from war/danger mentalities to peace/safety mentalities?
- AND -
How might the international community support the local re-conceptualization of economic arenas (fields, markets, et cetera) as safe havens, thus encouraging people to resume productivity?
The Joint Initiative collaborates with local non-governmental organizations, and as aforementioned, Clifford has stressed the role that the Congolese must play in helping their peers overcome rape. Various activities that fall under CIDA’s ‘psychological support’ or ‘socio-economic reintegration’ rubrics might involve assuaging rape survivors’ fears and helping them return to once-dangerous fields and markets, and the UNDP and UNFPA have recognized the importance of peacebuilding efforts in responding to rape as a weapon of war. Nonetheless, the CIDA program appears focussed more on treating rape’s victims and strengthening the DRC’s ability to prosecute perpetrators than on helping the Congolese provide productive opportunities for ex-combatants so that those former fighters will gradually abandon their war/attack mindsets. Furthermore, whether or not the CIDA program engages with local organizations that, for example, work toward communal re-conceptualization of former raping grounds (through, such means as gathering victims, leaders, family members, and perhaps ex-combatants together in the fields or on the roads where villagers have previously been raped) remains unspecified.
Does the response support Congolese organizations in reversing the processes of victim abandonment?
Reconciliation between abandoned rape survivors and their communities appears a major theme in CIDA’s efforts (Clifford 2006), as emphasized by the agency’s identification of “socio-economic reintegration” as one of its four major themes (2006). Indicating the possibility for Canadian aid to rape victims’ abandoned children, Clifford recommends that also CIDA investigate these youngsters’ current situations.
Does the program provide locals with general economic and infrastructural assistance that can create income-generating opportunities for both victims and ex-combatants and can help surviving women rebuild their communities?
When formulating various gender-related policies, CIDA has argued that “sustainable” economic development is contingent upon women’s equality and empowerment* (1999:2-3) and thus has recognized that improving women’s lives and communal well-being may be connected. Applying this framework to the DRC, where many widows bear the responsibility for reviving their communities, might prove useful. Indeed, the CIDA program provides much economic support to rape survivors.
Does the response help Congolese organizations promote women’s rights?
CIDA claims that any project it undertakes supports women’s rights and equality (2006a), and the Joint Initiative is working to help the Congolese form laws prohibiting ‘gender-based violence’ (UNDP and UNFPA 2006). Nonetheless, the organization has published little about the role that increasing respect for Congolese women might play in these women’s ability to rebuild their communities. Thus, current efforts appear focussed on guaranteeing women’s rights for the women’s own sakes, a worthy cause, rather than on solidifying their rights so that they may be empowered to develop their communities. Given that, as aforementioned, CIDA programmers have already espoused the theory that equality for women helps facilitate development for all, these policy makers might consider applying this thesis to their Project Against Sexual Violence.
Does the program, while seeking to improve the DRC’s judicial capacity, promote reconciliation efforts that locals respect?
Building judicial capacity is one of the Project Against Sexual Violence’s four main themes. As such, CIDA works to provide rape survivors with legal advice and to reduce the “impunity” that many rapists currently enjoy (Clifford 2006). UNFPA’s ‘multi-sectoral model’ for addressing sexual violence likewise advocates for “free or low-cost” legal advice for survivors and supports the strengthening of anti-violence laws (Ward and Marsh 2006:17). The UNDP and UNFPA conception of justice clearly follows a formal legal framework: “In order to achieve reconciliation, perpetrators have to be denounced, tried, and charged before being forgiven and reintegrated into the society” (2006:4). Thus, the international community seeks to prosecute perpetrators and importantly, to empower Congolese rape victims to bring their cases to court. The Joint Initiative also supports “mediation and negotiation services” (UNIFEM n.d.), but whether or not these procedures appeal to communities that would prefer less Western ‘reconciliation’ techniques remains to be seen.
Do the responses promote peace and security and establish enforceable conduct standards for security personnel?
None of the four target areas of the CIDA program specifically focuses on security. One organization need not seek to rectify every aspect of the DRC’s complex sexual violence catastrophe, however, and the Joint Initiative does seek to train police and the DRC’s military to protect civilians from rape. Nonetheless, given that the Congolese administration officially coordinates these security forces, and given this governing network’s current fragility, supervision of security personnel may be minimal.
The tenth and overarching question is whether CIDA recognizes these rapes as attacks both upon the individual victims and upon their communities and seeks to rectify the problems suffered at both levels. As various observers have made clear, rape as a weapon of war not only leaves individual survivors in need of medical, mental, and economic assistance but also turns community members against one another and further devastates the economies of already war-torn regions. Thus, survivors require treatment to improve their own individual lives, but repairing survivors also empowers them to revive their communities, and non-individualistic, community-level treatments remain essential as well. CIDA has recognized the communal dimension to some extent by including “socio-economic reintegration” and judicial improvement in its Project Against Sexual Violence. Nonetheless, CIDA’s efforts in the DRC have just begun this year, and the degree to which they can help entire communities sociologically and economically overcome their wartime rape experiences remains to be seen.
Amnesty International. 2004a. Democratic Republic of Congo: Mass Rape; Time for Remedies. London: Amnesty International. http://web.amnesty.org/library/pdf/AFR620182004ENGLISH/$File/AFR6201804.pdf.
Amnesty International. 2004b. Democratic Republic of Congo: Mass Rape – Time for Remedies. Media briefing. October 26, 2004. http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/ENGAFR620222004.
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1.) A sociological concept, a universe of moral obligation includes all people that a particular group believes it must protect and aid.
* Men have been raped as well, but most rapists attack females.
* This thesis remains controversial, and the question of its validity is beyond the scope of this essay. What is important to note here is that CIDA has recognized that women may catalyze their communities’ growth.