(Image: Marie Cacace/Oxfam)
EVERY HOUR, 48 women are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
It is estimated that a woman in the DRC is subjected to some sort of sexual violence every minute.
Women are not safe anywhere, they are raped when they go to the fields, when they go to collect water, in their homes. They are raped by armed men, by passersby, by their neighbours and by their husbands.
This is what Helen Keogh, chair of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence had to say ahead of the charity’s annual seminar yesterday. The consortium comprises Irish human rights, humanitarian and development organisations, Irish Aid and the Defence Forces.
‘Raped by grown men’
It has been reported that over 65 per cent of victims during the past 15 years were children.
The consortium said some men in DRC believe that having sex with pre-adolescent girls offers them protection from death in conflict.
We know that in times of conflict women of all ages are raped, we hear of babies as young as 5 months being abducted and raped repeatedly, we hear of grandmothers being violently attacked.
One mother of a six-year-old named Augustine* described her horrific experience:
One afternoon I was preparing the evening meal. Augustine – who loved to play with other children – left the house. Just fifteen minutes later a neighbour brought us shocking news that our little girl had been kidnapped by armed men. Her father found our little girl lying outside on the ground, abandoned and exposed, naked as a frog…my daughter Augustine, only six years old, had been raped by grown men.
A weapon of war
Rape has also been used as a weapon of war in DRC since the 1990’s and while the law there criminalises many forms of sexual violence, laws are very often not enforced. Those who have been attacked are often blamed and shunned by their community.
The consortium, which highlights the issue, said the Irish Defence Forces and government have been “proactive” in addressing gender based violence in its work overseas and it “leading the way” in tackling the issue.
“However, more must be done internationally to not only raise awareness of this horrific issue, but to put a stop to the relentless violence against women and girls on a daily basis,” Keogh said.