“Slaves in a Body": Gender Injustice in Democratic Republic of Congo

“Slaves in a Body": Gender Injustice in Democratic Republic of Congo

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Stépha Rouichi, Advocacy Manager for CARE DRC

“You women and girls are inferior human beings. This is God’s will and nothing can be done to change that," an old man in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently said to me.

I was furious and thought about one of my Congolese friends, who keeps saying that women in Congo are “slaves in a female body." I had to think of the many strong Congolese women and men I know, who work hard to improve the situation for women and girls. I have been working in DRC for almost four years and I know how important the fight for gender equity and women’s rights is. In the past months, the situation for women and girls in DRC has become even more difficult.

The lingering violence in Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo has uprooted more than 1.4 million people. DRC is now leading the unenviable top of the list of countries with most internally displaced people in Africa. The conflict has made women and girls even more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence. They have to fear armed groups, but also the members of their own communities. Unfortunately, most of the perpetrators are never brought to justice.

During my work with CARE teams in DRC, I have spoken to many of the displaced people. The focus of CARE’s work is to provide support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.  In the communities where CARE works, clinics and health posts are poorly equipped and providing medical and psychosocial assistance for women and also men who have survived attacks is extremely challenging.

In the DRC, patriarchal norms are rigid and discriminatory against girls and women. This is particularly the case in Kasai. Girls and women are subjected to all kinds of violence. In many cases, they do not know that their rights are being violated and do not share the traumatic experience with anyone. A girl or woman who has been raped brings shame to her family, this remains the common rule in many communities.

Together with Rose, our CARE Gender Specialist in the DRC, we are working to prevent sexual and gender-based violence and improve gender equality. Together with the communities, we have developed shorts spots addressing violence against women. They will be broadcasted in community radio stations which are very popular in this part of the world. We want to prevent further violence, but also ensure that survivors are not punished once more by being stigmatized. Also, we want to make sure they can access medical and psychosocial care services. A lot of work lies ahead of us, but work which is urgently needed to ensure that no woman, neither myself nor any Congolese woman, will have to listen to a man telling her that she is inferior to him.

In the DRC, patriarchal norms are often rigid and discriminatory against girls and women. Credit: CARE