For more than a decade, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was subject to the deadliest war since World War II. Over four million people died and tens of thousands of women were systematically raped and abused. This use of sex as a weapon is revealing not only of the brutalities of war, but of the barbaric attitudes towards women in Congolese culture.
Yet it would seem that little of this war against women has been documented in western news, or at least to the scale expected from such a devastating conflict. The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo is a ground breaking documentary that captures the acute suffering of the Congo’s women, giving the victims of rape a personality and a voice.
Emmy Award winning producer and director Lisa F. Jackson spent 2006 in the war zones of eastern DRC, documenting the plight of women and girls caught in the middle of the Congo’s sexual crossfire. Jackson interviews numerous women who have been subjected to rape, revealing the extent of the damage caused and making it clear that the injustice does not stop at the violation of a woman’s rights.
Part of the documentary takes place in a clinic devoted to treating women with traumatic injury due to sexual violence. Many rape victims are left physically impaired for life, mutilated by the offending soldiers and left to be outcast from their communities. The harrowing stories that are retold are punctuated with the knowledge that these women were considered lucky to have been brought to the clinic, and that there are thousands more women throughout the country that are left to suffer alone and without any medical help.
Jackson also interviews the rapists themselves, soldiers who claim that if a woman says no they must “take her by force”. Some soldiers even believe that rape brings them good luck, and are told that they have to do it in order to beat the enemy. During the documentary Jackson reveals that UN peacekeepers themselves have been implemented in sexual exploitation, with 19 UN peacekeepers in the eastern city of Bakavu having been accused of trading milk and eggs for sexual relations with girls as young as 10-years-old.
In the midst of a documentary that is truly shocking, there are two revelations that are especially significant. The first is the extent of the devastation felt by so many women, and to such a great scale. The camera follows the excruciating plights of many women, from an 11-year-old girl raising the child of the man who raped her, to a mother left to take care of seven children alone after her husband was murdered in front of her.
The second is the infectious spirit of the women that are telling their stories. Some may find it easy to disregard something that is happening in a country so far away, but The Greatest Silence reminds us that it is an indescribable injustice that any woman should be left to endure such deep suffering. As Jackson films the women offering each other support and sharing their horrific stories, it is touching how much life and character still shines from within them, despite the inexorable situations that they have been exposed to.
Despite the severe discomfort that would ensue, The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo is a documentary that should be viewed by anyone who is unaware of the atrocities that continue to occur in the Democractic Republic of the Congo. Lisa Jackson bravely delves into topics that have been avoided and bypassed for years, in a compassionate bid to make the rest of the world acknowledge the scale of what is happening.
An exposé of the most overwhelming degree, this documentary not only reaffirms the widely held sentiment that the Congo is the most dangerous place to be a woman on earth, but it also insists that this is an inhumane situation that simply cannot go on in silence.