Despite the signing of a peace accord in 2003, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains a country afflicted by violence. The levels of sexual and non-sexual violence faced by women as a result of the ongoing conflict led to it being named the second most dangerous place in the world to be a woman by a TrustLaw Poll last year.
The plight of women in DRC receives scant coverage in mainstream western media, but it is essential that their struggle remains a priority for the international community. Statistics suggest that 1,152 women are raped every day in DRC, and that most of these rapes are committed by uniformed men. The most recent report by the Secretary General of the UN project in DRC reports that the frequency of human rights violations remains high, and that levels of sexual violence are a concern. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that an increasing number of rapes are being carried out against minors. One incident highlighted in the report is that of a four day attack in the Walikale Territory of North Kivu, in which 387 civilians were raped, 64 of them children.
A lot of the women and girls subjected to these attacks fall pregnant, many of them becoming carriers of HIV. A report by Doctors Without Borders this week states that only 1% of pregnant women with HIV are receiving antiretroviral drugs in DRC. One of the major reasons for the lack of treatment available is cited as the withdrawal of international donor support. The immediate and sustained suffering of women affected by ongoing violence in DRC is far from being resolved, and further work must be done to ensure their situation changes and the international community does not forget them.
These women have shown immense courage and bravery in living through the abuses they have suffered, and continuing to strive for peace and equality, but we need to stand alongside them and make sure their voices are heard. This is where Women for Women International’s Join me on the Bridge campaign comes in.
The campaign began in 2010 when women from our programmes in DRC and Rwanda came together on the bridge that joins their two countries, to show that they could build bridges of peace and hope for the future. This sparked a global movement, with women from 70 countries joining on 464 bridges around the world last year to show their support and solidarity with women from war afflicted countries. This year we want you to join us, and lend your voice to the cry for an end to violence and a beginning of peace and equality for women worldwide.
There are many ways you can get involved, whether it be attending an event, organising your own or sending us a message of peace to share with the women we work with in war-torn countries like DRC. Take a look at our short campaign video and be inspired to do something that can make a real difference to these women's lives.