War on Women

My heart is with the women of Goma.

Rebel soldiers captured the town of Goma yesterday morning, while the UN and the world stood and watched.The country's army can do little against the rebels, and the UN soldiers do not have a mandate to strike against them, so they are now in control of the airport and much of the town, according to news from the area. They are moving towards Bukavu today.

Why do we care?

Here are some statistics from the website of the Panzi Hospital, which opened in 1999 in Bukavu, 100 km south of Goma. Dr Denis Mukwege founded the hospital, as a response to a growing number of sexual violence victims in the area. He is still the medical director, and the hospital specializes in gynecological surgery for fistula and for vaginal reconstruction following violent rape. They also provide treatment and support for women suffering the effects of these attacks.
  • It is estimated that there are over 200,000 surviving rape victims living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.
  • From 2006 to 2007, an estimated 1,100 women were raped EVERY DAY.
  • Today, it is estimated that 36 women and children are raped daily.
On October 25, 2012, four gunmen attacked Mukwege's home, killing his guard. They fired bullets at Mukwege as well, who avoided them by dropping to the floor.[2] After the assassination attempt, Mukwege fled to Brussels and the Panzi unit reported that [his] absence has had an “overwhelming effect” on daily operations at the unit.[3]

Four women are raped every five minutes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a study done in May 2011 by three researchers, including SUNY’s Tia Palermo. “These nationwide estimates of the incidence of rape are 26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the United Nations for the DRC in 2010,” says Palermo. The level of sexualized violence has received an intense amount of international focus, which has revealed the varied kinds of horrors soldiers have perpetrated against women, even while the country maintains the highest number of U.N. peacekeeping forces in the world. (see here)

As the fighting escalates, families are fleeing from Goma, but they have nowhere to run. There are five DP camps in the surrounding areas and these are full. Families are being separated. Pregnant women are still giving birth, and if a woman survives a gang rape there is a good chance she will have conceived and will give birth. Where are these women to birth and who will attend them?

Montreal Birth Companions doulas have accompanied women from Congo and other countries who have suffered rape and violence at the hands of "freedom fighters" who use rape and sexual coercion as part of their arsenal. These women are strong, and we are honored to accompany them as they give birth. But these are the lucky ones, who have made it to a more peaceful home. Thousands, if not millions, if not billions (One Billion Rising) of women are being raped, beaten and murdered, even as I sit in my comfortable warm living room and write these words.

Please help in any way that you can. Spread the word about this conflict. Donate money to charities that are working on the ground to assist women and children:

Pennies for Panzi is a campaign that is raising money to create a daycare where children of rape survivors can be cared for while their mothers are healing.

Heal Africa provides assistance for women and children in Congo.

Medica Mondiale "supports traumatized women and girls in war and crisis zones."

Safe World for Women is a UK based charity.

This winter season, have a party, do some dancing, and ask your guests to donate money to a worthy cause. If you are a medical professional, consider going to a war-torn country to donate your skills. If you own a company, perhaps you can make a larger donation or donate materials.

Remember how lucky you are.


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