Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls
Washington, DC – October 21, 2008 – With the situation on the ground in Congo further deteriorating, and senior UN leaders calling for more peacekeepers to help restore order, an impressive array of advocates, policymakers and celebrities joined together today to launch the Enough Project’s: “RAISE Hope for Congo” campaign.
Since 1996, more than 200,000 women and girls have been raped and sexually assaulted in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war in the deadliest conflict since World War II. With violence and atrocities again on the rise, the Enough Project is kicking off a multi-year, multifaceted national campaign to protect and empower Congo’s women and girls.
The international response to this forgotten crisis has been wholly inadequate. In response, Enough’s new campaign and website www.raisehopeforcongo.org was created to spur immediate action and activism to end the suffering and promote peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Eastern Congo is the most dangerous place in the world for women,” said Enough co-chair John Prendergast. “Right now, women in Congo are on the frontlines of this deadly conflict, and not enough is being done to support their priorities of peace and protection. Our mission is to ensure that the international community no longer turns a deaf ear to this crisis. We intend to help build a movement of activists that will push for U.S. leadership in ending the conflict in Congo and the crimes against humanity that occur within that conflict.”
“Enough is enough,” said Gayle Smith, co-chair of the Enough Project. “With this campaign, we will help build a vocal constituency; demand policy action; and increase media exposure of this invisible crisis. The time is now to stop the appalling acts of sexual violence against women and girls in the region.”
“I was so inspired by the strength and perseverance of the women that I met in Congo,” said campaign spokesperson and best-selling author Dayle Haddon. “Despite all that they’ve been through, and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles they face, they are still hopeful for their future and for their country. But they need to know that they’re not along in this, and that the rest of the world knows what’s happening to them and will act to help them.” Haddon recently traveled to Congo with Candice Knezevic, “RAISE Hope for Congo” Campaign Manager and Rebecca Feeley, Enough’s Congo Researcher, and learned firsthand from rape survivors about the daily atrocities they face.
Other celebrities that have joined the movement include Emmanuelle Chriqui, Joel Madden, Emile Hirsch, Robin Wright Penn, Javier Bardem, and Mia Farrow. They will lead the charge in helping to raise awareness about this issue by taking part in the campaign’s three areas of action: RAISE Awareness, RAISE Your Voice, and RAISE the Profile. Activism is at the heart of Enough’s campaign. Teaming up with other national and grassroots organizations, Enough will launch a number of initiatives encouraging public action and involvement.
National Speaker’s Tour: Enough is taking the campaign on the road to college campuses across the country with a speakers’ tour featuring experts, advocates, and Congolese activists to raise awareness and engage students in the movement. The tour includes a traveling photography exhibit, called CONGO/Women, highlighting the beauty and strength of the Congolese women. Upcoming events are scheduled at Swarthmore College on October 28, the University of San Diego on November 13, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst on December 3.
Teach Ins: Enough has joined with STAND, the student-led division of the Genocide Intervention Network, and V-Day to create “Congo Teach In: Educate and Activate,” a PowerPoint presentation to help activists educate their campus or community about the history and current situation in eastern Congo, and motivate the public to put pressure on their elected officials. Activists and students at dozens of schools across the country have already signed up to hold a Congo Teach In.
Film Screenings and Book Clubs: Enough encourages the general public to learn more about the conflict by hosting screenings of films like “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” which can be rented, or a holding a book club session to read King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.
RAISE Your Voice
Petition to the President: Enough encourages the public to go to its new website, www.raisehopeforcongo.org and sign a petition calling on the new president to announce an initial plan to end the scourge of violence against women and children on March 8, 2009, International Women’s Day, and to report back on his progress toward that goal one year later.
Calls and Letters to Elected Officials: The public is encouraged to call or write their elected officials and ask them to move Congo up on the foreign policy agenda.
RAISE the Profile
Calls and Letters to Media Outlets: Enough also urges the public to contact the media and press them to cover stories about this horrific situation. Enough is pushing for activists to write an opinion editorial for their local newspapers, educate their local radio and TV news station about the crisis, create a blog and explain how they’re involved with the campaign and the movement.
As part of the campaign, Enough released its top ten reasons why eastern Congo is the most dangerous place on earth for women:
TEN REASONS WHY
1. Predatory Security Forces:
The Congolese Army is guilty of abusing the people they are supposed to protect. Soldiers often view women as a “benefit” of carrying a gun for the state.
2. Lawless Militias:
A complex and confusing array of illegal armed militias operate in eastern Congo. Militia members often forcibly take local “wives,” coerce landowners to conduct menial labor and steal harvest from local farmers. And they are all too eager to use rape and other forms of violence as tools to intimidate and suppress the local population.
3. Culture of Impunity:
In Congo, law enforcement as we know it is non-existent, and access to justice is extremely deficient. For most women, going to the police with a complaint about a crime is almost unthinkable. They fear if they go to the police they will be subjected to rape, violence or theft.
4. Resource Curse:
The scramble to exploit the Congo’s vast natural resources, including gold has been the principal driver of atrocities and conflict throughout Congo’s tortured history.
Instability and grinding poverty in the Congo has created a stagnant economy, and few companies are willing to invest in the Congo. Years of economic decline and conflict have acutely affected women, many of whom have become widows and have been forced to find ways – including begging and prostitution – to support their families.
6. Collapsed Healthcare System:
Tens of thousands of women have survived rape and sexual violence, but the Congolese government is unable to provide adequate medical services, rehabilitation programs, or psychological counseling.
7. Internal Displacement:
More than 1.3 million Congolese have been driven from their homes. Throughout the conflict, rape has been used as a weapon to force communities to flee and live in poorly protected camps where they are vulnerable to attacks by militias and Congolese security forces.
8. A Failing Education System:
The school system in Congo is extremely weak: school enrollment rates, from primary school through university, have dropped significantly since the onset of the conflict. It is difficult for uneducated women in eastern Congo to know and defend their rights.
9. Gender Inequality and Cultural Barriers:
Ongoing political and economic insecurity in the Congo have further eroded the status of women in society. Women in the Congo are often treated as little more than private property, and they are often denied access to health care, property, education, and information.
The Congolese government and the international community have failed to act to end the suffering of women and girls in the region. In spite of promises President Kabila made over two years ago and the presence of the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping force, armed groups still target civilians in eastern Congo.
To learn more about the Enough Project’s RAISE Hope for Congo campaign visit, www.raisehopeforcongo.org.
Enough is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Founded in 2007, Enough focuses on the crises in Sudan, Chad, eastern Congo, northern Uganda, and Somalia. Enough works with concerned citizens, advocates, and policy makers to prevent, mitigate, and resolve these crises. To learn more about Enough and what you can do to help, go to www.enoughproject.org.