"Those committing acts of violence are still with us. Even if they are not as rampant as before, it was not long ago that militias operated and armed conflict took place in areas like Pool," said Micheline Ngoulou, president of the society to combat violence against women (ACOLVEF).
"Not a month passes without a woman being violated in one way or another but it's a pity that some women prefer to keep silent about these cases - which are punishable - to avoid mockery and repression," Ngoulou said.
"Apart from sexual violence. there is also physical violence, especially beatings - the victims of which include many women in their own homes," she said.
ACOLVEF says there were 310 known sexual violence cases in 2008, and 210 up to September 2009 - but these were only the reported cases.
"Sexual violence, especially rape, persists but it has changed in nature: younger and younger girls are assaulted by people who are closer and closer to them. Forty percent of victims are under 18, and 16 percent under 13," said Koen Vanormelingen, a UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in Congo.
"As for Pool Department, 16 percent of women and girls surveyed had been affected by sexual violence. But a change has taken place: it is not mainly armed men or men in uniform [who commit this crime], but civilians in 65 percent of cases," he said.
Pool was for several years the scene of armed conflict between government forces and Ninja militias led by Pastor Frédéric Bintsamou, alias Ntoumi. Appointed delegate-general for the promotion of peace and the reparation of the consequences of war in 2007, he never took up the post.
Article 8 of the 2002 constitution bans all forms of discrimination, and Congo also abides by the optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.
"Although legislation is to be encouraged there is still a lot to be done in terms of the application and implementation of the law," said Nina Kiyindou Yombo of the Congolese human rights watchdog (OCDH), adding: "Every effort needs to be made to raise awareness among men and women of the advantages of mutual respect and the equality of the sexes."
A UNICEF analysis in November 2007 recommended, among other things, the strengthening of legislation and its application "to put an end to the culture of impunity" for those aiding and abetting, or committing, abuses against women and girls.
It also called for a change in attitudes, values, beliefs and practices against women and girls, and the ending of the "culture of silence" which was preventing communities and the government from tackling sexual violence and instituting a "zero tolerance" policy.