DR Congo

Congolese women hold mass protest for peace and protection

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Hundreds of women dressed in black will gather in the Congo tomorrow to demand peace and protection in the war-torn region.

The three hour event, organised by ActionAid partner SAUTI, will be held in a sports stadium in Goma town, where thousands of people have fled the fighting between the Congolese army and renegade general Laurent Nkunda.

"Cases of violence against women have risen dramatically since the latest fighting broke out. Women have also died while trying to protect their sons from being attacked or taken away by rebels to bolster troops," says Alpha Sankoh, Country Director of ActionAid, DRC. "Now the women of Goma have decided to publicly speak out to alert the world to what is happening in Congo.

"The protest signifies the bravery and commitment of women to speak out against rape and assault. The event will include speeches and silent contemplation, and SAUTI have asked attendees to wear black in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion."

Since January, more than 3,000 cases of sexual violence - mostly by rebels and soldiers - have been reported. The number is not an adequate reflection of the scale of the trauma, as many women and children are afraid to come forward.

The increase in violence against women has galvanised the women of Goma into action in an effort to make their voice heard. In February this year, ActionAid set up SAUTI (Sauti ya Mwanamke Mkongomani) which means Voices of the Women of Congo, to bring together the various women's groups based in Goma.

Last week a delegation of 25 women from SAUTI met with the Rwandan government officials in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to highlight the plight of women in the conflict.

The delegation has since issued a declaration condemning the atrocities against civilians and calling on the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) to fulfil its mandate to protect civilians.

ENDS

For further information contact:

Juliet McShannon on 00 44 (0) 20 7561 7636 or Anjali Kwatraon 00 44 (0) 7941 371357.

ActionAid is an international anti-poverty agency working in over 40 countries taking sides with poor people to end poverty and injustice together