South Kivu is one of the worst affected Congolese provinces by cases of rape and violence against women. A significant number of victims do not report the abuse for fear of stigma and rejection. In some cases, the victim is obliged to make an arrangement with the rapist, rather than take him to court.
Against that backdrop, UNJHRO and MONUC, on 6 April, organised a roundtable interactive discussion on the issue, with about a hundred participants from religious groups, education and media circles, and women's organisations. The first such gathering was held on the occasion of the Bukavu Festival 2009 and discussions focused on the role of grassroots institutions in the fight against social stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence.
Organised under the slogan "Don't be ashamed; it's your right; it's about your health; it's about your life", the current roundtable aims to identify strategies that opinion leaders can use to reduce stigma towards victims of sexual violence.
According to the MONUC/UNJHRO Coordinator for the fight against sexual violence in eastern DRC, Luc Henkinbrant, "this task involves changing mindsets and ideas that are deeply rooted within South Kivu society. This sensitisation work can make no big difference without the direct involvement of grassroots leaders as people who have influence within their communities"
Various action strategies
Religious denominations highlighted the need for initiating outreach educational activity through adapted preaching focused on a wide range of issue, notably the presumption of innocence, often seen by the community as "unusual."
Mentors underscored the need for integrating the concept of the stigmatisation into the module, and discussing the issue not only with students, but also with parents and teachers in meetings, given the fact such issues are seen by communities as taboos, the child victim of sexual harassment in the school environment is stopped from attending school by parents. It must also be highlighted the need for integrating a provision condemning stigmatisation into the code of conduct.
With reference to mass communication, the media focused on the regular incorporation of the item into radiobroadcast programmes through dedicated programmes where panellists discuss victims' testimonies. It was decided that short messages must be broadcasted repeatedly through advertisements and targeted jingles. The special role of the media professionals was as well clarified in regard to sensitisation against rejection of the victims.
Women leaders' organisation, in turn, proposed an advocacy with government's institutions to have a provision in the law against sexual violence, condemning stigmatisation as a crime to be likened to rape. Given their influence on the community, traditional leaders must have a crucial role to play.
South Kivu artists must work in synergy as they did in a video-clip combating victims' stigmatisation, and highlighting the role of artist in campaigns: singers, film-makers and comedians.
The round table was the opportunity for the BCNUDH and MONUC/Bukavu Public Information to sensitise the population and to present media materials to accompany the basic actions, in particular illustrated and commented brochures in the Swahili language for a broad dissemination.
At the end of the day, several proposals were presented and adopted by participants. They are awaiting to be concretised in order to enable the victims of the sexual violence to restart their life in full respect or compliance with moral integrity, psychological and physical: "It is time for the Congolese people to stand up against sexual violence, against victims' stigmatisation," concluded Luc Henkinbrant.