DR Congo + 1 more

"It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict"

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"It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict" (Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, 2008, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DR Congo)

Aid agency CARE International is calling on policy-makers to put victims before bureaucracy in the battle against rape in countries hit by conflict.

On International Women's Day, the charity is highlighting the chasm between policy rhetoric and the real needs of victims of sexual violence during and after conflict.

CARE International, the third biggest aid agency in the world says much greater attention should go to ensuring the safety of survivors - who face great risks if they go to the police and are often stigmatized by their own communities - and providing sustained support beyond the initial medical and legal assistance.

The UN Security Council adopted a landmark resolution last year - UN Res 1820 - on tackling conflict-related sexual violence. The international community now has to implement 1820.

But CARE International is concerned that debates over 1820 are overly preoccupied with developing reporting systems to feed into diplomatic and political processes at international level.

Marie-Claire, 50, lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She was raped by four men in front of her husband and children. "They took my children and raped them as well, next to my son-in-law's dead body", she said. As a result of her injuries Marie-Claire and her husband can no longer have sex.

In Kenya women were raped in the post-election violence that took place last year. Janet, who lives in a settlement in Nairobi, was gang-raped in front of her 20-year-old son by four young militia men.

"To this day, I am afraid to go for an HIV test," said Janet, who also lost her small business through militia arson and looting. She is now struggling to make ends meet.

Carol Monoyios, CARE International UK's Director of Marketing and Communications, met Marie-Claire and other survivors of sexual violence in the DRC.

She said: "Victims often face risks if they report the crime. They may be ostracized or attacked by members of their own community. The physical and emotional trauma can last long after the nightmare of the rape itself.

"The rights and needs of women like Marie-Claire and Janet must drive the implementation of 1820 - not international diplomatic agendas."

In June 2009, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon will publish a report on implementation of Res 1820. CARE International is calling for the UN to ensure that:

peacekeepers are given the right training, mandate and capabilities to protect women who live in countries affected by conflict;

survivors who take a stand against impunity are protected - many women face risks if they participate in any police or justice procedures;

funding is sustained to help women cope with the longer-term health and psycho-social consequences of rape

support is provided to affected communities to reverse the spread and eventually put a halt to sexual and gender-based violence.

CARE is setting out practical recommendations for implementation of UN Resolution 1820 based on its experience on the ground and consultations with both aid workers and rape survivors in countries affected; including Burundi, Uganda, Kosovo, and DRC. Recommendations have been produced by a team including Beth Vann, an internationally-recognised expert on sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, and CARE's own staff on-the-ground.

CARE International is asking people to sign a petition to Sir John Sawers, the UK representative to the UN, to demand that women are better protected from sexual and gender-based violence; and helped to cope with its health and psychological consequences beyond the initial medical treatment.

Notes to editors:

About CARE International: CARE is one of the world's largest aid agencies, working in 70 countries to fight poverty and helping more than 65 million people every year. Our long-term programmes tackle the deep-seated causes of poverty and we are always among the first to respond when disaster strikes. We remain with communities to help them rebuild their lives long after the cameras have gone. For more information, visit www.careinternational.org.uk

Media Contacts:

Deborah Underdown, Assistant Communications Officer: 020 7934 9417 or underdown@careinternational.org