The recent increase in displacement due to conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has multiplied the risk of gender-based violence (GBV). At the same time, coordination efforts by the international aid community are failing to address the needs of women and girls. In 2009, United Nations Action on Sexual Violence in Conflict drafted a comprehensive strategy for combating sexual violence in the DRC, which was then adopted by the DRC government. However, challenges with leadership, information sharing, and funding are hindering implementation of this strategy and actually obstructing urgent response to beneficiaries. To ensure effective prevention and response to GBV, the current coordination mechanism should be abandoned in favor of a structure better suited to humanitarian crises.
The 2009 United Nations strategy for combating sexual violence in the DRC divides programming on sexual violence into five component pillars: prevention and protection, multi-sectoral assistance to survivors (MSA), the fight against impunity, data and mapping, and security sector reform (SSR). The comprehensive strategy is part of the DRC government’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan for War-Affected Areas (STAREC), which aims to consolidate military successes against armed groups, restore the authority of the state, help displaced people return home, and re-launch local community economies.
In May 2010, Refugees International (RI) first reported on the launch of the comprehensive strategy, highlighting problems with its initial roll-out and its undue focus on more stable areas of the country. These shortcomings resulted in an inability to address the needs of women and girls in conflict-affected areas. In 2011, RI returned to the country. Despite finding some progress, RI determined that serious challenges remained, including an ongoing division between stabilization efforts and humanitarian work that left large areas of the country without assistance and where rape survivors could not receive timely and adequate care.
Nine months ago, intense fighting erupted again in eastern DRC, displacing nearly three million people. Since then, there have been a number of incidents of mass rape, widespread opportunistic sexual violence, and frequent use of sex as a survival strategy to obtain food. Much of the recent upheaval has occurred in areas of North Kivu, such as Masisi, where basic services are lacking and emergency programs to address GBV are critically needed.