DR Congo

Women for Women International concerned about major setback for civilians amidst violent clashes in DR Congo

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Washington DC, October 28, 2008 - With fighting between Congolese government troops and rebel forces intensifying, civilians and particularly women are again in grave danger of taking the brunt of the fighting. Tens of thousands of civilians are currently fleeing their homes to avoid being caught in the latest clashes between fighters who have shown little respect for non-combatants over the last years. According to the UN refugee organization, UNHCR, at least 100,000 people are now internally displaced as a result of a serious breakdown in security in areas close to the provincial capital Goma.

"The situation is deeply worrying. The fighting endangers the small improvements in security and economic wellbeing we have seen during the recent months of relative tranquility," says Christine Karumba, Women for Women International (WfWI) country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many of the women supported by WfWI are survivors of mass rape and were forced into sexual slavery by armed groups. "For them the fighting could mean more sexual violence and gang rapes given a complete lack of protection and law enforcement through local authorities," Karumba added.

The effects of sexual violence on women are long-lasting and frequently leave them with severe physical and psychological problems that often remain untreated. The stigma of rape makes many survivors and their children destitute after being rejected by their families and communities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo rape has been used by almost all parties of the conflict as a weapon of choice and observers have found that rape is now also spreading among civilians as a means of intimidation, torture, and exercising power.

"Many of the women in our program are scared. For them it means renewed loss of property, becoming displaced again, and the fear of horrifying sexual violence. They are also losing any confidence in a stable peace in Congo," Christine Karumba says.

Due to underreporting, it is difficult to accurately quantify the incidence of rape, but the Congo Advocacy Coalition stated that 2,220 rapes were reported from January to June 2008 in the province of North Kivu alone. A recent study found that almost a quarter of the population has witnessed sexual violence, 16 percent have become victims, and 12 percent had survived multiple attacks.

Since 2003, Women for Women International has served more than 18,991 Congolese women and another 102,551 family and community members in this region. Through a holistic program that includes rights awareness and life skills trainings, income generation assistance, and vocational and skills development, women are able to create stability and self-sufficiency amidst an otherwise chaotic and volatile environment. In 2007 alone, the program reached 9,489 women in the communities of Bukavu, Goma, Fizi and Baraka in the Kivu Provinces of Eastern Congo.

For more information go to www.womenforwomen.org

Contact: Natalia Cieslik ncieslik@womenforwomen.org phone 1 202 492 7453