On Tuesday July 23, 2013 two interns from Peace Boat US Helen Hope Rolfe and I (Michelle Terazawa) attended an event at the UN called “Women’s Messages for Action in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region”. This event was generously sponsored by Amnesty International and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders in collaboration with the Permanent Missions of Australia and Uruguay. Ms. Rose Kiese, a representative from the Cadre Permanent de Concertation de la Femme Congolese (CAFCO) spoke passionately about grave issues surrounding her home country and what people still continue to face today. This event was held by the GNWP to process, reflect and collaborate with other partnerships on how to respond to the escalating mass violence towards women and girls in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region. As disheartening and gruesome this issue can be, to ignore the problems and become complacent to the suffering of the most vulnerable people is both irresponsible and careless. I feel both humbled and delighted to share an event synopsis with my own bits of reflection regarding this global issue that affects people and communities worldwide.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, often referred to as DRC or Congo-Kinshasa is the second largest country on the African continent located in the central region with a population of over 75 million people. Unfortunately the DRC has been severely plagued by the ravages of war since 1996 due to abuse of natural resources, mismanagement of refugee placement, the control of mineral wealth and many other factors. The situation in the DRC is considered to be the deadliest conflict after the Second World War and one of the top most dangerous places for women and children. The mission in Congo is the world’s largest peace keeping mission and yet still is the most challenging. Sexual and gender based violence is a grave human rights violation that is usually accompanied by the devastation of war. There are no quick fixes to solve this problem; however, the roles of women in political processes and decision making, sustainable partnerships and commitment, the cooperation among civil societies, regional and national organizations, donor countries, good faith based organized groups are all responsible steps forward in upholding the respect and integrity of the UN Charter Declaration of human rights and individual freedom for all. Rape used as a weapon of war is not only used to physically and psychologically maim its victims but is also meant to destroy the sanctity of communities. Moreover, it further isolates women and girls because of the social stigmas that they face upon return in which some cultures believe that the honor of a family and or community is based on the purity of its women.
Recommendations that were presented during this event was to organize an inclusive peace dialogue among national and provisional parties, traditional leaders, faith based organization, the justice sector, private sector and diasporas to discuss root causes of conflict. The deep reflection of good governance to prosecute all perpetrators to end impunity and seeking justice for victims and providing adequate, sincere protection to civilians is an essential part of securing women and peace security in general. Implementing holistic treatment in different resources – financial, psychosocial and medical to women and girls who endure sexual and armed violence is the key to empowering them to stand up for their rights and no longer be looked at as passive victims of abuse and violence.
Another recommendation that was suggested was the framework of the Intervention Brigade consisting of about 3,000 specially trained soldiers from Malawi, Tanzania, and South Africa to undertake targeted offensive operations. However according to the representative from DPKO (Department of Peace Keeping Operations) Mr. Jack Christofides, this “poses a great risk because even though the Intervention Brigade has the potential of being an excellent instrument to help protect women and girls if carried out properly, too much force can cause civilians to be caught in a crossfire resulting in more casualties.” He also states that, “We need a more comprehensive solution to what we have now in order to end impunity and need far more resolve. People on the ground have practical solutions and are not looking to the staff at the UN Headquarters in New York to theorize on what should be done.”
I wanted to end this post with some questions to help us reflect: What does it mean to be a woman? More importantly what does it mean to be a woman in the DRC and in other nations? Are we more than sexual objects? Violence against women stems from the lack of respect of women. How can we change this attitude?
This post was created and published by Michelle (Intern from Peace Boat US)