By Corrie Hulse
It is no secret that in this new era of intra-state conflict, rape has increasingly become used as weapon of war. Sadly, the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) know this all too well. This past week a new report was released in the American Journal of Public Health, which takes an in-depth look at rape statistics in the DRC. The article reports some incredibly staggering numbers.
According to researchers, in the DRC approximately 1150 women are raped every day, 48 women are raped every hour, and 4 women are raped every five minutes.
...four women every five minutes...
It is simply impossible to truly grasp that number.
The researchers emphasized the “results indicate that the number of women who have been the victims of rape and IPSV [Intimate Partner Sexual Violence] in the DRC is several orders of magnitude higher than what has been cited in previous studies.” In addition to there simply being a dramatic rise in sexual violence, this discrepancy in numbers also has to do with how and when sexual assaults are reported, if at all. In other words, even the numbers this study is reporting are most likely far lower than the actual number of rapes in the region.
I want to take a minute to put this into context for those in the western world who might see Africa as this distant, foreign land. When one is not closely connected to a region, it is often difficult to fully understand the situation on the ground. So let's look at the numbers this way:
While population statistics are rough at best for the DRC as a result of the ongoing violence in the region, estimates place its population as fairly equivalent to that of France, or the combined populations of California and Texas. Imagine, if you will, a report surfacing claiming that over 1100 women were raped every day in France. What would life be like on the streets of Paris with women in such imminent danger of sexual violence? How would the world respond?
In contrast to the 1100 women raped daily in the DRC, there were approximately 10,000 rapes total reported in France in 2009. That accounts for less than ten days in the DRC. Further, the United States, a country of nearly 311 million people, reports approximately 246 rapes each day. This number is drastically lower than the DRC, particularly when you consider that women in the US are far more likely to report a sexual assault than women in the DRC.
Yet, in the midst of such horrific violence, here is what I find simply amazing about this story. Rather than fall down defeated, the women in this country continue to stand up and fight for their rights. They organize, they protest, and they call on the international community to stand beside them in bringing an end to sexual violence in their country. This past October I wrote a blog about women as the new peace revolutionaries in which I spoke to the unique role women can play in peacekeeping. They stand, in our world, as a powerful force for peace. With that in mind, one begins to wonder how powerful these women could be were they not subjected to the continued threat of such violence. What sort of progress could be made toward peace in the DRC if women were able to focus their fight on something beyond their right not to be raped?
Perhaps it is time for the international community to take real action, and stand up next to these women; acknowledging their courage, and enabling them to bring real change to the DRC.