Address given by Mugisa Isingoma, UFPPS convener, to the launch event of Tearfund’s report ‘Silent No More: The untapped potential of the church in addressing sexual violence’ at Lambeth Palace, London, on 21 March 2011
1. Violence against women
Violence against women and girls is one of the adverse consequences of the war in our country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has become a terrifying weapon of war used by all combatants from armed rebel movements to the government troops. This violence is centralized in insecure areas located in the east of the country. According a report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of women raped in 2010 is estimated at 15,000.
Having maintained enormous silence about this situation, it is only since February 2011 that the Congolese government ruled on certain rape cases in South Kivu via a military tribunal. Despite this action, people remain skeptical about the effectiveness of such decisions as an air of impunity continues to characterize the Congolese justice system’s response to the perpetrators of these war atrocities. The UN force in the Congo, the MONUSCO, is charged with other aspects of security and does not provide security to women who face sexual violence from armed men.
Our fear is that if legal action is not considered an effective response against those involved in this kind of violence, then it may become common practice to see a culture of dehumanization for women. However, if women in local societies lose their dignity, it is traditionally held that the family will also be destroyed. In our context, rape perpetrated against a woman, a mother or a daughter, generates many negative consequences, not only for her family but also society as a whole. A raped woman is a victim of scorn from her husband and his community. Divorce and stigma can easily follow. Further, the trauma a mother who has experienced rape faces also has considerable negative impacts on her children.
2. The Church’s Initiative
After having seen the bitterness and suffering of women and girl survivors of rape, the Anglican Church of Congo began an initiative to establish an association of women known as UFPPS (Women's Union for the Advancement of Social Peace) that since 2006, working with the Mothers' Union, is addressing the suffering of women and girls caused by both rape and displacement.
UFPPS is working to support several aspects of women survivors’ lives, namely: prevention, treatment of trauma and fighting stigma via a program of social integration. In this department, as in all departments of the dioceses of Eastern Congo people are working together to rehabilitate the troubled spirit of Congolese women and give them hope for life.
The Anglican Church of Congo through its various diocesan departments is working constantly to eradicate this phenomenon linked to war atrocities especially in eastern areas.
To prevent violence, the church has adopted a program of evangelization. By evangelizing the Word of God mentally and spiritually transforms the whole community, including rapists.
Because the church can only give limited material support to women survivors of rape and affected families, it looks much more at pastoral care activities. For example:
In the parishes within the Dioceses of Boga, Bukavu and Katanga, there is a special ministry for married couples who learn how to put into practice the Christian beliefs of forgiveness in marriage and child rearing.
In all the dioceses, bishops have the responsibility to educate pastors about the pastoral care of rape survivors in collaboration with their husbands and their relatives. They also participate actively in the ministries of UFPPS and the Mother’s Union and encourage meetings where women have a space to share and support one another as they cope with the emotional and psychological impacts of rape.
In Anglican secondary schools, a program has been initiated to mobilize youth to fight against the general culture of violence and against the spread of the HIV/AIDS which threatens them and future generations.
In addition to advocacy, we also promote:
The church also gives material assistance to our members who are victims to support their social reintegration. For example, we support:
We are currently facing the following challenges in our work :
4. Draft Recommendations