Three women sit together on the pew like seats of a waiting room in a village health centre. Despite it being midday, the clinic in the province of Kasai Oriental has no electricity and seasonal thunderstorms have left the room dark and gloomy.
The women chat while their children play on the dusty floor at their feet. When a small woman slips quietly through the door, they barely raise their eyes. Dressed in a faded green t-shirt and blue and white skirt, Grace is grateful they have barely acknowledged her presence.
Grace, Photo: Carey Wag gner/CARE
Six months ago, Grace was raped. The mother of two was on her way to sell bananas at the weekly market in a neighbouring town. There’s little by way of public transport in this part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the journey is made by foot, so long that it involves an overnight stay in a village along the way. Grace made the journey once a month, each market day netting her a profit of USD7.50, enough to feed her children.
On that day in April, Grace took a short cut that she hoped might shorten her journey. Instead she came across five armed men. They beat her, using their fists and the butts of their guns. They raped her and left her lying on the path. “I remained there,” she said, “I didn’t have the life in me to get up.”
Grace eventually made it home. When she told her husband what had happened, he took her to the local health centre. Sylvain Tshibona is a nurse at the clinic trained by CARE to provide both medical, psychosocial and legal assistance to survivors of sexual and gender based violence.
Sylvain, Photo: Carey Wag gner/CARE
“The psychosocial assistance is very important for these women,” says Sylvain. “We need to be able to listen to them, and help them through the trauma they have suffered.” Since receiving his training, Sylvain has treated a number of survivors who have come to the clinic, both female and male.
In another village, Dieudonne Munsensa and three of his colleagues address the small crowd that has gathered to hear them speak. The four are community mobilisers trained by CARE to raise awareness about the availability of services for survivors of sexual and gender based violence. The public meetings and door-to-door visits are reinforced by public service announcements broadcast on local radio stations.
Dieudonne, Photo: Carey Wag gner/CARE
Grace is a shell of a woman. Her eyes are empty and her voice so small, it’s barely audible under the drum of the constant rain. During the conflict, the family fled. Their home was destroyed and all their belongings taken.
In the Kasai, a woman who has been raped brings shame to her family and lives with the stigma - often in the form of isolation and social exclusion - for the rest of her life. Paying compensation to her husband’s family, usually in the form of household items, is regarded as a way of ‘cleansing” or ‘redeeming honor.”
“My husband is good and kind to me. He knew I didn’t do this by choice, that I was forced. He knows I am a good wife,” says Grace, who paid compensation in the form of cash to her husband’s parents.
But the stigma remains. “The neighbours talk”, she says. “Not with me but about me to other people. When I see this, it makes me feel ill.”
“I no longer go to the market. I stay at home, mainly inside. My heart is ok but I don’t like to leave home very often. I don’t walk in the village, only when I need to come to the health centre.”
“My daughter doesn’t know and I don’t want her to know that this happened to me,” says Grace. “In ten years I hope I have forgotten about this and my life with my husband will have continued without pain.”
Grace leaves the health centre as noiselessly as she arrived, not even the air is disturbed. It’s like she was never there. As she walks out the door, the three women on the benches don’t even see her go.
Grace’s name has been changed to protect her privacy
For more of our work in Democratic Republic of Congo, click here.«All Stories and Blogs