By Stépha Rouichi, Advocacy Manager for DRC
Garcia is 16 years old. In her short life, she has already lived through great pain. She lives with her mother and her four brothers and sisters. Her father died a few years so, and her mother struggles to provide for the family. Life is hard in the Kasai Region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where lingering violence has uprooted more than 1.4 million people.
Conflict, unrest and instability have made women and girls even more vulnerable to physical and sexual violence. They have to fear armed groups, but also members of their own communities. The prevalence and intensity of all forms of sexual violence in DRC is amongst the worst in the world. Garcia was sent to one of her neighbors, to collect money she owns to her mother. When she arrived after a few hours of walking, she sensed that something was wrong.
“A boy was waiting for me at the door and he let me into the house. There was another boy inside the house. They shut the door,” Garcia recounts the hell she went through. She talks with a quiet voice and snaps her fingers while she speaks. “I was a prisoner of those two boys. They told me to lay down. I was crying the whole time. They tore my clothes into pieces and raped me. First one of them, then the other.” Garcia screamed, and another neighbor tried to open the door. She banged it very hard, until it finally opened.
She stormed into the room, and the boys ran away. “My entire body hurt and there was blood everywhere.
I was a virgin before, I am not anymore.”
“My mother is very angry with our neighbor because of what happened. They do not speak to each other anymore. My mother was also very angry with me and hit me in the face when she heard about what had happened to me”, says Garcia. Garcia’s mother wants the neighbor to pay the dowry for her daughter, a so called “virginity goat”. She thinks that it is her fault what happened to her daughter. In many communities in DRC, girls who have been raped are said to bring shame to the family. A double punishment for girls like Garcia, who have to deal with the trauma, but also with the stigma they will have to live with for the rest of their life. CARE is supporting girls like Garcia in DRC to ensure that there will be an end to the cycle of violence. CARE is scaling up its emergency health interventions and provides medical service. Garcia received medical support in one of the health posts CARE supports and was referred to a nearby hospital for further examinations. “I want to go back to school and forget about what has happened. But I do hope that these men have to go to prison”, Garcia says. Like most perpetrators, it is unlikely that those two young men will ever be brought to justice.
To put an end to the violence against girls like Garcia, CARE is working to prevent sexual and gender-based violence and improve gender equality. Assessments have shown that the majority of rape survivors are young girls like Garcia, aged 14 to 17 years. Together with the communities CARE has developed shorts spots addressing violence against women and to counter the stigma still associated with rape and other forms of sexual violence. They are broadcasted in community radio stations to make sure that the message to stop the violence is being heard loud and clearly. Specialized medical and psychosocial support is one of the most critical concerns for displaced women and girls and local communities in Kasai. Women and girls in Kasai have already been through displacement, hunger, loss of loved ones. CARE and other organizations are determined to ensure to do whatever they can to prevent them from also suffering sexual violence and what it brings with it: stigma, isolation, major psychological and health issues, debt, desperation and social exclusion.
Photo: CARE DRC
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