Chantal Binwaassumani is a 30 years-old human rights activist from DR Congo, she is married with four kids. Chantal hold a degre in rural development, she has been working with The Association des femmes pour la Promotion et le Développement Endogène is a Congolese (AFPDE) since 2005 as the project coordinator. AFPDE is a Congolese feminine organization located at South Kivu Province in DR CONGO. The Association des femmes pour la Promotion et le Développement Endogène (AFPDE) was our highlight of the month in January .The mission of the organization is to encourage and support the autonomous and independent efforts of Congolese women in the promotion and protection of their human rights whilst also improving their social, health and economic situation. The organization was created by the militants’ women at KILIBA on October 16th 1999 with the hope of helping women, young girls and children that are victims of war and sexual violence.
Your organization has now been active on the ground for over 10 years. How has the situation changed over the past 10 years for women? Have they become more vulnerable or rather stronger through empowerment strategies? Has the number of women coming to your organization increased?
It’s true that our organization exists and works for women, girls and children in difficult situation for over 10 years. Throughout this period we have observed that the women’s situation has been mixed. It has improved a little in urban areas and it hasn’t changed at all in rural areas.
With the education, sensitization, advocacy, accusations and monitoring that are made by human rights activists in urban and semi urban areas in order to stop abuses against women, the situation has improved somewhat. Cases of sexual violence have declined for fear of being denounced by women themselves and the organizations defending women’s human rights. Apart from that, I can say that in urban and semi urban areas, according to the actions that are realized, women have gained some power and that contributes greatly to the fight against the abuses that they are victims of.
Else in rural areas, the situation remained the same and is increasingly degraded. This is primarily due to the lack of advocacy, awareness, education and monitoring for the promotion of women's rights and the fight against sexual violence.
Other than that, armed conflicts in these environments are among the major causes of rape and sexual violence against women and girls. These barbaric acts are committed by the government militaries, armed groups and other uncivil persons.
In these areas, women are considered like objects and animals, which can be abused without being protected by someone. For example our supervisor visited Bijombo administrative grouping in order to realize the monitoring of sexual violence cases. He was arrested, beaten and put in jail by armed militiamen of FRF that control this part of the highlands of the Uvira Territory. His life was in danger, and he was liberated after two days by giving 120 $ to these militiamen.
Thus, I can say that the number of women who come to our organization is growing. At times, we have small number of women who come to our organization and at other times, the number increases. But when we make the annual total, we find that the number has increased compared to previous years.
How do you feel about DRC being cited as "the Capital of Rape"? What can actually be done about VAW around the world and especially in the DRC?
To be cited as the capital of the Rape, I think it’s a disgrace to women and Congolese authorities. For me, this qualification should challenge Congolese authorities and urge them to do everything to end this scourge.
It is in this sense that, at our level, we can ask the international community to do everything to put an end to an armed conflict, which continue in the eastern part of DRC. In addition to that, the international community can support organizations that are helping women and girls who are victims of sexual violence in order to ensure them with medical care, psychological and socio economic rehabilitation.
Regarding the DRC authorities, I can suggest they mobilize all the means at their disposal in order to combat all armed groups that spread death and desolation to women in this part of our country. And that concrete steps are taken to combat impunity, corruption and amicable arrangements that characterize Congolese justice.
Apart from some measures to reintegrate socially and economically, victims must be taken and strategies implemented to strengthen women’s power and restore their human dignity.
How do you reach out to the women and encourage them to come visit your organization? Is there a social stigma attached to coming to your association? When assisting a victim, does your organization sometimes receive threats by the militias, or do they try to create a difficult context for you to operate in?
Our organization, in its intervention strategy, has established women's groupings in all towns and villages in which we operate. These feminine groupings each one has four sensitizators women and 4 psychological assistants.
In every place we operate, we have two houses we call “offices” but which are really listening houses for raped women. We call these houses “offices” in order to avoid the stigmatization of women and girls who come to us. Thus, as offices they receive all women and girls who need assistance without distinction. It’s during their listening that we can identify those who were raped and those who have not been raped. For all women who come to us, we try to provide solutions to their problems. For those for whom our organization cannot do anything, we refer them elsewhere for support.
To achieve this, we organize each Sunday awareness sessions in churches and other public places. During sensitization, we talk about health, economic, women’s human legal rights, sexual violence and other problems that women face in their daily lives. And during the awareness sessions we tell women and girls to come and visit our offices to find solutions to their problems.
We do these activities without referring to women victims of sexual violence so that they can not be stigmatized. For that, if we say that our offices are for victims of sexual violence, all persons in the village can say that all women and girls who go there have been raped. This can lead to the marginalization of all women and girls who come to us. That's why we receive in our offices all women and girls in the villages.
As I said above, our homes are called simply offices. This is to avoid stigmatization of victims. In rural areas, when a woman was raped, she is often abandoned by her husband and family. She is rejected by almost everyone around her. Every time she goes, people point fingers at her. This situation is the cause of the no denunciation of rapes by victims’ women even if they are suffering. They still tend to hide it.
During our activities realization, we receive threats and sometimes we run the risk of being arrested, flogged and imprisoned by armed groups. This is the case of our supervisor of Highlands of Uvira territory which I mentioned above.
The work we do is a high-risk job. We have already engaged in it so we cannot abandon it. We must fight for the wellbeing of women and girls who are living in very hard conditions in this part of our country.
Sexual violence that women and girls are victims of in rural areas has several causes and is connected with one armed group or another.
For foreign armed groups, if TSHISEKI or KAMERHE was elected president, he could stop armed attacks against them and could force the Rwandan government to negotiate with them and thus enable them to return to their country as free men and then participate in management of the country by sharing power.
For national armed groups, President Kabila is saving the Rwandans interests. He is providing benefits to soldiers from Rwanda and despises the Congolese origin. The Congolese rebels’ leaders supported by the Rwanda government are promoted by the president and not for the Congolese armed groups. For this, Kabila should leave the power.
It’s in this sense that all armed groups say that the election was badly conducted. This means for them that all people who elected KABILA may suffer more and understand that they have made a big mistake to vote for him. Thus, they say, women have elected Kabila and for that they must be systematically raped and pay for the mistake they have committed.
As a result, women are highly threatened, victims of things they don’t know. According to that situation, there are women who are now obliged to leave their villages and go to foreign countries like Uganda as refugees.
How do you see the problem of violence against women being perceived at the decision-making level? Is the government taking any concrete action or providing support?
The problem of sexual violence against women is very well known by the authorities at all levels. Actions have been set up to stop it but these actions didn’t lead to positive results. These actions are insufficient and do not provide solutions to the plight that women are going through.Some laws are promulgated but are not put in practice in order to put an end to sexual violence done to women and girls. There is also corruption, impunity and amicable arrangements that plague the judiciary of our country. This situation tramples the work that human rights organizations are doing to end sexual violence. There are times when organizations have arrested rapists, but after a week, they find these rapists free. This puts activists and victims in danger.In addition, it’s the recurrent armed conflict that the government is unable to finish, which forms the basis of sexual violence in the Eastern Congo. Members of armed groups are causing the sexual violence and everybody knows it. Unfortunately, the military of our country is unable to put them in harm's way because of several problems that they currently know on the fronts. How can you imagine a soldier who went to the fighting without eating? How will he live? He will give up and leave. The authorities of our country should do much to curb abuses that are done to women and girls.
Does your team also try to engage and work with men, in order for them to understand the impact of their violence on the whole of society? If your organization doesn’t, are you aware of other organizations in your area doing such work?
Our organizations, together with other human rights organizations are doing everything to reach everyone. It is in this sense that the past year raising awareness was referred to the military, policemen, judicial authorities, traditional authorities, the political and administrative authorities and the public particularly masculine.
These actions were undertaken to educate and inform people about all the forms of sexual violence, the laws of repression of sexual violence, the consequences of sexual violence on female victims and the role of community in the fight against this scourge.
The mission was to mobilize them so that they can be involved in the fight against all forms of abuse against women. Unfortunately this work was limited to a few sites because of lack of financial means. Our goal was to continue and intensify that work hoping to obtain concrete results.
How do you see your work evolving in the coming months? Do you foresee any important changes on the political scene, which could benefit women?
Our organization is committed to move forward and continue its fight until women's dignity is restored. We have programs, action plans and the determination of the entire team. We only need further financial resources to make them operational.We can have very minimal financial resources and can afford to do something in one or two sites only. And in this case it is difficult to claim to have very satisfactory results when you're done enough work.Regarding politics in our country, we do not really important changes that can contribute to improving the situation of women. Perhaps a magic one. All political actors are sticking to their positions and do not want to go to find solutions to major problems facing the Congolese people and especially women.
Do you think UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is useful to securing Congolese women participation at Peace negotiation in the DRC conflicts?
Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security can contribute to securing at least the women if women were fully involved in peace negotiations. But according to how things are going, it’s as if those in power do not want to negotiate and it is so serious.
Other than that, even if it is negotiated, that women should not be under the influence of men and party leaders who elected them.
Mrs. Chantal BINWA
UVIRA, SOUTH KIVU, DR CONGO
B.P. : 7488 Bujumbura Burundi
Tel : +243994020783