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In Desperate Need of Help!

Fall 1998

Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) desperately need your help.

Since August, the Clinton Administration is supporting the military invasion of Congo by Rwanda, Uganda, and Congolese rebellious troops.

These invading troops are raping Congolese women day in and day out. Young girls under 12 years of age are being targeted. We are in a very desperate and helpless situation in face of this war that the U.S. has tacitly imposed on us.They want our country's minerals for free.

All these occupying forces, without exception are engaged in brutal acts against Congolese women. Women are being raped in front of their children and husbands; many of these soldiers carry AIDS, and we are being infested indiscriminately in large proportion. Our husbands and young men are being killed or deported to unknown destinations in Rwanda and Uganda where they are probably massacred.

Why is the international community silent about our plea? Is this because we are not in Kasovo or Bosnia?

Please help us and speak for us. Contact your governement and ask them to stop this war.

-- Bernadette Kufwa, Collective of Congolese Women

Please read the attached article published in a Ugandan newspaper. This article tells only a small part of the truth. The situation is worse:

Congo Women Pay the Price of War

It is midday in Kisangani, the bullet ravaged third largest city in war-torn DR Congo. A small crowd of mostly women are arguing angrily outside the Palm Beach Hotel.

The crowd is looking at a woman dressed in a colourful Congolese kitenge who is sobbing hysterically as she speaks to a man in army uniform whom I suspect to be commander of the rebel forces in the area. It's difficult to follow what she is saying, but a man near me explains that rebel soldiers invaded her home the night before and raped her.

Apparently she is the latest victim of the undisciplined, mainly Rwandese-backed, rebels fighting to topple President Laurent Kabila's government. Just a day before my return to Kampala, another woman complained to a local rebel boss, Commander Papy about two soldiers who forced her door open and raped her.

The woman was hurt because the soldiers do not attempt to seduce the women but prefer to rape them. She also fears that unless the night attacks are stopped, robbers may use the ploy to invade her flat."Let the soldiers come during day time and we negotiate so that at night you will know what type of person is coming," she said amidst sobs while she spoke to rebel commanders near Kisangani Airport.

After eight days in the DR Congo, it is easy to conclude that women and young girls are living through a nightmare as they are habitually forced into sex, exposing their bodies to the deadly HIV/AIDS.

On one occasion I bumped into two soldiers having sex with women in the open -- my presence could not even scare them, instead they shouted at me to mind my business. Most of the women in Kisangani are not aware of the dangers of HIV/AIDS. The only sexually transmitted disease most of them speak about is gonorrhea.

In spite of the free and easy sex, condoms or safe sex are unheard of here. Not all the women involved in the easy sex are raped. Some are prostitutes, locally called "mutuasi." But the sight of young girls, some below 12 years of age who say they've also been raped is very disturbing. In this lawless society, grown-up men lure these young girls into sex. "I'm shaping her," one of them said when confronted. There's no law here. One of the leaders in Kisangani told me; if a woman is raped, she will not be rescued even if she screams or calls for help. Instead, she will be laughed at and asked whether she has ever seen a man's nakedness before.The sexual abuse of women thrives on the local belief that a Congolese woman must never refuse to satisfy the man's sex demands. "We respect men a lot. In my culture a man can't prepare tea or fill a glass with beer or water when a woman is near him -- this enough can create an impression that, you were not well bred," said Julie, while offering herself to carry my colleague's bottle of whisky.

As the war rages on, and the women's welfare deteriorates, many are turning to men and sex for survival. These women are not prostitutes but they depend on men to get essential commodities and food in return for sex. Women in this mineral rich country have been turned into virtual "sex slaves." Some give sex for as little as UShs 600 (half a dollar). A beer costs UShs 2,500.Yet most Congolese say these women deserve what they get. "They want to beg a lot, and you know whatever is given out has strings tied to free things here," said Jean Pierre Wamba.

Several other people accused the women of refusing work and opting to drink the local Primus beers until the early hours of the morning. Whatever the case, it is easy to see that long after the guns go silent in DR Congo, the people here will have a major, more deadly war to fight -- the war against HIV/AIDS.

Back to the Women Alive Fall 1998 Contents Page.

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
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