“Although the wars unleashed large-scale sexual violence and atrocious sexual crimes, discrimination against women is deeply entrenched in customs, laws and minds.”
Establishing a link between the DRC and Burundi in order to address the long-term impacts of war on women
The path forward?
Slides text – Priscyll
Slide 5 – General theories: Galtung’s Triangle
First of all, we thought that it was a good idea to begin with Galtung’s triangle as it really illustrates what we would like to discuss regarding sexual violence. In fact, the three types of violence, direct, structural and cultural, are present in the cases that we are about to present, both in the DRC and in Burundi. They are also intrinsically linked with each other. To begin with, the problem of sexual violence is related to physical or verbal harm, and in this case represents direct violence as described by Galtung. In this presentation, the cases we show are obvious: women in both countries are not only suffering from verbal discrimination but also from very cruel forms of physical violence. The problem of sexual violence is structural in the sense that it is embedded in social structure and particularly in the inaction of the states and international organizations. For example, in Congo as well as in Burundi, the political and administrative structures are perpetuating the impunity and discrimination against women that prohibit the progression of women’s rights. Moreover, and this is what we would like to demonstrate with the relationship between Burundi and Congo, the physical harm suffered in war by women often becomes normalized in the aftermath of the conflicts. This is why we also chose to talk about cultural violence, which is the last part of Galtung’s triangle. As we will argue, both nations have experienced war, one that is still in conflict and the other one that is trying to build peace, and both nations also face difficulties in addressing sexual violence that is deeply embedded in traditions and beliefs. So we really want you to keep in mind this triangle during our presentation.
Slide 6 – General Theories on women, war and peacebuilding
We thus wanted to position ourselves also within a framework that follows general theories on women, war and peacebuilding. We do definitely think that the two conflicts we are presenting were gendered, and thus we understand the importance of analyzing them along femininities and masculinities. We also think that theses general theories helped us to understand the relationship between the victims and the perpetrators of sexual violence. It is very important not to fall under the general binaries, seeing the women just as victims and men just as perpetrators. In fact, in this presentation we want to show that women are deeply conscious of the state of war they are in or they have been in: they do have rationality. Women have power and this presentation is also about their power of resiliency.
So it is not about depicting women as being essentially peaceful or men essentially violent because, according to general gender theories, these binaries just obscure too many patterns of gender-based violence, power relations and the participation of women in conflicts in Africa. We will focus on the fact that gender-based violence needs to be addressed because of the importance of sexuality in every society and all that can be achieved with the control of it.
In the end, this presentation tries to highlight that there is little attention paid to how conflict and gender shape violent relationships between women and men during the war and after it. The general theories on gender-based violence are thus working in order to facilitate the access of women to equality, decision-making and peace negotiations as it has been decided by the international community with UNSC Resolution 1325 in 2000. This resolution reaffirms the gender equality and the central role of women in peacebuilding (Nduwimana). However, it seems that up to now, only 4% of women are participating in peace negotiations which suggest that the plea of women are still not heard and that is what drives us in this presentation.
Slide 16 – Why is rape used as a weapon of war in the case of DRC?
So, regarding why rape is so often used in DRC, there are a lot of possible explanations since the conflict in itself is very complicated and has many internal and external dynamics. We thus cannot explain them all but we’ll try to make a general and concise portrayal of the reasons it is used at the personal level as well as in order to achieve political goals.
In the numerous videos of interviews with victims we watched, the key point is that there is an omnipresent fear. Thus, rape is used because it can quickly terrorize and submit a whole population and then offer the possibility to control the community whereas the population also feels insecure. As women represent the backbone of their community, rape is used to break this symbolic representation of women and undermine the sense of security. The consequences are multidimensional and collective since the use of rape also destroys the economic aspect of the society. In many videos and articles, women interviewed explained that their social exclusion affected them economically so they couldn’t go to school anymore, or they couldn’t go to the field because of health problems or fear of reprisals.
Equally, we put “some unclear ethnic dimension” because some authors (as Carlsen and Mechanic) were also focusing on the fact that there is an ethnic dimension in some part of Eastern Congo but that this has yet to be investigated in depth. It is also argued that the rape is used to change the ethnic composition of the population by making the women pregnant and thus ashamed.
Ultimately, mass rape is targeting the man, trying to attack his masculinity, the masculinity that permits him to protect his woman. They are literally confronted with their powerlessness to maintain a household and to protect their wives.
Slide 17 – Why is rape used as a weapon of war in the case of DRC? (Part II)
Rape is also used because it is a cheap and effective way to weaken the enemy. Sex and power are thus intimately linked to gain control of territory. In the case of the DRC, sexual desire and territorial control go hand in hand. It is particularly true for a country like the DRC that has experienced a long-term conflict because resources are scant and rape doesn’t ask for high-tech arms, which confer all the power to the men who perpetrate it. Also, apart from the diseases they might contract with raping, the soldiers are not really in danger while perpetrating the rape. Put simply, it is “effective over large areas, inexpensive to implement and does not particularly endanger the attackers”.
But in the end, it is very difficult to differentiate the individual act of perpetrating rape to satisfy a physical and psychological desire and the collective act of being ordered to rape or to rape in order to gain strategic and political objectives over an enemy. In this sense, more research needs to be conducted as to understand the interrelation between the individual and the collective motives that permit rape to occur.
Slide 18 – Who are the victims in DRC?
Our purpose here is to look at the victims in the DRC in order to facilitate your understanding of the problem. Let’s first look at some statistics. As shown here, while not confined to the conflict areas, 1 woman out of 3 has been raped in the conflict zones in DRC. It is difficult to make an exhaustive account of how many women have been raped or how many women are raped every day in the DRC. In 2011, some sources like the Guardian said that 48 women are raped each hour, while Al-Jazeera claimed that more than 1000 women are raped every day. We do not know how true these statistics are, but the UN effectively noticed an increase in the number of cases since 2011. For example, the UN Population Fund calculated that between January 2009 and July 2010, 6334 women have been raped in North Kivu and 7285 in South Kivu.
Most of the victims of sexual violence have been gang-raped, meaning being raped by more than one man at a time, which increases their risk of exposure to diseases and body mutilations. A lot of them are also taken captive to turn to sexual slaves for months in the bush.
Also, in most of the sources we used, the authors agreed with the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators are armed combatants. In their study, Susan Bartels and other authors argued that 52% of the perpetrators were identified by the victims as armed combatants from one militias or another.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the victims of sexual violence are not all women, but also include 23,6% of men, which is not negligible regarding the fact that sexual violence might also be used to feminize the enemy.
Slide 19 – Who are the perpetrators?
Since there is a strong correlation between rape and the ongoing conflict, the perpetrators of rape in the DRC, and other instances of sexual violence, are mostly military commanders, police, soldiers and a vast range of militias that are sometimes difficult to distinguish. The greatest perpetrator is the Force Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, the national army, but also the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda and other militias as the Mai-Mai who were originally formed to protect the civilians. These soldiers are often confined to the bush for months, mostly underpaid or unpaid and endure harsh living conditions. However, this is not to excuse their behavior but rather to explain some possible factors that contribute to it. They also are usually under the paternalistic commands of a superior that may prohibit rape or encourage it. We also note an increasing amount of rape perpetrated by demobilized soldiers and civilians in the last years.
Slide 20 – Relation victims/perpetrators
Women are targeted both because of the sexual and individual desire of soldiers, but also because they are the symbol of their community. This is why they are the primary victims in the conflict: they symbolically represent the perpetuation of the nation. Thus, there is an intimate relationship between the victims and the perpetrators that is represented by the social anatomy of war that unbalances the existing gender relations. The relationship between the perpetrators and the victims thus lies under the fact that destroying the women’s bodies signifies destroying the society; also, the vulnerability of women is then multiplied in times of war.
This leads to a complex relationship between the soldiers of the FARDC or the Mai-Mai, who gave themselves the principal mission of protecting the population from outside threats and the natural resources from external pillage. However, a lot of the soldiers of these factions committed cruel crimes against the population and mostly against women. This means that the interaction between civilians and militaries is changing over time: their repertoire of violence is dynamic and decided by the individual and collective dynamics of war.
A lot of analysis also shows that the loss of social norms exacerbates the relationship between women and men. In fact, it has been said that the men are feeling a lot of social suffering because with the war, they have lost their family and probably contact with their wife. Most of the soldiers interviewed underlined the fact that their lost masculinity was recuperated by forcing another woman to have sex with them.
There is also another link between victims and perpetrators. A lot of rape victims are assaulted during pillage made by combatants in order to get food because they are underpaid and do not have many resources. Although this does not excuse their behavior, it surely helps to explain the widespread opportunity offered by these collective assaults on local populations that are leading to more vulnerability for women’s bodies.
This complex relationship between soldiers who rape and victims of mass rape leads us to understand also that some of the soldiers are seeing rape as “acceptable” since they consider soldiers to have the right to satisfy their necessities while being so long in the bush without women. They are confronting it with “evil” rape, or rape followed by brutal violence and assassination, which they attribute to magical forces and that they consider morally incorrect. They thus do not consider the relationship with civilians as pervasive as long as they have a moral justification for the rape.
Slide 21 – Views from the soldiers
In this regard, we will watch a short video, which is shocking but very representative of what we want to expose. It is about the views of the soldiers who committed rape, and I want you to pay attention to the reasons they give for what they do. …
So here we put the relevant points regarding why soldiers decide to rape and we think they really put the emphasis on the fact that war is the abstract responsible for it. They do it because they want to target the enemy, because there is a greater cause over it. They even talk about magical power, about the fact that women have some magical force that permits them to win the war. But they never take the individual blame of it.
Slide 22 – Rape with extreme violence
To conclude this section, the situation in the DRC is quiet pessimistic. In fact, since the demobilization and furthermore since 2009, even more cases of brutality, or rape with extreme violence, have been recorded. It seems that we face a problem of internalization of the violent forms of masculinity for the young boys and that there is an unparalleled level of brutality in the rapes perpetrated in the DRC. Many cases have been reported and victims were frequently found with their breasts cut off, shot in the genitals, mutilated or even fell prey to cannibalism. The worst is the fear of many specialists on the issue: now, in the DRC there is a generalization of sexual violence throughout the whole of society, with an increasing amount of civilians raping since 2006, partly because of the normalization of sexual violence but also because of the reintegration of the demobilized combatants without any measures for those who perpetrated terrible crimes. That opens up the debate of two important things that we will see in the next two parts: the capacity of brutality is also intimately linked with the capacity of indifference of the national government and international community. I’ll now let Marissa explain to you the social consequences of this brutality.
Slide 28 – DRC: Overall progress
The panorama we’ve just made of the DRC is pretty dark. However, we also want to portray the overall progress since the last years to let you see a ray of hope in the struggle against gender-based violence. Women organizations and civil society are working so hard to implement grassroots efforts that will have a real impact on the DRC gender problem. The situation is thus not hopeless as organizations such as UNIFEM and Right and Democracy are trying to help affected women and are sensitizing the whole society to the problem. There is also more and more access to health care and the creation of health care centers in order to assist these women. Even if there is a lack of funds, they are working really hard to help raped women get back to normal life. There is also some progress since the law of 2006 and the implementation of transitional government to include women in decision-making but it is still something pretty weak in the DRC administration. There are also initiatives to include men in the programs against gender-based violence and this has been started with live theaters that reproduce violent scenes and thus provoke a deeper understanding of the abuses for both men and women. But what frustrated us during the preparation of the presentation is that, in the end, sexual violence is not decreasing in the DRC and the same structural and cultural institutions are still legitimizing the impunity. This is a very challenging situation, a rampant problem, and it was difficult for us to see how we can go beyond this sexual insecurity in the DRC. It looks like national and international actors try to overcome the problem with many programs and funding but the progress is still very little. In our belief, the only way to overcome the problem is (withdraw of external actors? Of economic interests in the DRC? Corruption?)
Slide 30 – Map of Africa (situating Burundi)
So first of all, when talking about Burundi, we are talking about a very small country in East Africa as you can see here on the map of Africa…
Slide 31 – Burundi: an overview
…which possesses an access to a great lake, the Tanganyika, and that is surrounded by the DRC in the West, Rwanda in the North and Tanzania in the South. It’s a country of approximately 8 million people, mainly speaking Kirundi, but French is also an official language. The ethnic composition of society is divided between a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority with also 1% of Twas in the country. Women constitute more than half of the population. In 2011, Burundi was still the 3rd poorest country in the world, with 42% of its national income depending on foreign aid.
Slide 32 – Burundi: Timeline
So in order to better understand the gender dynamics, we’ll take a look at the historical background of the country. Since the colonial legacy is very important in the story of Burundi, we decided to start our timeline from there. The Germans first arrived in the Tanganyika lake region in 1890 but they lost their control over the region with the end of the First World War and the Versailles Treaty. In 1916, Belgium thus conquered Rwanda-Urundi, the region that now covers Burundi and Rwanda. The Belgian “divide-and-rule” policy contributed to the exacerbation of the ethnic differences that were based on social status. In fact, Belgians favored the wealthier Tutsi, which is not to say that it is the origin of the Burundian conflict but it certainly fuelled the tensions. We can then say that the first step towards the conflict was the assassination of Prince Louis Rwagasore in 1961 by a Belgian mercenary, which was followed in 1962 by independence from Belgium. After an attempted coup for a Hutu state in 1965, a Hutu insurgency started in 1972. Hutus tried to seize power while also perpetrating a massacre against Tutsis. Most organizations are claiming that this insurgency perpetrated between 200 000 and 300 000 deaths. Between 1972 and 1993, interethnic massacres have been taking place and this is why some authors refer to genocide since it was based on ethnic lines. Then came the period that interests us regarding sexual violence: from 1993 until now. In 1993, democratically elected Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated and a military coup toppled the national institutions which led to a civil war, known by the Burundians as “la Crise”. The Rwanda genocide also had side effects in Burundi while some Hutus radicalized and created various ethnic militias fearing Tutsi reprisals. This also led to almost 300 000 people massacred, almost all Tutsis. Regional talks began in 1998 in Tanzania and culminated in the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in August 2000. However, the main rebels did not sign the agreements and the fighting continued until demobilization that was relatively successful, notably in 2003, 2006 and 2009. Most of the authors agreed that we can better situate the end of the war in 2003 and the cease-fire agreement in 2006. In 2011, the government adopted the “National strategy for good governance and the fight against corruption” in order to get rid of the governmental problems in Burundi, but the results are still not visible. In fact, Burundians are still facing difficulties regarding development, political instability, corruption, bad governance and a lack of political dialogue that all together, have a huge impact on women’s lives as we will see in the next parts.
I thought this quotation was very representative of what we wanted to expose since it looks like there are so many legal problems in Burundi that women are not even expecting to be helped. This section will thus talk about legal, juridical and administrative frameworks that are permitting impunity in Burundi. One woman out of three is nowadays physically beaten in Bujumbura only and most of the cases of physical and sexual harm are never reported and if reported, never punished. All these problems have a cultural source but also legal ones. The legal problems originate from the nature of the ‘code pénal’ or penal code, that explicitly stipulates that the “husband is the chief of the family community”, denying equality between men and women and deliberately provoking an unequal power relationship between them. The patriarchal structures are thus embedded inside the national laws, prohibiting women to have the same integrity as men. Apart from that, since the amendment to the penal code, rape is criminalized under the article 385 but there is no clear definition of what rape is, leaving an obscure zone to the judge deciding of a sentence. Moreover, even if the ‘Code of the Person and Family and Labour Code’ was an attempt to redress the women situation, almost all matrimonial arrangements, succession or legacies are arranged by customary laws, which considerably reduce the legal efforts. In fact, laws exist but they are very difficult to implement because of the traditions that still persist in the society and force a lot of women to remain silent of the sexual violence they are enduring. In reality, marital rape and domestic violence is not even considered an issue at all and the children are conditioned from a young age to rigid gender identities and specific visions of masculinities and femininities. Finally, we should say that Burundi ratified the CEDAW protocol and its Optional Protocol but in reality, it is not effective in the country since it seems that sexual violence is not decreasing at all.
Slide 40 – Burundi: Legal Framework (Juridical and Administrative problems)
The juridical problems are also numerous. First of all, we should say that during the war and after the peace agreements, there has been a normalization of violent practices against women and thus, sexual crimes are not considered important. Victims are then facing numerous obstacles in trying to bring perpetrators to justice. They first face the high costs related to judicial procedures that, most of the time, lead them to stop these procedures. Equally, Amnesty International denounced the rampant corruption within the judicial system that discourages victims to talk since police and magistrates have humiliated women who have tried to report a sexual abuse. Finally, regarding the juridical problems, we need to underline the fact that women are also intimidated by certain cultural attitudes towards them: they fear the hostility from the family as well as the pressure of the community and traditions. Moreover, their economic dependency on men also challenges their possibilities to denounce sexual assaults.
Regarding administration problems, we should say that the government of Burundi also fails to its mandate of civilian protection. The political measures against sexual violence are literally absent and there is a lack of systematic and coordinated approach to tackle the culturally imbedded violent practices faced by women and young girls. There is no national plan against sexual and domestic violence that also complicates the work of NGOs in this regard. The low rates of education also contribute to broaden the gap between men and women, overcomplicating the implementation of gender equality. We found that another administrative problem was the fact that there is no data compilation, which also complicates the work of NGOs and researches. We had a lot of problems in trying to get data and most of it was in French. Moreover, one of the most important administrative problems is the low rate of women participating in government institutions. There is an urgent need to integrate them at the national level in order to give the first steps to gender equality.