Congo Journal 20
Impunity. This is a word we hear often in Congo (DRC). I can't access Google for a dictionary definition, but what it means here is that men can rape women with no fear of consequences. Here, there is no rule of law. There is only the rule of the gun, the rule of the powerful, the rule of male dominance.
Before we arrived, the Ten for Congo team did research, read books, and studied reports on rape as a weapon of war. But we missed something. Yes, rape is a weapon of war in the Congo. Rebel militia fighters do hide in the forest, ready to attack vulnerable women. They do know that if they rape enough women they can destroy the social fabric of an entire community.
But we've discovered something worse than rape as a weapon of war. What's worse is an underlying culture of rape. A culture in which rape has become normalized. Accepted. Okay. This is a patriarchal society taken to the tragic extreme. From the time they are born, boys are taught that being a man means they must have dominion over women. Rapists are congratulated on being "man enough" to "take a woman."
Even churches reinforced this perspective when they preached a perverted message of female submission. Women were to submit, period. There was no mention of the fact that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church—even to the point of giving his life for his beloved. No mention of the concept of mutual submission.
Congo does have a law against men having sex with girls younger than eighteen. But laws mean nothing when they're not enforced. And laws that could protect vulnerable Congolese girls and women are never enforced. It is as if they do not exist. It is not uncommon for girls as young as fifth grade to have sex with their teachers to insure their "success" in school. University students who don't demand that their professors wear condoms when they have sex with them are offered higher grades than girls who demand condoms. Women are often asked to have sex with potential employers before they are given a job.
Yesterday, we met with Congolese surgeon, Dr. Monique Kapamba Yangoy. In beautiful French she described this grim reality. A Rwandan church leader translated and added his own commentary. "In a situation like this," he said, "where there is no rule of law, the church is the only hope."
Although the church has too often contributed to the problem, that is beginning to change. World Relief Congo staff are committed to the slow, but sustainable transformation of cultural attitudes toward gender and sex.
Perhaps the deepest problem, suggests Dr. Monique, is that women in a culture such as this are conditioned to believe they are of little value. They believe they truly are subordinate to men. So they lose the will to fight back, to stand up for themselves, to expect just and loving treatment. Life is what it is. They can hope for nothing more.
"But what about you?" I asked Dr. Monique. "You grew up here. You were a little girl and a young woman and a university student in this environment. Yet you stepped out of the pattern. You became a doctor! How? What empowered you to do that?"
"I was a privileged girl because of the openness in my family," she said. "My mother was a teacher and my father was a university professor and psychologist. My parents talked openly about life, about sexuality, about being a girl in Goma. Every evening we would debrief what happened that day. It's not that way in most families. Parents don't talk to their children about sex and about what's appropriate and right."
Dr. Monique joined the World Relief staff just a few days before we arrived. After years of surgically repairing fistulas—severe gynecological injuries caused by sexual trauma or childbirth—Monique wanted to address not just the physical injuries but the systemic realities that lead to them. She returned to the university and earned a master's degree in public health. In her role with World Relief, she will train pastors, parents, teachers, young people, and leaders in all sectors of civil society. Citing the positive example of her own father, she will challenge other fathers to play a similar role of openness, advocacy, protection, and empowerment for their wives and daughters.
Yesterday, as we talked with Monique, we realized that Ten For Congo has become Eleven for Congo.
Dr. Monique, we are so grateful for you. We'll be praying for you. And we'll be eager to hear more in the months to come about how we can partner with you in honoring and serving the women of Congo.