Congo Journal 7

Details, iPhones, and Gender-Based Violence: Related?

Pre-trip planning makes me crazy. Too many details. Emails. Calls. Arrangements. Decisions. And no matter how often I travel, the question of what to pack and what to pack it in never ceases to baffle me. You’d think this would get easier—but no, not for me.

However, in preparing for this trip, the details that have most consumed me aren’t the kind I could check off my to-do list. I cited one of those details in my last blog: In contemporary wars, civilians account for the vast majority of victims, and those least empowered suffer most.

Nowhere is that more true than in Congo (DRC), where violence against women and girls is an intentional tactic of war.

“Sexual violence is the monstrosity of our century.”
— Dr. Mukwege of Panzi Hospital, DRC

By humiliating, dehumanizing, and punishing women and girls, soldiers can hold entire communities hostage. Sexual violence has a unique economic, social, cultural and inter-generational impact. For example, women cannot access water-points or markets, and children cannot get to school because of the threat of violence. War babies—children born of rape—are ostracized. Women who have been raped are often shunned and outcast, even by their husbands. As a result, many women don’t admit they’ve been raped and never get the medical care they need.

“Wartime sexual violence has been one of history’s greatest silences.”—Elizabeth and Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Women, War, Peace (2002)

It’s hard to get an accurate statistic of the number of women and girls who have been raped in the DRC over the last ten-plus years, particularly since there is a growing belief that there is chronic under-reporting of rape. A recent study suggests 1,100 women are raped every day in the DRC, making sexual violence against women twenty-six times more common than previously thought. According to the American Journal of Public Health, more than 400,000 women and girls between the ages of fifteen to forty-nine were raped in the DRC during a twelve-month period in 2006 and 2007, which put the total at twenty-six times higher than earlier UN reports. “Even these new, much higher figures still represent a conservative estimate for the true prevalence of sexual violence,” writes Amber Peterman, a lead author of the study, “because of chronic underreporting due to stigma, shame, and perceived impunity, and exclusion of younger and older age groups as well as men.” The American Journal of Public Health, estimates that nearly two million women have been raped in the DRC, which puts incidence of rapes at nearly one per minute. Because of this sexual violence, the BBC ranks DRC as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.

Hang on to that little detail: nearly one rape per minute.

Now consider this detail: The DRC is the largest supplier in the world of minerals to the electronics industry.

Ever wonder if those two little details are related?

I mean, what are the chances that my iPhone is filled with the 3Ts—tin, tantalum and tungsten—mined by local Congolese men and boys who are enslaved by armed rebel militias? The same militias that rake in millions of dollars in personal profits, and then arm their mercenaries with even fiercer weapons to more effectively terrorize the civilians who have no choice but to keep working in the mines? The same rebel soldiers who then use their new weapons to take what they consider their just rewards: a young girl’s body?

It just so happens that my iPhone is filled with those minerals and the scenarios I described are exactly what happens. Meanwhile, the illegally acquired minerals are smuggled out of Congo through neighboring countries and shipped to smelters around the world for refinement. Once minerals are processed in this way, it’s difficult to trace their origins. Then these so-called conflict minerals easily make their way to the U.S. Actually, it’s pretty amazing how quickly gold and the 3Ts—tin, tantalum and tungsten—mined in eastern Congo find their way into my iPhone, iPad, and my MacBook Pro. I’m not picking on Apple, in particular; they’re just one of many companies who haven’t been too careful about finding out where their 3Ts really come from.

Sadly, those two little details—one rape per minute, and the worldwide demand for the 3Ts—are directly related.

World Relief, the organization with which our team of Ten for Congo is traveling to the DRC, is directly involved in the care and healing of exploited, wounded women. Congolese World Relief staff train local pastors and volunteers how to deal with trauma, provide healing interventions, work with local hospitals, embrace women who been ostracized with welcoming love, and challenge the attitudes that make too many husbands part of the problem rather than the solution.
On my previous trip to Congo, I talked with women who were raped so brutally that they wanted to die, but when groups of women called “compassion groups” from local churches embraced these broken women, one said to me, “They gave me my life back.” For those of us traveling to Congo, our role is to meet these women, honor their stories, and promise that we will do our best to let the world know what is happening to them.

Even if you aren’t traveling to Congo, you have an important role to play. You can be part of an advocacy movement that puts pressure on international governments and corporations to assure that Congo’s minerals are not blood minerals. The following link offers an in-depth look at the issue of conflict mining, along with important actions that advocates can take. Just this morning, I read an article about two Chinese-owned mining companies operating in eastern Congo that disregarded supply chain due diligence established by international law; thus their purchases financed armed groups and criminal networks within the Congolese national army. In response, the Congolese government suspended the activities of these companies. This is just one step out of thousands that need to be taken to assure a legal and safe mining enterprise. But it is a start; and it happened because ordinary people like you and me pressured governments and corporations. So, please read the following link to find out more!

Then take action on Congo’s behalf!