“Our mothers and daughters are targeted”
Sexual violence and food insecurity in eastern Congo
30 October 2006, Bweremana - It is early morning when the canoe moors off Bweremana, a small village on the shores of Lake Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fishermen, who have been working through the night, hand over the nets to a group of women, waiting for them on the narrow beach.
The women open the nets and start picking out the catch.
“Sambasa,” says Alisi, one of the women, showing a tiny fish, before she drops it into the tub.
If the catch is good, there may be up to 20 kilograms of fish, Alisi says. But it is not the best season, so she guesses they may get half of that today.
Alisi is one of eighty women in Bweremana engaged in fishing since April 2006, with assistance from “Synergie des Femmes”, a local non-governmental organization that in turn receives assistance from FAO, such as the nets provided to the women of Bweremana. Although the men go out onto the lake, the women own the nets, so the catch belongs to them. They sell it on the market, using the revenues to support their often meagre livelihoods.
Early 2005, there was a raid on Alisi’s house in Bweremana. She and her family fled. Now they live two hours’ walk up into the mountains.
They live off half a hectare of land, growing cassava, beans and maize.
“It’s not enough,” says Alisi. “We have six children. Four of them go to school. We have to pay their fees - or the doctor, if they’re sick. I have to clothe them. Some nights they go to bed without dinner.”
Widespread problem often unreported
Women have suffered the most from insecurity in eastern Congo, says Germaine Chirigiri from “Synergie des Femmes”. “Our mothers and daughters are targeted,” she continues, referring to the hardest hit women “Synergie des Femmes” is trying to help: victims of sexual violence. With uncontrolled armed groups still swarming the region, the problem is widespread, Germaine says, although figures are hard to get since many women don’t report the attacks, either out of shame or fear. Those who do speak out risk rejection by their husbands, families and communities.
The European Union has donated 2.5 million euros to FAO to help war affected families in the eastern Congolese provinces of North and South Kivu, including women who have suffered assaults. With the financial support of the EU, FAO’s main donor in DR Congo, the organization launched a three-year project to assist 95 000 of the most vulnerable rural families.
Sihuzike, 19, was on her way home when five soldiers intercepted her. “If you defend yourself, we will kill you,” they said. All five raped her, but that was not all. “As you are so beautiful, we cannot leave you like that,” they said. “We don’t want to share you.”
The soldiers cut off her left hand. The stump rests on the plough, as she takes a break from her labour, carrying her nine-month-old daughter, Cynthia, on her back. After the attack, Sihuzike found refuge with “Synergie des Femmes” and is now part of a group of around one hundred women engaged in cassava growing on a field above the village of Minova, a couple of kilometres from Bweremana.
“Ever since the war, women have been taking care of everything,” says Germaine, explaining why insecurity - in particular, the targeting of women - leads to food insecurity. Agriculture was women’s work. Now, she says, women are afraid to go out onto the land or even to go to the market to sell their produce.
These days, Minova and Bweremana are experiencing relative security, which allows Sihuzike to sell cassava at the market in Minova. Or, Alisi to sell fish.
Alisi has come to the bustling market early in the afternoon. She and a few other women spread out the sambasa on straw tables. Customers soon arrive and the fish is being sold. Alisi is very satisfied when, in no time, they are sold out.
“It helps,” she says, going home.
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