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Women's lives the front line of conflict

  • 18 September 2014

I would like to tell you a story of Marcelina, a teenager from North Kivu, a province in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During my visit to Congo in May last year, Marcelina told me that she was abducted from her house and forced into prostitution. For more than a month, Marcelina was forced to service, cook and care for these men after they killed members of her family. She was a slave, with no control over her body or life.

She eventually escaped, pregnant, with no family and no support. Her perpetrators were never charged with kidnapping or sexual assault – they remain free to commit the same atrocities again. But Marcelina was one of the lucky ones. For thousands of other women and teenagers, the nightmare never ends.

This is just one of many stories that I hear from women of all ages each time I visit the Congo.  

'It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict', says Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DRC.

Let’s reflect on that for a moment. It has become more dangerous to be a woman collecting firewood or water than to be on the front lines as a fighter.

In 2008, Caritas Australia published a report to draw public attention to the ongoing conflict in the DRC and the prolific incidence of rape and violence against women within communities there.

The report, Forsaken Voices, was the basis of a campaign to build community, Australian government and international support for peace building programs, justice initiatives and sustainable development projects in the DRC.

The DRC has been the scene of ongoing plunder, warfare, despotism and misery for much of its recent history. The greatest losers in such a disaster are, of course, women.

In 1989, with my babies in my arms, I had to flee DRC as a refugee because people could not tolerate a woman like me speaking out for what is right. Today, thanks to the generosity I found in Australia, to the many who have assisted us, and also to a fair amount of hard work from us all – my family has a wonderful life in Australia.

However, for people still living in Congo, hunger is unrelenting, justice is elusive, and peace is fleeting.

In June this year, Caritas Australia conducted interviews and training with hundreds of people affected by the