As the world yesterday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the international aid organisation CARE was continuing to support survivors to rebuild their lives and reclaim their rights, and to change attitudes towards violence against women.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where ongoing fighting between the Congolese Army and armed rebel groups has escalated in the eastern province of North Kivu, thousands of women experience physical and sexual violence.
CARE Australia CEO Dr Julia Newton-Howes has warned that many cases of sexual and gender-based violence cannot be reported and treated due to the deteriorating security for humanitarian workers.
‘Fear and violence is reigning in many parts of eastern Congo and women and girls carry the biggest burden. While looking for firewood and water, they are in constant danger of being attacked, raped and even killed by different armed groups. CARE teams have already reported a significant rise in rapes and other acts of violence in Masisi and Rutshuru. Medical teams and counsellors have difficulties reaching rural areas and, as a result, many cases of rape, abuse and torture cannot be reported and treated.’
Dr Newton-Howes said the suffering does not end with the attack.
‘Victims have no means of bringing their cases to justice, and widespread impunity makes it nearly impossible to follow up on cases. Data collection is very difficult, but reports from our field staff and partners show a rising number of cases especially in those areas that have experienced armed clashes and, as a consequence, large movements or people trying to seek refuge from the violence,’ she added.
As a global leader in women’s empowerment, CARE Australia is supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence by providing women with medical care, psychosocial counselling. as well as much-needed resources to get their lives back on track by providing access to village savings-and-loans associations.
Dr Newton-Howes said: ‘This problem isn’t confined to countries in conflict. Violence against women is also widespread in the Pacific region; in Papua New Guinea, 65 per cent of women are survivors of physical or sexual violence, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women August 2010 report Ending Violence Against Women & Girls.
‘CARE has placed women at the heart of our programs in PNG and empowers women by giving them a voice in decision-making and encouraging them to actively participate in community discussions. It is important to also change attitudes of men and women who see violence as acceptable. Women’s empowerment is the sum of changes needed for a woman to realise her human rights. To CARE, an empowered woman makes important household decisions, has control over income, makes decisions about her body, participates in her community and lives a life free from violence,’ Dr Newton-Howes said.
CARE Australia is an international humanitarian aid organisation fighting poverty, with a special focus on working with women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities. www.care.org.au.
Militiamen of Mai Mai rebel group, who have been fighting alongside the Congolese government forces, are pictured on Saturday in a village near the town of Minova, 45km from the provincial capital Goma, where the government forces are based. CARE reports that women and girls have been brutally raped and murdered in the fighting. EPA/DAI Kurokawa