By Miguel Galaz
I am a white European, 25 year old male, and have led by all accounts a privileged life, absent all wants and means. My parents did everything they could to provide me and my sister with everything that was denied their generation. However I find myself sitting here, on the verge of tears, learning more and more about a region I only know a little about. Let me try to convey to you what is running through my mind right now. 4 every 5 minutes, 48 every hour, 1152 every day, nearly 420500 every year: not just numbers, but rather the projected rapes that happen in the Democratic Republic of Congo, every minute, every day, and every year since sexual violence was introduced as a weapon of war in the region when conflicts began around 1998.
Nearly 12% of the female population in the DRC has been raped at least once. Considering how the DRC has roughly the population equivalent of California, New York, and Texas, these numbers are not fleeting: they represent a tragedy of escalating proportions. Were we to live there, one in ten of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters would have been brutally raped by individuals who have become the embodiment of the four horsemen: war, famine, pestilence, and death enshroud this region within a darkness that should only belong in our worst nightmares, yet it is the reality which the people living there must face every waking minute.
The horror being perpetrated in the DRC is almost impossible to express. No one is safe from terrifying acts involving mutilation, cannibalism, gang rape, etc., each instance more terrible than the last, involving children as young as 6 months and as old as 80. Each individual story is supercharged with horror, much like the story of a survivor named Masika who was made to watch her husband’s murder and the rape of her two daughters by militiamen, slashed with knives by them, forced to eat her husband’s cut up penis, and was then gang raped on top of her husband’s remains. Stories like this shouldn’t even belong in fiction, never mind reality, yet tales such as this exist in the hundreds of thousands. What is worse however, what cannot be forgiven is how invisible it is to us, how little attention has been dedicated to it. The Invisible Children movement has garnered a lot of attention of late; I believe it is time we create an Invisible Women movement.
With our “21st century ideals”, it is disgraceful how one the world’s longest running conflict has attracted such little debate, considering how a critical component for all of our electronics, coltan, comes primarily from the region. Did we not have a Kimberley process to curb the traffic of blood diamonds? Well, the same precedent should be applied to resources that come from all conflict regions. Over 5 million have died since war came to the heart of this beautiful continent. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the terror spread throughout this region. From Rwanda and Uganda, to the core of what used to be Zaire, we are bearing witness to the 21st century’s very own Holocaust. In this case however, the victims are primarily women, the sacred beings which bring our progeny to life, responsible for the nurturing and upbringing of almost every single one of us. While peace treaties are discussed, rape continues unabated, and the perpetrators are treated with impunity. Rape is a weapon of mass psychological destruction, yet its cessation is rarely discussed at the negotiation table. Almost one every minute, 5 every time that latest hit finishes playing on your iPod.
Some would say, cold as it may be, that interest in these crises is correlated with our economic benefit. They’d be wrong to apply it in this case: the DRC is very rich in natural resources, and has the potential of being one of the most resource rich nations in the continent, if not the world. Yet the conflict ensues unabated, and we, to our combined shame, sit watching our televisions, worrying about the next Idol. What can you do? Get angry, get involved, inform yourself and inform others that this is happening and that you will not stand for it. Never underestimate what a group of motivated individuals can accomplish. I make a vow to do so, to be active, keep informed, keep writing, and contribute in whatever way I can. This cannot go on, rape as a weapon of war must be punished alongside all other crimes against humanity, and we have to stop turning a blind eye to these atrocities. It is terrible, it is horrifying, and it has to stop. No ifs, buts, or maybes. It has to end. Stay informed. Keep reading, keep sharing, keep fighting.
Written by Miguel Galaz. Miguel is currently working for Portugal Telecom as a trainee with interests in development, finance, economics, and politcs. He just finished his Master’s in International Relations and is currently residing in Lisbon, Portugal.