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When she walks the dusty alleys of Bagira, a town of Bukavu perched at an altitude of 1,800 meters, Mwamini Kanega measures the distance traveled. No more mockery and insults. At 35, the social worker can finally walk with her head held high. She works, earns enough to feed and educate her eight children. Above all, we no longer openly treat her as “Hutu woman”.

Mwamini Kanega is one of those rare survivors of sexual violence who has managed to regain a foothold in working life. Like tens of thousands of others, her story illustrates the extreme violence that has befallen women in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent decades. A terribly mundane drama that started one night in 2001: “Everyone was sleeping at home. Hutu rebels, who spoke Kinyarwanda, disembarked and killed my mother and my sister. They raped me and left. “

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A teenager at the material time, Mwamini Kanega fled Walungu for Bukavu with her two brothers. But two years later, history repeats itself: “Hutu rebels kidnapped me, my brothers and a Senegalese neighbor. We walked to Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Some were released after a few days. I stayed there for a year. “ Within this sanctuary where mountain gorillas live, the young girl becomes the sexual slave of her executioners. Two children will be born from these months of captivity.

Mwamini Kanega, June 25, 2021 in Panzi.

On her return to Bagira, the story of the young woman goes around the neighborhood. Mwamini Kanega may be discreet, difficult to escape the stigma. “When a boy courted me and I rejected him, he called me Hutu woman. It all broke my head. I cried all the time ”, she recalls.

Only 0.5% of victims are helped

A few years later, the survivor crosses paths with Doctor Denis Mukwege, “the man who repairs women”. In her Panzi hospital specializing in reconstructive surgery for raped women, Mwamini Kanega benefits from comprehensive care. She is treated for her vaginal infections, operated on for a fistula and followed by a psychologist to treat her depression.

It is after her passage in the structure that the young woman places the beginning of her slow reconstruction. “When Doctor Mukwege saw me despondent and isolated, he would say to me: ‘Every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself: I am beautiful, I am beautiful!she laughs, crossing her perfectly manicured hands.

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In Panzi, Mwamini Kanega had the opportunity to benefit from a socio-economic reintegration program. She received a few dollars, quickly invested in the sale of drinks and then second-hand clothes. The young woman was also able to resume her university studies and then specialized in psycho-social support for victims of sexual violence. A successful reintegration which nevertheless remains an exception: most of the survivors sink into even greater poverty after their rape.

According to a report by Médecins sans frontières (MSF) published in July, in the first half of 2020, only 0.5% of victims of sexual violence in the DRC received help to find a job and meet their needs. “Almost two out of three victims we took care of in 2020 were raped during daily activities in the fields or while they were collecting firewood. The resulting fear prevents them from going back to work to meet their needs ”, explains Juliette Seguin, from MSF.

In its report, the NGO reveals that it took care of nearly 11,000 victims in 2020, or 30 per day, including 2% of men. MSF regrets that economic reintegration remains a blind spot in many assistance programs.

Female solidarity mutuals

Yet sexual violence has a major economic cost. In 2020, out of the 91 million inhabitants of the DRC, 11 million people directly or indirectly victims of gender-based violence needed humanitarian aid, an increase of 43% compared to 201, according to the reports. United Nations. Barely 8% of these needs were covered by funding, alarms MSF, which fears a drastic drop following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mwamini Kanega, she does not expect much from the authorities, even if President Felix Tshisekedi launched in June the campaign “Zero tolerance” against sexual violence. To live with dignity and resist social exclusion, it relies on women’s solidarity mutuals, “Muso”, which abound in Bukavu.

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“Every Friday, we contribute a few Congolese francs. With this money, we make loans to members to support their activity ”, proudly explains “Maman Véro”, the dean and president of the muso Mungu anakupenda (“God loves you”). About sixty women participate in the structure. Meetings, which take place in a small, dimly lit room, should not exceed one hour. A mutual aid which also involves the cultivation of shared fields, where the women grow sweet potatoes and eggplants together and then share the profits from the sale.

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“Maman Véro”, dean and president of the Mungu anakupenda female solidarity mutual, in Panzi, June 25, 2021.

Today, nearly 4,500 women survivors of sexual violence have joined a solidarity mutual in the vicinity of Bukavu, estimates “Maman Véro”. Their fight now focuses on the recognition of their children born of rape. Deprived of civil status and identity documents, they are stigmatized and left to fend for themselves, with the risk of in turn perpetuating the violence they have suffered.

Recognize children born of rape

“These children are a ticking time bomb, because many end up in the streets”, worries Desanges Kabuo, social worker. “There is an urgent need to create a training center to give them a chance to get by”, pleads this active member of the National Movement of Survivors of Sexual Violence in the DRC.

This fight for the recognition of children born of rape, Mwamini Kanega also endorsed. In her commune of Bagira, she has identified 309 children and tirelessly seeks funds to send them to school … without arousing the interest of the authorities and donors. “People call my 17-year-old daughter a witch, a snake child. I had to send her far from here and she saw him badly. As for my son, the neighbors insult him too. He has a developmental delay which I attribute to all this violence. “ A stigma that has undermined his bond with his children. “My son and daughter are the main problem in my life. I would have preferred to have an abortion if I had been able ”, she confides.

If she is proud of her career, the young woman knows her precarious condition. For more than ten years, she has lived with a violent man. After each attack, she leaves and then ends up coming back, under pressure from her family. Despite the crises, she is about to say “yes” to him in church. “I have no choice but to put up with it. I do it for my children, so that they are respected, so that we stop insulting them. Here, a woman without a husband is worthless. And then I have six daughters, he will be able to protect them ”, she hopes.

Summary of our series “Surviving rape in the DRC”

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