Monday, October 27, 2008

Rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo

As part of Congo Week here at Loyola, a video telling of the horrible conditions for those living in Africa`s Democratic Republic of Congo was shown. The video focused on how prevalent rape has become as a consequent of war and how much of a toll it takes on society there, particularly women. Two congolese men were on hand to discuss the atrocity and divulge how they have been directly affected by rape in the Congo. A war torn region for decades, much of central Africa has been turned into an area of constant struggle and is currenly raising a generation of children that have grown up with war all around them. This, in conjunction with poor societal resources and unhealthy living conditions, has facilitated a decay in respect for women in the Congo. The current situation concerning rape in the Congo greatly violates basic human rights and many Jesuit ideals, and is in great need of a concerted effort to eradicate the problem.
From the beginning of Western involvement in the Congo with King Leopold of Belgium in the 19th century, the region has been plaqued by social unrest. The Belgians, followed by a number of dictators, exploited the land and the people for personal benefit. This way of life paved the way for a legacy of social instability that continues to cause the deaths of thousands each year-whether from war, hunger, malnutrition, economic problems,or damaged food production. An environment like this is extremely susceptible to war and all the corruption that goes along with it. Unforunately, women have been targeted as rape has become yet another weapon of war. It is effective because it generally happens with impunity and extremely difficult to combat because all parties on either side of the controversy take part-Congolese rebel groups and the Congolese army itself, Hutu perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, and even member of the United Nations. These groups are free to roam the region due to insufficiencies in public programs and law enforcement.
Basically, whether it be a rebel group or the Congolese army, a group of men will march into one of the hundreds of villages in the Congo and force themselves upon women, often harming or even killing them. As a result, the women are physically and psycologically damaged. If this isn`t bad enough, they are often otracized by their husbands if they were married and the community at large. This creates an extremely large group of broken women with no family to turn to and minimal societal structures to go to for aid.
However, the cry of women victimized by rape in the Congo seems to finally be reaching the rest of the world. A number of aid organizations popping up across the globe as well as the establishment of hospitals specifically created to help rape victims in the Congo show a glimmer of hope for the region. This glimmer of hope appears to be the most substantial keeping those involved in the Congo going. One of the Congolese men on hand for the film, a priest, said the people of the Congo have great "faith in themselves" to alleviate the problems that plague their home. He said that when in the Congo, he focuses much of his preaching on faith in the future. The other Congolese man, a professor at UMBC, advocated getting knowledge of the war outside the Congo to the rest of the world through news, press, and other communications. He brought up the fact the 80% of Congolese children grow up uneducated, something that would surely evoke some sympathy from the outside world. The creation of such institutions as Women for Women and Doctors Without Borders, as well as occasional attention from major United States newspapers are helping to break the silence.
The Jesuit ideals of solidarity and universal justice call Catholics to pay attention to the atrocity in the Congo and do whatever they can to contribute to helping the situation. Although the problem seems almost unreal because it is geographically and socially distant from American society, we are obligated as humans to react. Moreover, the problem may not be as distant as it seems. For example, over 80% of the world`s coltan, a substance found in all cell phones, is extracted from the Congo (most of it illegally). Solidarity within humanity is severely compromised as long as rape in the Congo is allowed to continue.
Similar to the Jesuit theme of universal justice are the ideas of communion in the Walt Whitman poems and McCloskey short story that we read in class for this Monday. The short story, "A Lush Life," sported a significantly lighter tone but at the same time stressed the broader idea that the constituent elements of a whole are dependent upon one another and a correlation does exist. It also introduced the idea that each part brings something unique and contributes to the whole. For the same reason, we must not ignore what is happening in the Congo. The years of exploitation and war have blinded the rest of the world from Congo`s full potential to contribute to the international community. On the same note, Walt Whitman described conjunction between the body, soul, and his poems. These poems again stress unity amongst parts and commitment to equality. In "I Sing the Body Electric," Whitman tells that proper maintenance of the body is necessary for a healthy soul and vice versa. Again, as members of the international "body," Americans need to focus on the maintenance of all other members. The current situation in Congo concerning the rape of its women is one example needing complete attention from the international community. As Americans and students at a Jesuit institution, we are obligated as parts of humanity to care for others who need it in order to maintain humanity as a whole.

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