Kasai Conflict- Woman speaks out on sexual violence

Kapinda (50)
Photo: ActionAid
Zimbabwe team
Communications Focal Person

I am the Communications Focal Person for ActionAid Zimbabwe.

Kapinda (not real name) who is from Kasai Oriental Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, feels unable to confirm whether her three daughters, aged between 12 and 28 were sexually assaulted when armed men descended on her village in December 2016. Kapinda is among the millions of people affected by a conflict which hit Central DRC in the Kasai area resulting in the displacement of over a million people, women and girls being the most affected.

Kapinda is a widow who lives with her three daughters.  Although rumours have spread like wildfire in Kapinda’s village saying that her three daughters were raped, the daughters nor herself will never admit that they were sexually assaulted. They are afraid of facing stigma and condemnation within the Baluba society which is deeply entrenched in cultural norms and beliefs that a woman should be a virgin when she marries. Kapinda said her three daughters are not married.

According to our culture, a woman who is not married should not reveal that she had sex before marriage. No man will marry my daughters if he knows that they were raped or if they are not virgins. My daughters have not said they were raped when soldiers surrounded our home in my absence. I had escaped to the bush leaving my daughters behind. I had told my daughters several times that we should run to the bush where everyone was running to but they were reluctant to leave our home saying it was safer to be at home than fleeing. I left them behind after hearing some gun shots within the village. The bush is some three hours walking distance from my home.

In the evening of the day I arrived in the bush, I received a phone call from my daughters. They said they had been surrounded by soldiers and did not know what to do. The children only reunited with me two days later at 11pm all of them crying uncontrollably. They said the soldiers attempted to rape the oldest daughter but failed as they only removed her clothes, Kapinda said unconvincingly.

 If I ask about the rape they cry and they do not want to talk about it.  I have noticed some change in behaviour in my oldest daughter who now speaks rudely to me although she was a well-mannered woman before the conflict. I have even noticed some change in the other two girls who may have been sexually abused but deny it.

Kapinda, is among the 50 women from her community who attended trainings on sexual and gender based violence and human rights supported by ActionAid with resources from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  In addition, ActionAid has trained 60 community anti-violence and protection volunteers and 30 paralegals who have been supporting survivors of GBV and sexual violence in the Kasai Oriental Province such as Kapinda. The volunteers have in addition been provided with mobile phones to help with dissemination of information around sexual violence and assist any people who require help and linking them with ActionAid.  Kapinda and other women in the community now know what channels to take should they face any sexual GBV or any other human rights violation.

We have some volunteers who are also internally displaced members within the community who have provided support to my daughters. However, my daughters and I require more psychosocial support as I feel I have a tense relationship with them, she said.

The volunteers continue to provide support to people like Kapinda and her daughters as they continually monitor the situation of the Kasai community. The communities continue to report of cases of sexual GBV as they live in crowded conditions which makes it rife for various human rights violations to take place. ActionAid is currently fundraising to assist the communities with more professional psychosocial support to people like Kapinda and her daughters.

About 2330 people, the bulk of them women, have been supported in the Kasai Oriental, Kapinda included as part of ActionAid’s response to the conflict in the Kasai region.  ActionAid has supported 26,450 people to date through women-led protection interventions in the two provinces of the Grand Kasai region including Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental.