DRC second worst place to be a woman in the world; what’s in a label?

DRC, orthographic projection.
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, the Trust Law which is part of the Thomas Reuters Foundation published a Danger Poll. The results were about the five top spots where it’s dangerous to be a woman in the world. Top was Afghanistan and second was Democratic Republic of Congo. The indicators were six; non-sexual violence, sexual violence, health threats, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking.

When I first saw this on twitter via @VOACongoStory.  I replied: And these narratives stick!! #DRC #CongoRT @VOACongoStory poll by Trust Law .

DRC was put in that spotlight because of the war time rapes that are well documented in the Eastern DRC where different militias control different parts. The survey identified Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia as the top most dangerous countries for women in 2011.

We journalists love to jump up to the terms coined to describe a place or a people-sometimes without questioning. Our challenge is always, how do you describe a place or people to another person who has never been there and make them feel as if they are there? Sometimes the terms coined might well fit the situation but as an African, I have seen these terms thrown around by those outside the continent who are so ready to speak for us in their endeavor to get more funding to ‘save’ Africans. What they never think of is these terms stick even when these situations are gone. Many have heard of the war in Congo and mass rapes from different UN resolutions and regional agreements. Our very own army – Uganda committed horrendous crimes in DRC between 1998-2003 and so did four other African armies. The challenge we are faced with in the Congo is not so much in coining terms to describe a whole country as worst place to be a woman but rather finding real interventions to end the lawlessness in DRC that allows impunity to do anything from murder to rape.

So I had a discussion with my former editor at Inter Press Service Africa Terna Gyuse on why the world is fixed on coining terms instead of embarking on real interventions. I am also aware that these narratives put on an entire country last way longer. Before we know it everyman from Congo will be looked at a rapist or even asked questions on immigration forms like, did you rape anyone during the war? How do you help a country without creating negative connotations to a whole group of people? This was Terna’s response:

Part of the problem is there are too many people paid to sit in offices and sell campaigns or places they’ve never lived. They’re always busy fighting on someone else’s behalf, they are making so much noise they have to add extra something or the other to everything just to be heard. We all do it I suppose. They are sitting there, well paid and with their fingers on the triggers of access to everything, always adopting people they like to feel are helpless.

But (sadly) we let them do it. Always lining up to be “climate witnesses” for this group or whatever the flavour is. We go to too many meetings not to say anything  but to ask for help. We Africans are so often ready to be whatever they say we are. On conflicts Oh everyone knows those rural African men are sex-mad patriarchal rapist fiends, hopped up on drugs and tradition and the power of the gun. When we get good access, we’re still busy explaining ourselves to outsiders whether its access to the media, to powerful people elsewhere or to wealthy people elsewhere.

Seeing this term coined, ‘worst place to be a woman’, I thought this can easily be passed onto Uganda, Zimbabwe, Chad, South Sudan or even Central African Republic. The term made me wonder, I thought of Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who founded a hospital in the eastern Congolese city of Bukavu to provide free care to the victims of sexual violence. The man has worked tirelessly to provide for women who would have lost lives and provided support for their psychological recovery. Having seen firsthand the worst impact of rapes of women of his beloved country, I wondered if Dr. Mukwege would ever evoke the term ‘worst place to be a woman’ as description of  his country.

I can only hope that all the killing, looting and raping, which includes men as victims too, will be presented as part of a complex story of DRC that has got many facets. That the world shdn’t just be satisfied in having the largest UN Peacekeeping mission in Congo with little results to show. We should question whether the agreements on the exportation of the blood minerals do hold and whether the Kabila government is doing enough.  It should also be told that despite the rapes, Congo has got women and men that are making shifts in making their communities better for all and that the redemption of Congo cannot come about by just throwing around labels.

8 thoughts on “DRC second worst place to be a woman in the world; what’s in a label?

  1. This is a great post, Rosebell. It’s also worth pointing out that as a real survey, this poll is pretty useless. It’s not based on actual information; it’s based on solicited opinions from “gender experts” — from a range of professions, though I don’t know their nationalities. I tried to take this apart a bit here but I think it’s important to keep in mind not just that there’s meta-narrative issues here, but that there’s real questions about the utility of the information that are behind this meta-narrative stuff, too.

  2. That’s true Jina, we just have an explanation that its a survey from gender experts. I would want to see someone ask Congolese including the women if they would put that label. Its just disheartening that we spend all this time labeling things than take action.

  3. True, Rosebell: the more you contribute to victimizing women, the more you have justified the need for your own (helpless?) presence. As an outsider, who never needs to face a similar fate. As one who can ‘feel good’ by his/her assistance – be it wanted there or not.. Unfortunately, that attitude is widely driving the way quite a number of Western politician & development agenciesre putting up a ‘struggle for women’s rights’. A disgusting case in point is the way NATO and allied countries are trying to justify their continued war in Afghanistan: ‘we need to see the poor girls go to school’..

  4. hmmm, happens all the time and has now become a cliched starter for many civil society reports or announcements and is often taken up by international media. This happens because they have not chosen to think outside the box to communicate without sounding like the report that was also presented last week. Sometimes the communication can be more startling without using the ‘worst label’. I get to think that the ‘worst hit, worst place’ label has its own magical way of attracting international support to those worst hit through the pple who pronounce that it is worst hit. with that they can justify the need to nuetralise the ‘worse’ ( if that exists). If we revisit the worst hit list, I think every African country at one point or another has done its time in that wall of shame. Next it will be that Africa is the worst place for democratic presidents to survive hehehe and then Uganda is the worst place for a democracy to thrive etc.
    But I also think the labels change or vary with specific global interests in these areas.

  5. As an African who currently lives in the West (Canada), I long ago stopped listening, reading, paying attention to, or caring what most (not all) Western journalists, academics, or activists think about Africa. There seems to be an inability or an unwillingness to create a different/new narrative about the world’s 2nd largest continent. To be brutally blunt — I simply don’t give a s**t what others think of us. I’ve moved on to working with my fellow Africans on the ground who are actively and tirelessly working to improve their lives and the lives of those in their communities. As you point out Rosebell, Dr. Denis Mukwege is one such individual who is making a difference, and one who is quietly supported by countless other Africans. We simply don’t need our efforts to be validated on CNN (in high definition no doubt) for the “coveted” 18-35 year old demographic!!!

  6. Have you ever raped a woman… that looks like a lol-moment but it is scary how quickly things can actually progress to that level. And all because of shallow reporting and flawed focus.

    Denis Mukwege’s story is indeed inspiring.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s