The fact that rape victims are breaking the silence around the horrific sexual violence endemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is crucial for building peace and stability in the country. But without involving Congolese men, it will be difficult to address this problem successfully. Women have started to speak out on their devastating experiences. Men, by in large, have remained mute while playing a strong part in stigmatizing and excluding rape survivors.
Recently, more work has been done to engage men and encouraging them to change attitudes towards sexual violence and survivors of rape. Our Men’s Leadership Program, for example, appeals to the strong responsibility men have in the patriarchic Congolese society. Men are encouraged to understand women’s rights as a contribution to strong and successful family structures and recognize the vast implications of rape and other forms of gender-based violence.
Our data shows that including male perspectives builds community-wide understanding of preventing and overcoming sexual violence. Although more research is necessary, our experience also indicates that men have emerged from this program as using their position of influence to advocate against sexual violence and social exclusion of survivors.
Honorata Kizende, who was featured in your story, came to us a survivor of sexual slavery and gang rape. After graduating from our year-long program of rights-based, life skills training, she is now a Women for Women International program trainer, helping others to rebuild their lives and speak out against gender-based violence in the country’s protracted war. Honorata has come a long way from victim to survivor to active citizen. Now Congolese men need our assistance to start their own transformation.