By Nelly Tangua, Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

After witnessing the murder of her husband, Amelie* was raped by six men in the presence of her 12-year-old daughter.

Amelie’s harrowing experience is a direct outcome of a wave of violence that has swept across the Greater Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), since August 2016, killing an estimated 3,000 people and uprooting more than one million people from their homes.

“Women like Amelie form the vast majority of the displaced people,” said Moise Kabongo Ngalula, Disaster Management Director at Red Cross Society of the DRC. “Their husbands have either been killed or are missing, leaving women further exposed to more vulnerabilities, including sexual violence.”

In addition to the socio-economic repercussions of the Kasai crisis, sexual violence has also affected lives both physically and psychologically. Women like Amelie are absolutely traumatized.

Nightmares

“Hardly a night goes by without nightmares,” said Amelie, as she recalled the tragic events that shattered her life and that of her daughter forever. “I can still see my daughter screaming, ‘mom I want to stay with you’, even though I was insisting that she flees. If she did, she would have escaped from such a terrible sight [that is, witnessing the rape] that will probably haunt her forever.”

The Kasai crisis has accentuated existing gender inequalities and the incidence of gender-based violence. The prevalence and intensity of all forms of sexual violence in DRC has been described by the UN as the worst in the world.

Amelie’s ordeal began one morning in early March 2017, in a neighbourhood near one of the mining quarries in Kasai, where she lived peacefully with her husband and five children.

“Strangers attacked our village,” she said. “From our home, we could hear our neighbours crying for help, screaming and asking everyone to flee. Things happened so fast. Four of my children quickly escaped through the back door of the house.

“Unfortunately, my husband, who was trying to escape into a hut near our home, was caught by the attackers, who cut off his head.

“Terrified, I stood before his dead body, begging the killers to spare my life and that of my daughter.”

She cried, but her tears could not elicit mercy from the attackers. “I was raped by six of the assailants in the presence of my daughter.”

A few hours later, after a lull, a neighbour came out of her hiding place and tried to comfort her.

Search for safety

Amelie and her daughter moved to Tshikapa – the provincial capital of Kasai – where she found her four children after a few days. From there, in search for safety, they moved to Kikwit, in the Kwilu province, and that’s where the family found shelter.

According to the Red Cross, the provinces of Kwilu, Sankuru and Lomami have received over 30,000 internally displaced persons who have fled violence in Kasai. The Red Cross has been responding to the needs of some of the most vulnerable among these displaced people.

“In Kikwit, we have deployed 60 volunteers and six supervisors who have been providing services such as health, water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter and food distribution,” said Kabongo,  

However, much more needs to be done. Nearly two million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, hundreds of people have died following a cholera outbreak, and many women, like Amelie, remain exposed to sexual violence.  

“We are calling for international solidarity to provide extensive emergency assistance to people who have been affected by the Kasai crisis,” said Kabongo.

* Name changed for privacy reasons.