By Meredith Shea

A civil war ridden country for over a decade, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered many atrocities beyond the battlefield, including a high number of rapes.  During the consecutive civil wars from 1996-2003 that claimed nearly five million lives through combat and genocide, both the Congolese army and rebel groups used rape against one another. The United Nations estimate that “200,000 women and girls have been raped…some as young as three years old”[1] during the civil war. Currently, “local health centres in the DRC’s South Kivu province estimate that 40 women are raped in the region every day.”[2] These statistics have given the Democratic Republic of the Congo the titles of “rape capital of the world” and the “worst place on earth to be a woman.”[3]

Rape as a weapon of war is an increasing problem in many areas devastated by armed conflict. The United Nations recognizes rape as both a weapon and a form of torture.[4] Some argue that, in places where rape as a weapon of war is common, it can be more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier. Rape is recognized as “a kind of slow murder.”[5] It is often used as a way to punish the men—by having their spouses and family raped in front of them. The rape itself is often only the beginning of a victim’s pain, as disease and health problems often follow. Victims also face abandonment by spouses and family members who find it dishonorable and unacceptable to associate with them.[6]

While many blame the DRC’s armed conflict for the number of rapes, recent studies by Promundo and the Sonke Gender Justice Network around the town of Goma in North Kivu province found that outside of the armed conflicts, “more than a third of the men surveyed had perpetrated some form of sexual violence and more than three quarters of them hold deeply alarmingly beliefs about rape and women’s rights.”[7] One example states that “a third of men believe that women sometimes want to be raped and that when a woman is raped, she may enjoy it.”[8] As the surveyors looked more deeply into the violence culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they found that many men “are themselves victims of various forms of violence, including sexual violence” and found a “clear association between exposure to violence during childhood and increased likelihood of subsequently perpetrating acts of sexual violence.”[9]

With half of the population living on less than one US dollar per day,[10] the DRC is struggling to even provide basic human necessities for its people. Still, these rapes, and the cultural attitudes surrounding them, emphasize the importance of educating DRC citizens on women’s rights. It also highlights an immediate need for international support.


Meredith Shea is a senior at Penn, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Creative Writing. She is currently writing her thesis on the relationship between human rights and democratization in Latin America. 

[1] Ibid.

[2] United Nations Human Rights’ “Rape: Weapon of War.”

[3] Richard Lee’s “Sexual violence not just weapon of war in DRC. ”

[4] Ibid.

[5] United Nations Human Rights’ “Rape: Weapon of War.”

[6] Huffington Post’s “Congo: Rape As a Weapon of War.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Richard Lee’s “Sexual violence not just weapon of war in DRC. ”

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