Genital Mutilation and Women’s Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

By: Xuan Wang

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a nation that has endured numerous years of political crises, civil wars and genocides. Because of its centralized location in Africa and years of unsettled governance, it is also the target of many foreign invasions and plundering. For more than a century,  the people of Congo have suffered through many atrocities. The nation’s development is practically at a standstill due the constant conflict and violence. Of the many forms of violence that ravage the country, sexual violence is one of the most prevalent in the DRC. In fact, it has be

en so steadfast that the country is infamously known as the “rape capital of the world” (BBC News, 2010). As young as infants, some women of the DRC  experience extreme violence from the moment they were born as the practice of female genital cutting inflicts long lasting physical and psychological damages.

Female genital cutting or FGC is any procedure that involves removing partial or all external female genitalia such as the clitoris, labia and the vulva.  This procedure is most commonly carried out when the female is young and because of this, consent is only taken from the parents and not the girl herself. The practice is often associated with cultural or religious reasons and is widespread in Africa but has been do

cumented in other countries as well. Those who condone female genital cutting insist that such practice is not only beneficial for the well-being of the woman’s future husband and children, but also necessary in curbing her pro

miscuity and maintaining her “pureness”. Conversely, those who do not undergo genital cutting are often times condemned for being “unclean” and “nymphomaniacal” (Akintunde, 2010).  The  consequences of these procedures can often lead to  life-long health issues such as menstrual disorders, serious infections, hepatitis and HIV.  Furthermore, these women will also suffer from psychological trauma and disorder, sexual dysfunction, and have a higher chance of having complications during child-birth.

The most detrimental aspect of FGC extends far beyond the physical and psychological. In the article “Female Genital Mutilation: A Socio-Cultural Gang Up Against Womanhood” (2010), Akintunde argues that the practice of female genital cutting bears misogynistic implications in that the mutilation of a woman’s genitalia is a direct attack against her most fundamental rights to be a woman – her reproductive rights. The fact that this practice stems from and is perpetuated by cultural norms is especially concerning because it will more than likely continue for many generations. As a natural process, when women’s most fundamental rights are violated and becomes socially common, it will breed more violence which will also become normalized. The staggering rape statistics in the DRC are an example of this normalized violence, and signifies the perpetuation of continued sexual violence into women’s adulthood.

According to recent statistics, 87% of Congolese women have been raped. The age of the victims range from as young as 16 month old to as old as those in their 80’s (CNN, 2008). As a means to humiliate, intimidate and oppress women, the rapes perpetrated by foreign soldiers, armed combatants, and rebels are often times extreme and brutal in nature.  Many women, including girls were gang raped by armed soldiers as the rest of the family were forced to watch. Some were repeatedly raped and taken as sex slaves and kept weak and barely alive with chances of escaping. Almost all victims are left with severe genital injuries, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, as well as unwanted pregnancies (Longombe, Masumbuko & Ruminjo, 2008).  As the dire situation in the DRC makes seeking medical help nearly impossible, many of the victims’ injuries are left untreated and often results in genital fistula, a condition that causes uncontrollable leakage of urine and feces through the vagina due to an abnormal communication between the urinary, vaginal and anal tracts (Longombe et al, 2008).  Every day, Congolese women live in fear as the odds of being ambushed and raped are at a constant high. They know that if they are caught, there is no escaping and that their own lives as well as the lives of their family would be forever destroyed. To make matter worse, little to no justice is served as these heinous sex crimes are masked by the war-ridden environment. Because of this, sexual violence is exacerbated as many incidences of rapes often go unreported and unnoticed allowing perpetrators to roam free and re-offend.

Much like the practice of FGC, the prevalence of sexual violence in the DRC are not only responsible for causing serious physical and psychological traumas but they also harbour harmful implications towards the general welfare as well as the rights and freedoms of  all women. In both cases, the woman’s body is mutilated, brutalized and ravaged by forces beyond their control and they alliterate all forms of entitlement including even the most fundamental element of her being.  From the day she’s born, the life of a Congolese woman is marred by brutality and her future is bleak with seemingly inevitable misfortunes. Unless people are made aware of these atrocities and serious actions are taken, these forms of gender-based violence and  oppression will only worsen over time, undermining the fight for women’s rights.

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