The Congo has over 200 different ethnic groups, and while none of them are a majority, ethnic discrimination has been commonplace in the country forever. This was only heightened in 1996, when the conflicts of neighboring Rwanda spilled across the border and Tutsis invaded to eliminate the Hutu militias that were reportedly hiding in the forests of the Congo. The Tutsis claimed power and put one of their people in charge of the Congo's government. When he began to turn on them in 1998, the Rwandans invaded again, sparking the beginning of one of he most violent wars in history.
Eight countries sent militias into the Congo, all fighting for power and resources. Deadly ethnic cleansing continued and guerilla warfare caused thousands of murders, rapes and razing of villages. Peacekeeping attempts by the UN went ignored and blocked. Assassinations of government officials left the country in complete turmoil. In 2001 a peace deal was officially created on paper and a legitimate government was created.
However, the violence hasn't ceased. Rebel groups against the new order have continued to hide out in the jungles and terrorize villages and most of the UN appointed Congolese soldiers are riddled with corruption and have been just as guilty of terror as the people they're trying to suppress. Over 5.4 million people have died since the conflict's beginning in 1998, half of which are children under five.Thousands are displaced and facing the devastating aftereffects of poverty, like malnutrition and otherwise treatable disease.
Of course, one of the war's most tragic victims are the women of The Congo. Femicide is being used as a tactic for ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, often gang-raped and usually in combination with severe mutilation of their genitals. It is the ultimate symbol of rape as a tool of power, as the soldiers are systematically using it to ensure the villagers accept their new authority. If the women survive, it's not unusual to be abandoned by their husbands afterward and to be pregnant with their rapist's child. There are plenty of absolutely disgusting descriptions of the violence women are continuing to face, six years after 'peace' was declared.
But what can we do to help? Well, in 2005, Women For Women International supporter, Lisa Shannon, decided to run 30 miles in Portland to raise money for the women of the Congo. Her efforts allowed her to sponsor 80 women. Since then, thousands of people have participated in the Run for Congo Women. Now, you can be one of those women too. Register to participate in this year's run on their website . The 5K run (or walk, if you prefer), will be held on Saturday, September 26th on Roosevelt's Island in New York. The registration fee is $25 and comes with the requisite free Tshirt. If you are unable to participate, donations are also accepted .
Now is your chance to help the women who have been tragically ignored in this horrifying war. -Celeste
Photo courtesy of Congo/Women , an exhibition of photographs depicting the victims of violence in the Congo.