Julienne Lusenge and the situation for women in eastern DRC

by Monique Cuillerier,
Membership & Communications Director,
World Federalist Movement – Canada

On Tuesday, January 20th, Julienne Lusenge, President of Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI), provided an account of her experience mobilizing women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to a group in Ottawa.

Current situation

Lusenge provided a very helpful overview of the ongoing conflict in eastern DRC, particularly in Beni, in North-Kivu province. She described the area as largely agricultural — the current conflict has prevented people from getting to their fields, resulting in a lack of both food and money for the local population.

The government’s response has, unfortunately, been a military one. United Nations peacekeepers (part of the MONUSCO mission) are based in the area, but there is a general lack of confidence in them and their ability to protect civilians. Meetings between civil society organizations and various levels of government have been held and some agreements have been reached with regards to addressing the levels of violence. There remains, however, a general lack of interest in addressing peace and security issues from politicians.

The new election law and the issues surrounding it have added to the general unrest. (See recent news — and here and here — for an update on the government’s capitulation on certain contentious elements.)

Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI)

SOFEPADI supports electoral reform and has suggested various amendments to the proposed law, all of which have been rejected. Their amendments cover such areas as recognizing women’s political participation and removing financial and employment experience barriers to women running for office.

Lusenge also talked about how, in Beni, in the last two years, there has been a large increase in women interested in pursuing justice. SOFEDPADI had been able to develop relationships with the local police and those in the courts, however, people have been moved elsewhere and they have needed to build relationships with new staff. SOFEPADI helps survivors of sexual violence to access justice and also offer medical support, both immediately after sexual violence and later. SOFEPADI is also advocating for the construction of new prisons, as the current ones are old and deteriorating, to the point where prisoners are able to escape, resulting in risk to victims and those within the justice system.

One positive achievement in the past year, Lusenge said, was the recent appointment of Jeannine Mabunda Lioko Mudiayi as Presidential Adviser on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment. Mudiayi has been visiting the provinces and has been to SOFEPADI’s hospital. 

When asked what the Canadian government could do for the women in DRC, Lusenge spoke about support for women’s organizations within the country, including funding to support their long-term work. As far as what the DRC government can do, she mentioned allowing the oppposition to express their opinions without violent reaction from the government.

Lusenge also talked about her disappointment and discouragement in dealing with the International Criminal Court. SOFEPADI collected evidence and forwarded it to the Hague regarding the cases arising from the situation in DRC, but nothing has resulted from their input. While other women may eventually see justice through the ICC, she said that there is a feeling that this will only happen in the future and the women in DRC would like to see other possibilities for justice explored. When SOFEPADI were asked to provide additional information on the latest case, they declined to cooperate. They are focusing now on local justice.

Lusenge was in Ottawa for the Canadian launch of the Beauty in the Middle photographic exhibition, which is at SAW Gallery, Ottawa, until February 6th . The exhibition was first shown at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London in June of last year.

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