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.

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Time to Act: Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: What Should Canada Do?

A Congolese woman at the Bompata Encampment, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Photo credit: Marie Frechon/United Nations.

A Congolese woman at the Bompata Encampment, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Photo credit: Marie Frechon/United Nations.

Last month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development released a report by its Subcommittee on Human Rights: A Weapon of War: Rape and Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo – Canada’s Role in Taking Action and Ending Impunity.

The report reviews testimony heard by the Subcommittee over the last few years on conflict-related sexual violence – in general and in the DRC. It includes 12 recommendations, many of which address issues of interest to WPSN-C members. The report also requests that the Government table a “comprehensive response” to the report. This is something to watch for!

The report examines causes and consequences of sexual violence as a weapon of war, following natural disasters and in other crisis situations. The Subcommittee heard that there are various underlying factors that contribute to “shaping an environment in which sexual violence can occur, including entrenched discriminatory practices and attitudes, weak rule of law, poverty and lack of economic opportunity, and a climate of impunity for perpetrators.”

The report notes that a number of key factors contribute specifically to the prevalence of sexual violence in the DRC:

  • Widespread discrimination against women in Congolese law and society;

  • Weak rule of law and a critically under-resourced justice sector that lacks capacity, independence and impartiality, leading to pervasive impunity;

  • An ineffective, ill-disciplined security sector that is not subject to effective civilian control; and,

  • Competition among armed groups and individuals for control of natural resource revenues in a region affected by widespread poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

The Subcommittee made 12 recommendations to the Government of Canada. Some relate to Canada’s relationship with DRC and others to the issue of conflict-related sexual violence more generally.

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