This week Secretary of State Clinton traveled to the Congo and along with her trip came stories drawing attention to sexual and gender based violence issues. Unfortunately, while the U.N. has estimated at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women in the Congo since the conflict began in 1996, the plight of the women has not captured much attention other than a brief news story here or there. Most people are unaware of the conflict let alone the toll it is taking on the women of the Congo. Secretary Clinton’s trip will hopefully help to shine a spotlight on the use of rape as a weapon of war and the particular tragedy that is taking place in the Congo.
Secretary Clinton’s remarks at a roundtable with NGO’s and activists on sexual and gender based violence in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo show that the U.S. is ready to take steps to address this issue.
I have just come from a meeting with two survivors of sexual attacks. The atrocities that these women have suffered, which stands for the atrocities that so many have suffered, distills evil to its basest form. The United States condemns these attacks and all those who commit them and abet them. And we say to the world that those who attack civilian populations using systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity. These acts don’t just harm a single individual, or a single family, or a single village, or a single group. They shred the fabric that weaves us together as human beings. Such atrocities have no place in any society.
Amid such abject inhumanity, we have also seen the hope and the help that you represent. We have seen survivors of these attacks summon the courage to rebuild their lives and their communities. We have seen health care workers sacrifice comfortable careers so they can treat the wounded. We have seen civil society leaders come together to combat this appalling epidemic.
In the face of such evil, people of good will everywhere must respond. The United States is already a leading donor to efforts aimed at addressing these problems. And today I am announcing that we will provide more than $17 million in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence in the DRC.
As Secretary Clinton said in her remarks in Goma “this problem is too big for one country to solve alone.” It is time for the countries of the world to speak out and take action to stop the use of rape as a weapon on war, while also giving higher priority to women’s rights, gender equity, and universal access to family planning and reproductive health services. Secretary Clinton and Melanne Verveer, the new Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues are to be congratulated for their continuing leadership in this area. Let’s hope the world is listening.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager