What do we do in the face of statistics that tell us one in two Congolese women have experienced sexual violence, reports that say that in the past ten years more than 200,000 Congolese women and girls have been raped, an average of forty women per day in the province of South Kivu alone? How do we respond to a situation where thousands of women’s and girls’ insides are being ripped apart because militias are systematically demolishing communities, where the planned methodological destruction of women’s reproductive capacities is being used as a tactic of war?
What are we to do in the face of femicide?
Last night, people in the WATER community responded in a radical act of presence. Our gathering was small, no more than fifteen of us, but we were present nonetheless. We came from around the Washington, DC area on a damp and drizzly night to say, through our gathering, that gathering matters; to say, through our coming together, that we know the horrific injustices done to women in the Congo and we are not silent.
Stories were read and heard, candles were lit, prayers were prayed. Our silence was sacred and our solidarity was shared. What stands out to me, though, is the reminder that presence is powerful. Solidarity is no small thing. In the face of something as hopeless and overwhelming as femicide, sometimes the act of gathering is all we can muster. Let us find hope in what is radical about such an act, not in what is lacking.
We are reminded that we do not gather alone. Our circle of solidarity at WATER is part of a broader campaign called the Congo Sabbath Initiative, an effort to engage faith communities in educating people about sexual violence in the Congo. Services, teach-ins, programs similar to ours are being held across the country between January and April 2009. Money raised goes to build a greatly-needed center for survivors of rape and torture in Bukavu.
I hope that radical acts of presence will continue, small and simple may they be. May our solidarity speak loudly in efforts to end sexual violence in the Congo and around the world.
To learn more and get involved, visit the V-day website.
--Anna B. Roeschley