Why Gender Still Matters: Sexual Violence and the Need to Confront Militarized Masculinity: A Case Study of the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been marked by almost unimaginable atrocities, including millions killed and displaced in a war that seven nations have participated in. Most horrifically, sexual assault has become a major part of the violence with rape being so systematic and brutal that doctors in the DRC are now classifying wounds inflicted by rapists as combat injuries. Up to one in three Congolese women living in conflict affected areas have been raped and in spite of the official ending of hostilities, reported sexual abuse and domestic violence has tripled in the last year in some provinces. Despite the dedicated work of many Congolese NGOs and various international groups, the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence remains a serious crisis in the DRC. Agencies such as the UN, which are theoretically committed to gender equality, should be devoting huge resources towards combating sexual violence. Yet there have been only rhetorical denunciations against impunity and calls for accountability with little effective effort. The all too common attitude in the DRC and the world at large is that rape and gender violence should be left for women to address while men address the important issues of “real” politics. Rape, of course, is not a women’s issue. Addressing sexual violence is intrinsically important for everyone; and ending it means confronting the negative gender relations which lead to rape and domestic abuse.