Women from the Great Lakes region on Wednesday held a peaceful walk in the Democratic Republic of Congo condemning the increase in mass rapes in the country.
The women drawn from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Sierra Leone joined their female counterparts in Congo to urge the government to criminalise the culture of impunity and end the sexual violence.
More than 2,000 women marched along the Rutshuru roads waving placards bearing anti-rape messages and wearing lack polythene bags on their heads as a sign of rape.
According to a Human Rights Watch released this year, 10 victims of sexual violence are reported daily in Bukivu hospital, the South Kivu hospital and at least 16,000 cases of fistula have been reported since 2000.
The women presented petition requests to the DRC government that includes a commitment to strengthen the implementation of the Sexual and Gender Based Violence law that sets a penalty of 25 years for the perpetrators.
They also called upon the National Assembly to enact laws and ensure women are incorporated in the post-conflict peace building of their country.
Kenya is represented by Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Chairperson Rukia Subow and her counterpart from the Caucus for Women Leadership Dr Phoebe Asiyo.
The march took place in Rutshuru, Goma in North Kivu province where over 200 girls and women were attacked, raped and defiled.
“The law should be protecting us,” the women chanted as they marched on the streets.
For 32-year-old Justine Ritondeyeubusa, a normal day on the farm fending for her family turned out to be the most traumatic day to-date.
While on her farm last year harvesting beans at noon, a group of five armed men ambushed her, dragged her to the heart of the forest where they repeatedly raped her until the next morning, leaving her for the dead.
Today, she would rather stay indoors and wait for her husband to risk his life on their farm, which is in the mountainous Rutshuru area where rebels reside.
“There is a lot of food in my farm but I cannot go because I fear I will be raped again,” told the Nation on Wednesday in Goma during the walk.
She was in hospital for eights months undergoing reconstructive surgery to her reproductive organs that were badly bruises. Her hip also dislocated from the rape experience.
However, the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo head Ms Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, told the Nation in an interview that escorting women to their farms and advising them on potential risks were some of the ways of reducing the rape cases in the area.
“We patrol the areas and issue security advisories in high-risk areas,” Ms Sellassie told the Nation.
However, according to figures by MONUSCO, over 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo and countless more have gone undocumented since the Great Lakes conflict began in 1996.
Mr Camara Sinduvasi, 50, was the only man in the procession and joined women in condemning rape cases that have become prevalent in North Kivu province in the last four years.
Last year in August, United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the eastern city of Goma and strongly condemned the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war.
“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.” Ms Clinton had said.