By Stan Friedman
GOMA, DR CONGO (February 7, 2011) – A recent article in The Economist magazine about the epidemic of rape in this country includes insights provided by a lawyer for HEAL Africa, an organization in eastern Congo that was founded and is led by Covenanters.Judy and Dick, Anderson, of Monroe Covenant Church in Monroe, Washington, founded HEAL Africa in the late 1990s. The organization operates a teaching hospital in Goma that specializes in orthopedic surgery and gynecological surgery. Many of the patients are victims of sexual violence. Click here to view a HEAL Africa video.
Although HEAL Africa is not a Covenant project, it has worked closely with the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM), Covenant World Relief and the Paul Carlson Partnership. The Andersons also help widows and orphans to restore their lives and be re-integrated into their communities. This initiative has included working with a project in Karawa started by retired Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries Bob and Janet Thornbloom.
The low status of women and years of war have led to a culture of rape and violence, Richard Malengule, head of the organization’s Gender and Justice program, told the magazine. Rape is a major issue throughout the country, but especially in the east where it has been used as a weapon of terror, causing people to flee areas that anti-government soldiers then claim. (The Congo Covenant Church is in the northwest area of the country).
Although stronger anti-rape laws have been passed in recent years, they often are poorly enforced, if at all.
People have to walk 300 kilometers (186 miles) to get to court. Police are not trained. People who are arrested often are released or escape within a couple of days, says Malengule. He adds that many prisons have no doors or are watched over by corrupt guards.
“Efforts to reintegrate ex-combatants into society have been short and unsuccessful, with little follow-up to assess results,” Malengule told the author. “Add to that the dismal judicial system, and the outlook is grim.”
The Gender and Justice program website states that, “the majority of the population of Congo does not even know that they have rights.” A survey of patients at the HEAL Africa showed that no one could list one right they knew of.
The program seeks to ensure that the justice system enforces recent laws against sexual violence. It also works with religious and community leaders, as well as with schools to change cultural norms that lead to violence and oppress women.