International Policy/United Nations

Photos of Congo Sex Abuse Travel the U.S.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"To allow this to continue belittles the whole of humanity." That was the comment of one visitor at the U.N. opening of a touring photo exhibit about women who face gender violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--Last summer, news in the United States that Jaycee Dugard had been kept in captivity in Antioch, Calif., for 18 years and raped by her captor until her Aug. 28 rescue was widely considered shocking.

But as an exhibit of 38 photographs here this month demonstrates, women in the Democratic Republic of Congo have suffered similar ordeals on a widespread basis during the 11-year-long, multi-party conflict between government troops, rebels and bandits drawn to the country's commercial mining opportunities.

The exhibit, "Congo: Women Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo," was co-produced by the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College Chicago and Art Works Projects: Art and Design for Human Rights, a Chicago-based organization that addresses human rights issues through art and design. It was funded mainly by the United Nations Population Fund and Humanity United, a nongovernmental organization that provides grants to programs that aim to eliminate conflict and modern-day slavery by building community.

The exhibit showcases gender-based violence against women in the Congo, with photos and essays that portray the women and illustrate the context of their lives. Most of the shots were taken in clinics, refugee camps and other facilities where those displaced in the war have gone to seek help.

Sophie, for instance, was kidnapped and held for nearly three years in the bush by men she believes were Rwandan soldiers, according to the information accompanying the 2008 photo of the then–20-year-old sometime after her escape. She gave birth to one child in the forest and later escaped, but not before being impregnated again. No last name was given at the exhibit.

Rape: More Common Weapon of War

Thousands of women have been held as sex slaves and domestic workers throughout the chaotic years of fighting. Still others were raped as they simply went about their daily business--getting water for the family, shopping in the market, walking home. More than in any other place in the world, aids groups say, sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war in the Congo.

The exhibit, in the north lobby of the U.N. visitor's area, has been up since Oct. 1. It will move on to Yale University on Nov. 10, finishing up at the Virginia Holocaust Museum at the end of April 2010.

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