Elizabeth Blackney is on her 38th day of a hunger strike to get President Barack Obama to pay attention to the plight of the women of the Congo. So far, the White House hasn't noticed. But Blackney is hoping her final few days of the 40-day campaign will catch the attention of someone at 1600 Pennsylvania. Blackney says, "Approximately 1152 women and girls, aged 15-49, are raped every day in the Congo." And the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) needs help combating the problem. "The president should do something about it."
In September of 2002, the newly-installed President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, told me at the UN that he wanted to change the course his country was on. The then-29-year-old President was on a mission to end the brutality and devastation of years of war that had engulfed his nation. At a U.S. reception for Heads of State attending the opening of the UN, Kabila shared with me his love of American values and his admiration for Americans' passion and assistance. Kabila could have been talking about Virginia Beach resident Elizabeth Blackney -- a woman who has never met Kabila nor ever been to the Congo.
Blackney's hunger strike for the women she has never met is because they have "been raped and endured countless brutalities," Blackney told me. "48 women per hour are being raped and I don't see the feminists stepping up to fight for them. They need help. President Obama should take this issue seriously and appoint a Special Envoy. And not just any Envoy, one with the authority to do something about this growing problem."
Kabila would be pleased to see 38-year-old Blackney's passion and self-sacrifice of drinking water and a few tablespoons of broth now and then for 40 days. "For the women in Congo, who don't have justice, who don't have physical safety, who are subjects to the worst sexual and gender based violence in recorded human history, it seems like a very small sacrifice for me to take seven, or now 37 days, to do the right thing for them."
"I'm trying to bring attention to this important issue in the best way I know how. I can't move to the Congo so I'm doing what I can," says Blackney, a Georgia native who is a widow and a mom. She hopes President Obama or someone from his staff will notice her efforts and take action. Nevertheless, Blackney has already brought attention to a problem the State Department calls an egregious crisis. Her 6,164 Twitter followers regularly hear about the latest press reports and NGO claims of the problem, and she has also received some news articles highlighting her hunger strike.
Blackney's campaign couldn't be more timely. Last week, UN radio reported that South Kivu provincial deputy Jean Marie Ngoma had evidence that troops under the command of Colonel Kifaru Niragiye, a former member of the Congolese Patriotic Resistance (PARECO), committed mass rapes and lootings in the villages of Kanguli, Abala, and Niakiele. The systemic problem needs urgent attention and Blackney's passion may just lead to the assistance President Kabila is looking for. "Since I started this, 43,776 women have been raped in the Congo. We have to do something now," said Blackney.