The young woman from south Kivu province went into the forest outside her local village to fetch wood for her family's stove, as women across the Democratic Republic of Congo do every day. But, like scores of other women in her country, she was accosted by rebel soldiers and raped.
"When I returned home, my husband kicked me out," she said in an interview with the Voice of America (VOA). "He said I had probably gotten AIDS. I lost my child, and now I've given birth to another child from the rapes."
While the world aches for Japan and sympathizes with freedom seekers in the Middle East, it averts its gaze from another crisis: the epidemic of sexual violence in the Congo, where hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been intimidated, harassed, and tortured for the last 15 years.
Rape is a tactic of war in the Congo. In their fight against the Congolese government, rebel soldiers in eastern Congo use rape to coerce the allegiance of the local population.
Monitoring groups such as Human Rights Watch document the tragedy. World leaders, including Secretary of State Clinton, decry it. High-profile advocates including Eve Ensler, Ben Affleck, and John Prendergast campaign to stop it. The United Nations has 20,000 peacekeeping troops on the ground in the Congo, yet even this force is overwhelmed by the scope of the violence.
We see an opportunity to offer help and hope to the women of the Congo through a breakthrough media initiative called "Congo Story: War, Women and Rape". A joint initiative between VOA and the social media company CitizenGlobal, "Congo Story" is an entirely new online platform to document the violence in the Congo and create a forum for discussion of solutions.
For millennia, African women have shared information by word of mouth through informal social networks. Today, technology is accelerating this exchange. In urban Congo, 70% of adults own mobile phones and over half use them regularly for sending text messages while nearly 17% use the Internet at least once a week. "Congo Story" connects tradition and technology trends to provide a ready-made channel for the Congolese to share their stories with one another and the world.
"Congo Story" will carry VOA's on-the-ground reporting as well as testimonials from rape victims (as young as 2 and as old as 80), husbands and families, village elders, NGOs, peacekeepers, and the rapists themselves. This co-generated content may come in any form contributors wish to use: video, audio, or text.
We're joined in this new project by partners equally committed to addressing the violence against women in the Congo, including The Enough Project, Eastern Congo Initiative, the Hirondelle Foundation, and United Nations-sponsored Okapi Radio. We will work together to sustain coverage of the crisis in the Congo and enable conflict resolution.
Indeed, "Congo Story" is about the reach and impact of a new social network. What it can bring to bear on the problem of violence against women in the Congo is far greater than what one organization can do alone.
Social media have helped drive the historic change we have witnessed across the Middle East. In less visible areas of the world, like the Congo, they can do the same. In the face of one of the vilest crimes against humanity in our day, they can spur awareness and support healing.
Susan McCue, former Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Dana Perino, former spokesperson for President George W. Bush, serve on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal agency that supervises all U.S. government-supported, civilian international broadcasting.
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