Congo women struggle to preserve dignity
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - 1:00 pm

To the Editor:

“Your body is a temple.” My mom said those words to me when I asked if I could go tanning before my seventh grade semi-formal. She said them again when I asked if I could get my nose pierced, and when I begged her to let me get a tattoo. Each time I choked back laughter, and responded with some snide teenage girl remark. It took me quite awhile to realize my Mom wasn’t trying to tell me that my body was a sort of religious structure, she was trying to make me understand that my body is my own, it is precious, and I should protect and cherish it.

It is difficult to understand how someone can lose the rights to their own body, but it is a reality that many women face today. Their bodies have served as the front line during war, and continue to be ravaged during times of alleged peace. Their bodies are certainly no longer their “temples”; instead they become a constant reminder of what happened, what could happen, and how they really have no control over their most intimate possession. These are the daily realities of tens of thousands of women and girls living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.

As people of the Congo struggle to recover after one of history’s deadliest wars, rape has become an epidemic. Though millions of lives were lost in the civil war, it is possible that the human rights violations faced by an overwhelming number of women and children are more tragic. Sexual violence including gang rape, mutilation, dismemberment, and violent forms of abortion, reportedly have been inflicted on women and children ranging from the ages of twelve months to seventy two years old.

As if the violence endured by these women is not enough, in most cases after they have been raped or tortured they are left with serious medical conditions, and often are abandoned by their husbands. Physically, these women are still alive, but mentally, and emotionally they are dead.

Women for Women International (WfWI) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that strives to help women move from victims, to survivors, to active citizens. Their philosophy is that if women have “access to knowledge, expression of voice, and access to and control of resources there can be lasting social and political change.” WfWI has made great strides in the Congo helping women rebuild their lives through education, health, self-confidence, and economic empowerment. They have served over 24,000 women in the Congo alone, and many more all over the world.

I ask that you think about the situation faced by women in the Congo. Think about your own rights, the rights you have to your body, your voice, and your life. Then think about the people in this world who are deprived of those rights. Tell someone about those people, because for every person we tell, that is one more person who may be inspired to make a difference.

Shawn Austin

St. Lawrence University