Three Women in the DRC who are #Unbroken

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, up to half a million Congolese women and girls have been raped by armed soldiers and militants in the war-torn eastern region. Yet while many women are raped by soldiers or vigilantes as a direct result of the conflict, rape has also become much more common outside of conflict settings—including schools, where some female students are raped by their teachers, who face no legal repercussions. Many rape survivors are stigmatized, rejected by their husbands, families, or communities, and left with no support system.

Here, we meet just a few women who have survived unthinkable assaults, but are recovering and thriving through the support of Global Fund for Women grantee partner Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines [Promotion and Support to Women’s Initiatives] (PAIF). Join us in sharing the stories of these brave survivors and changing the narrative for the DRC’s #unbroken women and girls.

Sally, 20 years old

I was 15 years old and out collecting firewood when a DRC government soldier raped me. Now that child is four years old. Two years ago, someone else abused me and that resulted in another baby. Here [at PAIF] I’m learning sewing. It’s good way to support myself as well as watch my children. I received a sewing machine to work on at home. I can make four uniforms in two days, and earn money to support my family. Even my brothers are learning from me now.

Young Congolese woman with her baby

 Melinda, 17 years old

I am an orphan. My mother died when I was three months old, and my father when I was eight years old. At age 13 I was raped by my 52-year-old teacher while in secondary school. He put has hand over my mouth and used some kind of drug. When I came to I was covered in blood. I was afraid to tell anyone, but I became pregnant. My first baby is now four years old. The school did nothing. One day I accepted a ride from a man who gave me ride in his car because it was raining. He raped me. This baby is my second from a rape. When I became pregnant, he took me in, but he beat me every day, and I suffered so much. I soon discovered that I was his sixth wife and this was his eighth child, so I left when this baby was one month old. I had no one to take care of me until I met with PAIF. PAIF will help me to take my husband to court and sue him, but if they lose he will find me and kill me. There is no justice in this country.

Congolese woman with a 1-week-old baby

Hope, 32 years old, with her one-week-old baby

I’m from Masis in the Congo, where 90% of the women are raped, and many people are killed every day. There’s no presence of government there, only bandits and locals carrying guns. I was married with seven children. One day I went into the forest to collect firewood and I was attacked and raped by four men in military uniforms. They left me to die but some local villagers found me and brought me to a hospital. I didn’t want anyone to know I had been raped but it was soon discovered that I was pregnant. When my husband found out I was raped he ran away and left me with the seven children. He was afraid of AIDS, and when he found out I was pregnant he didn’t want to raise someone else’s baby. Eventually his family and our pastor talked him into returning. This baby was born a week ago. Now we say we have seven children and this one. My husband said at least it’s a girl, she can be useful and work and bring in cows when she marries. PAIF has helped to move away from that terrible area and we now live in their temporary housing in Goma. Because we’re displaced people the children don’t go to school. My life changed that day I went to collect firewood in the forest.

For more information on Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines [Promotion and Support to Women’s Initiatives] PAIF and how women in the DRC are working to end sexual violence in the region, read our interview with their Executive Director »

Stories as told to photographer Alison Wright. Names have been changed for security reasons, and the stories edited for clarity. All photos ©Alison Wright.