Democratic Republic of Congo: Conflict increases demand for support from projects
“Weapons are everywhere, day and night. Dozens of people are being killed every week: either by armed killers, in the chaotic traffic conditions, or because they cannot access medical care to treat their illnesses or have no opportunity to rest and recover from them. Rapes and sexualised violence are an everyday occurrence for women and children.”
The daily work of Immaculée Birhaheka, Chair of the local women’s rights organisation PAIF, has been more difficult in recent months than in many years before. The impacts of the ongoing conflicts between the various armed groups are leading to a disastrous humanitarian situation. One of the conflicts flaring up acutely is the fighting between the rebel M23 group and the Congolese government forces FARDC and regionally deployed troops.
Conflict in East Congo flaring up for months
Towards the end of last year, the M23 movement advanced into the vicinity of Goma, the provincial capital. This is the location of the main office of PAIF, a partner organisation of medica mondiale, who also operate a training centre for women and girls on the edge of town.
The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to be worrying, as shown in reports from the United Nations (UN). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, had in November already called for urgent de-escalation. He was concerned about hate speech reappearing and the increase in disinformation being spread against the UN mission in DRC. Additionally, there have been several attacks, people are being killed, and others are being forced to leave their homes.
Since the beginning of the acute conflict, in North Kivu more than 370,000 people have been displaced, included some 230,000 women. About half of them are living in emergency and collective accommodation.
DR Congo: Women and girls at risk during everyday situations
There is an increase in the frequency of attacks and maltreatment against civilians in the conflict areas. Displaced civilians are very likely to experience violence. In particular, as they go about their everyday chores, women and girls are almost defenceless against attacks by armed groups.
Their days are therefore characterised by violence. And once again we see how women and girls suffer particularly severely during conflicts. This matches the experience of the PAIF team. “The current situation has an enormous impact on our work,” reports Immaculée Birhaheka. PAIF is sought out by women and girls in need of medical and psychosocial assistance. In training courses and income-generating measures they learn how to look after themselves and their children in a financially independent way.
“Many more women and girls want to benefit from our offers than we had expected,” says Birhaheka, “because the war is very close and deters many of them from going to local schools.” This high demand for assistance creates a correspondingly high pressure on the team from PAIF.