You’ve got a piece of the Congo in your pocket; Sexual Violence, Conflict and You #DGTrends

MDG : A mass rape victim and her son in the town of Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo

(Pic Courtesy of Pete Muller/AP)

‘Electronic gadgets’, ‘sexual violence’, ‘conflict’ and ‘you’; four words that sound extremely misaligned when put together yet surprisingly, are words whose correlation is tied to the current state of affairs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is no secret that sexual violence in conflict has escalated over the years and is being used as a strategic tool of war; not an inevitable side effect but a weapon in itself.

It is also no secret that every other day we are purchasing the latest phone, latest tablet, latest laptop, latest camera, latest video game, latest everything. We live in an era where electronic sales have skyrocketed and the development wave is sweeping through the African continent and globally.

It is this very wave of electronic development that has exacerbated sexual violence in the DRC. Surprised? Me too.

Our insatiable demand for electronics products is helping fuel waves of sexual violence committed on women and girls as young as six years of age.

It is reported that the Congo war has the highest rate of violence against women and girls in the world, and reports indicate that hundreds of thousands have been raped, making it the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or girl. One can only guess the exact number as large numbers of women opt not to report the crime given the stigma that goes with rape and the low probability that the perpetrators will actually be brought to justice.

It is also reported that revenue from the global consumer electronics industry is projected to reach a record-breaking 208 billion USD in 2014.  Furthermore, a closely-related business is also booming; in 2013 alone, armed rebels generated approximately 1 billion USD from minerals extracted and stolen from mines in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the consumer electronics market grows, so does the international demand for four minerals that are inextricably linked to sexual violence in conflict-affected regions; Gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin which power our cell phones, laptops, cameras, tablets and other consumer electronics.

Miltia groups in these war torn areas are strategically using rape and sexual violence as a tool to control populations and territory, to destroy families, decimate communities and lethally spread HIV/AIDS. This high level of instability contributes to the ongoing conflict, driving the demand for conflict minerals as well as the resulting proliferation of sexual violence.

I have profound respect for Apple and Intel, corporations who pioneered action in ethically sourcing for materials for their products. Once these two corporations realized that their products were linked to sexual violence, they worked diligently to begin eliminating conflict minerals from their supply chains and it is this commitment to human rights that has further enhanced the value of their brands.

These women and girls being subjected to sexual violence are our partners in commerce and development and we cannot advance the global development agenda without providing them with adequate safety and security.

As consumers, our purchasing decisions play a crucial part in protecting the lives of women and children in these conflict regions. We can consciously choose to purchase products from companies whose commitments to human rights are credible, clear and concise.

Not only this, we can also use our voices to amplify this dialogue. The African Union is cognizant that at the heart of Africa’s violent conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lies the problem of democratic governance deficits mainly manifested through poor social economic and political governance, inadequate democracy, poverty and growing inequality, poor service delivery and mismanagement of natural resources, lack of respect for the rule of law, abuse of human rights, corruption, and lack of space for popular political participation. This has greatly undermined Africa’s efforts to ensure long-term stability and economic progress for its peoples especially women and girls.

It is in this light that the organ is convening a Gender Pre-Forum consultation scheduled to take place from 6-7 October 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. This forum will be an integral part of the High Level Dialogue to be held in late October and will focus on fostering a deeper understanding of the trends, challenges and opportunities for women in strengthening democratic governance towards silencing guns in Africa by 2020.

This dialogue is aimed at identifying practical initiatives and strategies by the Africa Governance Architecture framework for enhancing women inclusion and engagement on peace building in Africa. I encourage you to be a part of this dialogue using the hash tag #DGTrends.

Change is brought about by concerted efforts to deal with a problem even in the minutest of ways. The link between sexual violence and conflict minerals is clear; let your conscience as well be clear as you purchase your gadgets and foster this dialogue.

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