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.

That crippling word “apathy” >> Addressing challenges of Women in Conflict #dgtrends

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel

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(Pic Courtesy of UN Photo/Louise Gubb )

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her revolutionary talk ‘we should all be feminists’ stated that a feminist is a man or woman who admits to the existing problem of gender paradigms and commits to fixing it.

In kick starting discussions on the vulnerabilities and challenges of women in conflict and their role in building democratic governance, I wish to begin with that crippling word known as ‘apathy.’

It’s no secret that talks on gender roles and equality are weighty with people holding widely divergent views. We live in the 21st century yet this discussion is becoming increasingly heated and in the case of Africa, worrying. With wars and conflict flaring in different parts of the region, it has become evident that crimes against women and children are escalating as strategic weapons.

The 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly begins this week providing a unique and great opportunity for gender equality issues to be discussed. This is through dialogues on the post 2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals with various stakeholders devoting themselves to ensuring that gender equality issues are fully reflected in the dialogues and debates, that they receive strong visibility, actionable commitment and implementation.

In the same spirit, the African Union Commission through the African Governance Architecture framework will be having discussions on the vulnerabilities and challenges of women in conflict situations and their role in building democratic governance. This is a discussion gearing towards the High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance to be held in October this year aimed at silencing the guns in Africa by 2020. The year 2015 will also see the African Union dedicate the AU’s summit theme to be “the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards African’s Agenda 2063.”

These dialogues and commitments are a major milestone in enhancing women’s rights. However, I would like to diverge a bit and highlight some statistics on the vulnerabilities of women in conflict brought to light by Amnesty International amongst others.

That regardless of the international protocols mandating governments to protect civilians, women continue to be targeted for rape and other violence. For instance, despite having one of the largest peacekeeping forces in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has continued to play host to targeted rape campaigns by armed groups vying for control of mineral-rich turf.At the moment the country stands as having the highest number of reported rape cases in the continent.

That despite demonstrated value of women as peace-builders from Liberia to Northern Ireland, to Uganda and Sudan, women are largely excluded from formal peace processes. Only 1 in 13 participants in peace negotiations since 1992 has been women. Women have served as only 6% of negotiators to formalized peace talks and are not appointed as chief mediators in UN-brokered talks. Lack of women’s participation often means crimes against women go unaddressed and peace agreements do not ultimately reflect popular needs.

It has also been proven that women add value to measures that prevent conflict. They can be critical sources of intelligence, such as locations of weapons stores or plans for insurgent attacks. Yet global conflict prevention efforts still fail to adequately incorporate this resource: only slightly more than 3% of total military personnel in peacekeeping operations are women. Similarly, only 13 of 34 peacekeeping and political missions have gender advisors, compromising mission ability to incorporate a gender perspective in prevention efforts.

If these statistics are anything to go by, then indeed we have a lot of mileage to cover in tackling this issue. How then do we do this together?

To begin with, gender equality is not just a women’s issue but a rights issue. I was pleased to see the #HeForShe campaign that recently called on men to stand for gender equality. If you have not already, kindly visit the website here

As such, we need to critically challenge ourselves on the roles we’re playing in enhancing this dialogue and on how we’re keeping our governments accountable. We need to acquaint ourselves with the Maputo protocol which is single-handedly our greatest achievement in formidably progressing women’s rights on the continent. However ratification and implementation of the same is not enough as seen in the statistics above.

Today is the 161st day since girls from Chibok were kidnapped. It amazes me how quick we are to forget our girls. As my friend Omojuwa stated, “If we do go silent on this issue, we will be as responsible for whatever happens to them as those who abducted them and as the government that has seemingly abdicated its responsibility to rescue the girls.”

Let’s keep these conversations alive and increasingly put pressure on our governments to keep our brothers and sisters accountable in ensuring that they bring back those girls, that they do everything in their power to protect their citizens, that they set up working mechanisms to curb the use of crimes against women and children as strategic tools of war.

I invite you to be a part of this discussion using the hashtag #dgtrends to speak up on the challenges women and children are facing in conflict, their role in democratic governance and the possible solutions. We are in an era where online activism plays a crucial role in enhancing good governance; let’s keep tweeting, pinning, sharing.

Of course this is not enough, let us also use the God given talents we have to give this topic the weight it deserves as our governments continue to play their part. Sing from the rooftops if you must, use your art, use your camera, tell stories, but let’s keep this conversation alive and not let apathy strip us of our existence.

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