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HEAL Africa provides holistic care for the people of Democratic Republic of Congo
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HEAL Africa's community mobilization efforts to fight sexual violence

Read a three piece published series written by HEAL Africa staff member, Harper McConnell, revealing the importance of HEAL Africa's community mobilization efforts to fight sexual violence.

As mentioned before, too many - far too many - posts about rape simply focus on women as passive victims. This piece is the third in a series by HEAL Africa, which focuses instead on how one aid agency is working with rape survivors and communities to respond to this crisis. Part one is here, and part two is here.

Community-Based Change

Last week I was in Kayna, a village here in northeastern DR Congo, where most humanitarian aid organizations cannot reach because of the conflict. The health professionals we train are working in appalling conditions. The beds are grass mats, the operating and delivery tables are bloody, broken, and basically non-functioning. They don't have enough medicine. The HEAL Africa medical staff showed up and tried to work in these conditions, but it is virtually impossible to have a significant health impact without materials. We were able to go back and cross rebel lines and bring more supplies and medications including PEP kits, which prevent the spread of HIV and STIs after rape. This support was huge for their morale and we will bring more equipment since we have just received a donation.

Without good health it is impossible to rebuild a community. To develop requires good health and HEAL Africa works for this not only by training local nurses and providing medications for rural health centers, but also by mobilizing the community to address priority issues that they themselves define. One of the central issues is sexual violence and the utter lack of women's healthcare. When women's health issues are left unaddressed the whole societal structure collapses. This is why we are working with communities to not only improve healthcare for women, but more importantly to openly discuss the treatment of women in our society and why sexual violence is such a large problem.

It is necessary to have functioning institutions in order for heinous crimes such as sexual violence to decrease. HEAL Africa intervenes in four institutional structures whose strengths or weaknesses directly correlate to sexual violence: health, judiciary, the Church, and education.


As mentioned above, without adequate, standardized health institutions it is extremely difficult to treat survivors of sexual violence. Women suffer for years with fistula because of the lack of rural healthcare capacity. There are women who lived with fistula for 35-40 years. By training and investing in rural healthcare, women can receive treatment immediately, thereby avoiding years of stigma and rejection that come along with issues of fistula and rape.


Law is synonymous with impunity in eastern DRC and without redress for sexual violence it will continue to be viewed as an issue only affecting the survivor. In partnership with the American Bar Association, HEAL Africa is in the process of establishing community mediation clinics throughout North Kivu and Maniema provinces to cover the absence of local tribunals that are supposed to exist under the constitution, but are not funded by the government. By participating in training lawyers, judges, and communities to prosecute human rights violators, HEAL Africa has increased the number of sexual violence cases brought to court this year in Goma to 234, which is incredibly significant given the state of the courts and the stigma attached with rape. The justice system is a massive institution to overhaul, but communities cannot wait for the central government to act, they must first develop grassroots initiatives.

Religious Institutions

The Church is the most important institution in terms of propagating attitudes and ideas about women. Ninety percent of Congolese people belong to a faith community, therefore in order to change the treatment of women, religious institutions must act as the driving force for transformation. The Nehemiah Committees, as mentioned in the two former pieces, are local synergies of faith-based groups working together to re-build their war-torn communities. HEAL Africa, in conjunction with the Nehemiah Committees, host trainings and discussions for all religious leaders using a curriculum based on the Bible, the Koran, and traditional African proverbs which show the valor and equity of women in society. These happen throughout the whole province during the entire year and create dialogue that has stimulated a significant shift in teaching about women in the church. If religious institutions assume women's rights as a battle the church has a responsibility to fight, then sexual violence will significantly decrease, particularly non-armed sexual violence.


Lastly, perceptions about gender relations and equity form at a young age and the education children receive in school highly influences a child's attitude towards the other sex. HEAL Africa trains primary and secondary school teachers with a curriculum that engages children in discussions about gender relations through drama, music, games, and readings. If gender equity is practiced in the classroom, then this school age generation will have a profound positive impact on the reduction of gender-based violence. In closing this series, sexual violence is not an issue that can be addressed through one or two mediums, instead any lasting change will come through a holistic community approach engaging political and religious leaders, medical professionals, communities, lawyers, judges, counselors, educators, and women. It is a daunting task, but there are Congolese working day and night, fighting for women's rights and for the right to peace.

You can help them.

Written by Dr. Christophe Kimona, the HEAL Africa Medical Director, and by Harper McConnell, the former US Director of Development for HEAL Africa.

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