A Celebration of Women™
is elated to Celebrate the Life of this woman leader, film maker for social justice for all women, with a focus on the human rights for Women in the DRC – Democratic Republic of Congo.
WOMAN of ACTION™
President of Solidarité féminine pour la paix et le développement integral (Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As President, she manages a coalition of 40 women’s organisations that work together to defend and protect women’s rights in the Eastern provinces of the DRC, and to assist victims of sexual violence in seeking justice through the judicial system.
SOFEPADI works to defend and protect women’s rights and provide support to survivors of sexual violence by advocating for justice. Julienne works tirelessly to manage the coalition as it fights for an end to sexual violence in the DRC.
Julienne became an activist in 1998 when inter-ethnic war arrived at her doorstep. After witnessing members of armed groups raping and brutalizing women in her community, Julienne was compelled to act. She began documenting the cases of abuse and condemning the acts in public. She challenged the leaders of the armed groups in writing, demanding that they cease using violence against women in their war.
“When armed groups confront one another, it is the women who pay,” she cried,
“Women’s bodies are used as battlefields—and this must end.”
The situation is grave for women living in a region plagued by an ongoing 16-year conflict. Tensions between warring ethnic groups remain, resulting in women being the targets of systemic sexual violence as well as being subjected to more violence in the home. It is estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC.
To make matters worse, communities throughout the country often disown and shun survivors of rape and sexual violence.
Julienne and SOFEPADI actively promote acceptance of survivors and reintegration into their communities. She is beginning to see change. Community support groups are mobilizing around survivors – accepting women they would have turned away in the recent past – and providing them with much needed psychological and emotional support.
Julienne has acted as coordinator of the National Campaign of Congolese Women Against Sexual Violence and is Director of the Congolese Women’s Fund. But Julienne’s work extends beyond the borders of the DRC, as she sits on the Advisory Committee of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.
Julienne has been internationally recognized for her work, receiving the Human Rights Award from the Embassy of France in 2012.
In honour of the French national holiday Bastille Day, Julienne Lusenge, one of the leaders of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict, was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France. This is the highest honour that the French Government can bestow on an individual. During a ceremony in Bukuvu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Monday, 8 July 2013, Lusenge received the award from Yamina Benguigui, the French Minister Delegate for the Francophonie, and Valerie Trierweiller, partner of the current French president François Hollande.
Lusenge is president of the Congolese women’s organization Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral (SOFEPADI), which was founded in April 2000 by twenty-four women to promote women’s rights and to campaign for an end to sexual violence in the DRC. SOFEPADI works in regions of the country that have been affected by high levels of armed conflict, such as Ituri and North Kivu. Its programs focus on rehabilitation and reintegration of sexual violence survivors, and the provision of psychological services and job training programs. It also works to increase the number of Congolese women in politics and to train women in conflict resolution and mediation skills. Learn more about SOFEPADI today.
December 12, 2013
Julienne Lusenge, a human rights defender working for the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence in the war-torn territories of Beni and Ituri in the DRC. [She is the Chairperson of Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integral Development (SOFEPADI), an NGO working for the promotion and defence of women and children’s rights. Although she received death threats following her efforts to seek justice and peace restoration, she and her NGO continued with their fight. She is also the founder of a Fund for Congolese Women which allocates grants to grass-roots women’s organisations to help them promote women’s rights. She was awarded the first Human Rights Award by the French Embassy in the DRC and the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur award by the Republic of France.] says:
“I was privileged to attend the “Keep Her Safe” international event on violence against women and girls in emergencies on 13 November 2013 in London. The conference was organized by the UK’s Department for International Development.
The conference was the first of its kind which brought together about twenty heads of state and government in addition to a large number of humanitarian organisations such as international NGOS, civil society organisations, and UN agencies. One of the conference’s key points was the recognition by participants that the safety of women and girls should now be a priority for all humanitarian agencies, like other interventions such as food, water, and shelter.
Bringing together such a huge number of authorities and decision-makers to talk about the issue of sexual violence is a significant step forward for women and girls, especially as issues around sexual violence have long been taboo.
Furthermore, years of conflicts in the DRC have seen a large of number of armed groups pitted against each other and the external involvement of neighboring countries in these conflicts, that have resulted in devastating consequences for women and girls.
As a demonstration, data collected by SOFEPADI shows that from 2010 to end of 2012, a total of 2,227 new cases of sexual violence have been documented by the NGO in Beni and Ituri. The age of identified victims ranges from 2 to 80 years old. The data further reveals that those hardest-hit are between 11 and 24 years old i.e. 52% of documented cases of sexual violence.
Over the same period of time, a total of 2,992 authors were documented including 1,786 civilians (59% of cases); 759 men in uniforms (26% of cases) i.e. men from the regular army, the police, park rangers, ADF/NALU etc… and 447 militiamen (15% of cases).
In terms of support and care, 1,257 victims out of 2,227 have had medical attention within 72 hours of the violence being committed while 970 did after 72 hours. Although they are focusing specifically on Beni and Ituri, these data are reflective of the generalized phenomenon of sexual violence which is prevailing in currently and/or previously conflict-affected areas in the DRC.
The use of rape as a weapon of war has led to its normalization, thereby eroding all limits and social constraints against sexual and gender-based violence, worsening the phenomenon and its consequences for women.
At the London “Keep Her Safe” event, some stakeholders publicly recognized that there had been weaknesses in tackling acts of sexual violence committed against women by staff under their supervision. Recommendations to change that were therefore made.
The UK’s presidency of the UN Security Council made a significant impact by focusing the international community’s attention on the issue of sexual violence in conflict.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight UN Security Council Resolution 2106, unanimously passed on 24 June 2013. The Resolution was proposed by the UK and aims to strengthen the fight against impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflicts.
I also want to commend the various initiatives and the advocacy being conducted by the UK with the Congolese government on sexual violence in the DRC. It is also worth stressing that the DRC has taken a key step by signing the joint communiqué with the UN recognizing the existence of sexual violence in the country and committing to addressing this evil. The DRC is also one of the countries that have signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, initiated by the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.
While recognizing the efforts of the international community to stamp out this sexual violence, I want to underline that the event on 13 November mainly focused on raising the necessary financial resources only for international NGOs and UN agencies.
Much as it is important to support the work of international bodies in the fight against sexual violence in conflict, it is equally important to support local NGOs, most of whom do not have direct access to international funds. The event should also have touched on the work done by local organizations and on supporting their work.
It is critical that the eradication of sexual violence against women and girls be implemented jointly and in a spirit of partnership with local actors on the ground in order to respond to the real needs.”
Portrait of Julienne Lusenge from Nobel’s Women Initiative [16 Days of Activism]
Before it surrendered, the M23 rebel group waged a 19-month campaign of raping, killing and burning villages. Rape was specifically used as tool of war—one that instilled what the Enough Project calls “fear at a low cost”.
But while the M23 lay down its arms two months ago, fear is still a daily feature of life for many Congolese. Dozens of other militia groups in the Congo, as well as the Congolese army, rape and traumatize communities. Congo is now in that strange and enduring space between full-scale war, “intermittent conflict” and post-conflict.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the Orientale province of the Congo.
We came to Bunia, the capital of the Orientale province, at the invitation of the formidable Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge. Julienne wanted us to see first-hand the work of her organization SOFEPADI (Female Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development).
Yesterday morning we visited one of SOFEPADI’s projects, the Medical Center Karibuni Wa Mama (welcome mothers, in Swahili). The same space used to house a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres. MSF closed their operation at that location in 2010, and SOFEPADI picked up where MSF left off—with a special focus on working on women’s reproductive health and survivors of sexual violence.
The Karibuni provides holistic services for women and, in particular, sexual violence survivors. Those services include not only basic medical help, but also psychological and legal support. Women with fistulas or very severe injuries to their reproductive organs are transferred to another hospital to wait for a doctor who occasionally flies in from London. On average, the centre welcomes 950 patients per month. About 85% of those patients are treated for sexually-transmitted diseases, 5% for sexual violence, and the remaining 10% come for family planning.
Women come from hundreds of kilometres to reach the Karibuni centre. One woman walked two full days. Ten militia men brutally raped her after a funeral in her village. Having lost her parents and husband to the conflict, this 25-year-old woman now struggles in Bunia to survive with two children, the youngest who is only three months old. She finds occasional work doing hard labor.
The staff at Karibuni say they can barely meet the basic needs of this, and other women, who make the difficult journey to their centre. While the conflict in Orientale province is not as intense as it was four years ago, militias from a variety of rebel groups still terrorize people in three major areas of the province.
And here lies the challenge for grassroots groups.
So-called “intermittent conflicts” do not attract headlines—or donor dollars. The staff at the Karibuni centre say they do their work in isolation, with little support from local and national levels of government. Making the case to international donors is tough. The money and resources go to the “intense conflict zones”. After almost two decades of on-again, off-again conflict, donor fatigue is high.
Another layer of complexity: the changing story of sexual violence in this region of Congo.
It is now increasingly men who are being raped by local militia groups, while women are experiencing skyrocketing rates of domestic violence. The lack of economic and basic security at home is fueling violence against women in their most intimate spaces.
These are complexities that Julienne Lusenge and her colleagues at Karibuni understand, and deal with everyday.
And somehow they stretch limited funding to cover not only medical and psychological care for survivors of sexual violence, but also to pay for helping women through the legal system and even feed and transport them. On top of it all, they empower women to understand their basic rights. They do this work at great risk to themselves, and with remarkable efficiency and compassion.
“But it’s not enough.” Julienne feels like her efforts—heroic as they seem to those of us watching her from the sidelines—are only a small drop in a very deep bucket.
SOFEPADI seeks to break the cycle of violence by helping survivors file charges and by promoting justice reform.
Julienne Lusenge works for SOFEPADI in DRC. Sofepadi’s mission is to promote and protect the rights of women and children. Operating in Beni and Ituri, SOFEPADI is actively involved in seeking justice for victims of the widespread sexual violence committed by militia and members of the DRC military.
FIND Julienne HERE:
SOFEPADI – Facebook
Julienne Lusenge | openDemocracy
Julienne Lusenge | LinkedIn
Twitter / @NobelWomen: Julienne Lusenge
Twitter Hashtag – #Lusenge
RAPE IN WAR
“War provides men with the perfect psychological backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women. The maleness of the military—the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders given and orders obeyed, the simple logic of the hierarchical command—confirms for men what they long suspect—that women are peripheral to the world that counts.” –Susan Brownmiller
“There can be no security, without women’s security. Rape is not a lesser evil in the hierarchy of wartime horrors, it is not a crime that the world can dismiss as collateral damage, or as cultural, or inevitable.” –Margot Wallstrom
A Celebration of Women™
welcomes this visionary into our global Alumni with open arms, looking forward to future collaborations in bettering the lives of all women and children.
Julienne Lusenge – WOMAN of ACTION™
June 15, 2014 By 1 Comment