Projects - 19 June 2024

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Helping Survivors of Sexual Violence Rebuild their Lives

In Bukavu in the province of South Kivu, threatened by armed militant groups, BSF works alongside Maison Dorcas to welcome and support women and children who are victims of sexual violence. Maison Dorcas is a refuge for victims of sexual, and psychological violence, created by the Panzi foundation and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Mukwege in 2008. To help Maison Dorcas and their mission, BSF has installed an Ideas Cube, as well as a library so that we can support the socio-educative activities and instruction offered by the medical staff. 
Meet Fatou Sall, BSF’s representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 2008, the United Nations officially declared rape to be a “weapon of war”, underlining, that rape is not simply an unfortunate consequence of conflict, but a deliberate military tactic. As they are often the primary targets of sexual violence, women are often stigmatized and rejected by their husbands, family, and community.

According to the United Nations, there has been a 50% increase in cases of sexual violence in global conflicts since 2023. Far too many women and children continue today to suffer from these atrocities, and the devastating consequences which impact their health.  

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been through two wars, one between 1996 and 1997, and the other between 1998 and 2003. In these wars, rape was frequently used as a tactic to destroy communities and families. Rape to isolate the Congolese women and girls, rape to subject them to fear and intimidation. The NGO Human Rights Watch described rape as a war within a war.” 

In all wars, the destruction of materials of a society aims to prevent it from rebuilding. The destruction of people, physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually, pursues the same objective.” Fatou Sall, BSF’s DRC Representative.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is incredibly alarming. Remaining faithful to its mandate of proliferating access to knowledge as a means of supporting resistance, resilience, and emancipation, BSF has installed an Ideas Cube and a library in Maison Dorcas, as well as providing our expertise to the staff. This refuge serves as a rehabilitation center which empowers survivors and their children. Maison Dorcas is supported by the Panzi Foundation, and was founded by Dr. Mukwege, a world-renowned gynecologist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who received this honor for his fight against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. 

“After receiving medical and psychological care at the Panzi Hospital, victims of sexual violence are offered holistic support for several months. Maison Dorcas offers lodging, as well as programs to prepare victims to rejoin society through professional training, i.e., baker, jewelry maker, etc. At the end of their time with us, the women receive a ‘reinsertion kit’ to launch their own enterprise, whether that be in their home communities, or, if they can’t return there, in Bukavu.”   Fatou Sall, BSF’s DRC Representative. 

Since 2023, BSF has deployed a digital library with their Ideas Cube, and a library of over 300 books in French, English, Swahili, and Lingala to the residents of Maison Dorcas. Additionally, the women and children have access to a variety of digital books and resources, on women’s rights and gender equality. They can also discover a plethora of youth and Congolese literature, and view documentaries on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the African Great Lakes.  
These tools and resources are used by trained mediators who are at the center of their socio-educative activities, which are specifically designed to support their futures.

Once these women receive all their physical treatment, it is essential to give them hope. Having access to a library, and to knowledge, offers them a new perspective on life. It allows them to picture a future for themselves and their children and allows them to overcome a tragedy which may haunt them throughout their lives.Fatou Sall, BSF’s DRC Representative 

Among the survivors housed at Maison Dorcas, 30% of them are under the age of 18. These girls have often never attended school – or had their education interrupted by wars and conflict. Fatou Sall underlines the essential role that access to education plays in overcoming the challenges which these victims face. 

The causes of war and extreme violence must be explained to children, with the goal of encouraging an education in citizenship. It’s necessary to shine a light on this crucial problem so that future generation can adopt a different perspective and avoid recreating the same mechanisms and avoid making the same mistakes. Libraries offer an ideal setting for these activities and raise awareness. Fatou Sall, BSF’s DRC Representative

In the upcoming months, BSF and the Panzi Foundation hope to expand access to the library at Maison Dorcas to the entire population of Bukavu, which has very few libraries.

Since 2022, BSF has supported the survivors of sexual violence alongside the United Nations. To do this, BSF has provided its expertise to numerous partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, and Nigeria.

In January 2024, BSF and the University of Côte d’Azur’s Institute for Peace and Development hosted a symposium regarding the use of sexual violence in conflict. Numerous experts, academics, institutions, and associations attended the symposium, including United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Pramila Patten.

Redaction : Mathilde Lis
Translation : Aidan Vinciguerra

Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (Libraries Without Borders) is an international non-profit that strengthens the capacity of people in vulnerable situations by facilitating access to education, culture, and information. In more than 30 countries, we create innovative cultural and learning spaces that allow those affected by crisis or precarity to learn, to play, to build communities, and to construct their futures.