ABSTRACT

Incidences of rape and sexual violence during the conflicts in the DRC have been widely reported in the global media, with the DRC being labelled ‘the rape capital of the world’ amongst other similar titles and epithets. These reports have prompted concern from the international community and have led to an influx of aid aimed at supporting victims of sexual violence, particularly in the Eastern regions of the country which has been in constant conflict for decades as explained in the introduction to this volume, and where incidences of mass rape and sexual violence have been particularly highlighted. However, as I will argue in this chapter, and throughout the book, the focus that has been placed on sexual violence and rape, and on supporting victims of this type of violence, although important in many regards, has had unintended and sometimes negative consequences in other ways. This focus on rape and sexual violence by armed groups hides wider problems of gender-based violence which exist in the country, violence which is committed not only by soldiers and armed groups but also by civilians. In separating sexual violence in conflict from other types of gender based violence, the root causes of such violence are often overlooked and thus no real and long lasting prevention efforts are put in place for the long-term elimination of gender-based violence in the DRC. Moreover, over-simplistic representation of men as perpetrators and women as victims of violence act to render invisible male victims of gender-based violence, and also women’s agency both as perpetrators and as resisters of violence. The search for quick solutions to the ‘crisis’ of rape, particularly in the East of the country, thus leads not to answers, but to the erasing of complexities and a failure to tackle more deep rooted problems. One of the underlying problems here, as in many situations, is the difficulty in providing definitions of what is gender-based violence, and of providing enough research and data to understand both the prevalence of such violence and its underlying causes. Until this knowledge is available, any attempts at prevention and elimination of violence are very unlikely to lead to success. In this chapter we will attempt to uncover some of the complexities involved in studying gender-based violence and in trying to find ways of preventing this violence. We will examine the various forms of gender-based violence which exist and analyse the causes of this violence in the underlying gender inequalities and in particular the construction of particular norms and roles of masculinity and femininity. We will argue that international responses to 60violence which focus almost entirely on victims of rape will be ineffective as long as they ignore these wider forms of inequality and violence, and may in some cases be counter-productive in reinforcing stereotypes of ‘victimisation’ of women. Firstly, however, we will discuss the various interpretations of sexual violence during conflicts, to see how this violence has been understood and theorised, and to understand some of the context underlying interpretations of sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC.