"It's a war against women. When two sides fight the one punishes the other by raping women. When I see the women come to me in search of hope, I say to myself, I must continue to struggle."
- Justine Masika Bihamba
SYNERGIE DES FEMMES POUR LES VICTIMES DES VIOLENCES SEXUELLES (SFVS)
SFVS—formed in 2002—provides psycho-social, medical, and legal defense services to victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For more than twenty years, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been at war, leaving nearly six million dead. Both soldiers and armed rebels wield rape as a weapon, and recent studies find an increase in rapes by civilians in the new, commonplace prevalence of sexual assault.
A 2011 study published in The American Journal of Public Health reported 1,100 rapes daily; more than 400,000 women and girls age 15 to 49 were raped during one 12-month period in 2006-2007—revealing sexual violence against women is 26 times more common than UN reports had shown for the DRC.
Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles - SFVS (Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence) was formed in 2002 to address this catastrophe. Based in North Kivu province, SFVS unites the experiential skills of 35 Congolese organizations, working in three sections:
- legal defense
The psycho-social section has established 20 “listening houses” for victims of sexual violence; it holds seminars on the effects of sexual violence and trains counselors in psychological trauma work and family mediation. To help survivors reintegrate into society, SFVS provides them with income generating skills: dyeing techniques, sewing, braiding, livestock herding, and farming. The legal defense section lobbies for equal justice and coordinates legal assistance for victims of violence. It has also trained judges on sexual violence law, and initiated a campaign for establishing tribunals of international and Congolese judges to try high-rank military offenders for sexual violence and war crimes in DRC. Though they have very limited resources and cannot afford to have medical clinics at their centers, they collaborate with small clinics in Goma to provide medical cares for sexual-violence survivors: such as surgical repairs of fistulas, HIV testing, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). SFVS broadcasts awareness messages on national radio and TV, and organizes conferences on Congolese law and the societal effects of rape.
The work is complex, hard, often perilous. But SFVS co-founder and coordinator Justine Masika Bihamba, herself the recipient of the Dutch Human Rights Tulip Award for her work, says, “I chose this work because my passion for the women and young people who are suffering from this human cruelty is so great that I dream of contributing to the mobilization of communities against the violence, as well as getting Congolese authorities to focus on the causes, and not the consequences, of the sexual violence.”
GLOBAL HOUR OF SOLIDARITY WITH CONGOLESE WOMEN
From September 12-14, 2017 Synergie des Femmes, in collaboration with Panzi Foundation, convened 65 Congolese women from all parts of the country to collectively plan a way forward as part of the Congolese Women's Forum on Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The goal of the Forum was to build and coordinate Congolese women's efforts to play a leadership role in their communities as peace-builders and engineers of sustainable development and peace.
At the conclusion of the Summit, Donor Direct Action organized a global hour of solidarity to connect with the gathering of Congolese women and hear from the leaders who organized the Forum on its outcome. This was envisioned as an interactive discussion with messages of advice and support from global feminist leaders including Meryl Streep, Lena Dunham, Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström, Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and Gloria Steinem. The event was broadcast on Facebook Live on Donor Direct Action's Facebook page.
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Justine Masika Bihamba
Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles provides psycho-social, medical, and legal defense services to victims of sexual violence in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Human Rights Defender
By: DDA | Aug 21, 2013
Throughout the DRC, ravaged by over two decades of war, the work is difficult and dangerous. In certain areas the female human rights defender is seen as opposing traditional customs; her family tries to force her to abandon her work, for her safety and theirs.
Counselors of Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles (SFVS) work alone in remote, rural regions, tasked with identifying victims, passive and active listening, and assisting survivors’ reintegration into society.