Nelly Bassily | March 2, 2009
Adèle Safi is the executive secretary of the Council of Women’s Organizations Acting Together in Bukavu, in the province of South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC. Farm Radio Weekly met with Ms. Safi at the World Social Forum held in northern Brazil in January 2009.
Ms. Safi says that in South Kivu, eastern DRC, women are being sexually abused by foreign armed groups. In many instances, the rapes are perpetrated when women go to the field to reap crops such as beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, and bananas. In this densely forested area, rape is still prevalent despite peace agreements between the Congolese government and the diverse armed groups operating in North and South Kivu.
To stop the women from harvesting their land, armed forces loot the crops in the field. A woman may plant and cultivate her land, but when harvest time comes, she could find a cross in her field. These crosses are a sign from the armed forces prohibiting the women from harvesting their fields.
Olivier Kamitatu is the Minister of Planning in the DRC. He says that agriculture is a major priority today and that people must go back to the fields, and that they need to be given seeds, inputs and the means to resume a normal life.
But according to Ms. Safi, this normal life will not be possible for the women of South Kivu until the armed forces are expelled from the farmlands. The Council of Women’s Organizations Acting Together is helping women get back on their feet with medical and psychological support and by boosting agriculture with the distribution of seeds and goats. But if the armed forces remain, Ms. Safi insists that it is impossible for women to return to their fields because of the risk of rape.
Ms. Safi says that the permanent presence of armed forces creates physical, moral and economic insecurity for the women. Often, women are forced to leave their land to take refuge in the city. There, they have no home, no work and they may spend days on the road, begging for money. Yet, because these same women used to supply the city with essential goods, the city is directly affected by the conflict. When women are not on their lands, the villages cannot supply the cities.
Ms. Safi is appealing for international solidarity. She says that the international community should not accept the continuing atrocities and must not let the perpetrators continue raping with impunity.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on women farmers affected by sexual violence