The War on Congo's Women

Photos from a country where it's more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier.
The War on Congo's Women

Read Mac McClelland's story on Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda.

As many as 500,000 women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo since it plunged into an ongoing civil war in 1996. A recent UN survey estimates soldiers are responsible for nearly one-third of all rapes and sexual violence committed in the country's eastern provinces. Discipline in the national army is weak, soldiers seldom get paid, and many are told by their superiors to "live off the land," which invites abuses. Soldiers and militants alike act with impunity. The problem is compounded by a lack of legal infrastructure and an indifference to the plight of women. An average of 1,100 new incidents of rape are reported each month; one study found that more than that number of Congolese women are raped every day.

The wards of the the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the first fistula center in Congo to treat rape victims, are often full. Dr. Denis Mukwege, the soft-spoken obstetrician-gynecologist who founded the hospital and a finalist for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, sometimes performs 10 surgeries a day. He says he has come to recognize perpetrators by the scars they leave on their targets. "I can tell which group it was who did it, even before she tells me," he says. "Some use knives, fire, rape only the young, or bullets. This way, it is like they leave a signature on the body."

Click here for a Washington Times investigation of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.