The news announced earlier this week that rebels from the M23 movement had finally withdrawn from the DRC city of Goma, was met with much relief. But what does this withdrawal really mean for the DRC – in particular for women, who face a shocking rate of sexual violence, as victims of the ongoing conflict?
We spoke to WILPF DRC President Annie Matundu Mbambi during M23's recent occupation of Goma, and asked her how WILPF International can help in the continuing struggle for peace in the DRC.
What have been some of the experiences of you and other WILPF members in the DRC with M23, armed groups and violence against women in general? How are you and other WILPF members experiencing the latest developments?
The M23 are the rebels who attack our country and rape our women.
Since April 2012, WILPF DRC have been following news reports on various channels based in the east of the DRC, but at the moment, we have no news on our members, as there is no electricity or Internet access.
As a result, we are cut off from the situation on the front line and we can only follow the information broadcast by various media.
The statement of Congolese women that you forwarded to us was critical of the arms embargo and the list of names being sanctioned by the UN, EU and other international forces. How do you feel about the embargo? Do you think it helps the women on the ground in the DRC in any way? Does it effectively deal with the illicit arms trade, and if not, do you have any other ideas for a solution to this issue?
The spokesperson for MONUSCO pointed out in a press conference in 2011 that “the arms embargo, which dates from 2003, is intended for the numerous armed militia in the east of the DRC, notably in the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu, as well as the area of Ituri.”
He also noted that the sanctions regime mentioned in the 1952 resolution aims to protect the institutions of the DRC against armed militants and comprises “an arms embargo, air traffic control measures, individual sanctions for those who ignore it and the mandate of the Group of Experts responsible for monitoring these measures and making suggestions on how to increase its effectiveness.”
The Congolese women have called for the lifting of the embargo on weapons placed unfairly on the DRC for more than a decade, even though women have repeatedly been the victims of acts of aggression since 1996. This may seem controversial but in fact, it would allow the control of the entering of arms rather than them being supplied illegally and hidden behind the embargo.
How do you see the role of women in the DRC peace process? Do they have a role at the moment? And how do you feel they could contribute?
The role of Congolese women remains essential and is a priority in the peace process in the DRC.
We are aware that, at the moment, it is the men of the state who negotiate between themselves and that the women are not involved in the process even though they could contribute to the negotiations of these conflicts.
The Congolese women have issued pleas and declarations since the M23 revolt started, but they are not taken into account because the men think that the war is a male matter and in our opinion, the war in the DRC has become a business.
However, we won't give up and our fight for lasting peace in the DRC will continue. A striking example of this is the involvement of Congolese women in the 2004 Sun City negotiations in South Africa which helped the DRC to re-establish peace for a while and which led to the 2006 elections.
Finally, what can we, as WILPF members from around the world, do from here to help the women in the DRC? Can you use our support and how?
The fact that WILPF international has already issued the Congolese women's declaration is a step forward.
WILPF international can take initiatives for issuing an international plea, on behalf of the signatory countries in the peace resolutions, and respecting the sovereignty of the DRC.
If the peace resolutions and agreements are not respected, what is the point of member states implementing them at all?
We need worldwide female solidarity to put an end to the violence towards women in the DRC.