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26 June 2012

DR Congo: PAIF - Support for survivors of sexualized violence

Project cooperation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo):medica mondiale has been collaborating with the Congolese women’s rights organization PAIF (Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines) since 2004. The organization provides support services specifically to women and girl survivors of rape in the Kivu provinces. PAIF provides emotional support and counselling as well as economic aid to the victims, and escorts them to hospitals, to the police, and to court. PAIF also educates families, communities, and institutions about violence against women, documents cases of sexualized violence, and advocates for the prosecution of the perpetrators.

Help under one roof

With support from medica mondiale PAIF has built a women’s centre in the provincial capital of Goma, which soon developed into a key place of refuge and counselling for survivors of sexualized wartime violence. Along with the construction of the centre, medica mondiale also supports the activities that take place on its premises. The centre provides child care services so that the women can take part in the counselling offerings, self-help groups, and adult education courses.

Medical care

As a result of having been brutally raped, many of the women suffer from internal injuries, pelvic fractures or tears and infections in the vaginal and intestinal tissue. Some women have had their uteruses and vaginas totally destroyed. Fistulas, openings between the vagina and the intestine or the bladder, and incontinence develop if such injuries are not treated in time. Many women and girls have also been infected with HIV from having been raped. Only a very few rape victims, however, have access to medical care.

Most of the women live in villages far away from major population centres, the roads are poor, and there are hardly any means of transportation to the health posts. Because of their severe injuries, the women and girls are frequently unable to get to the nearest city to seek medical help. In addition, many of the women are too poor to pay the transportation fares, not to mention the costs for medicines or treatment.

PAIF supports needy women to obtain medical care. The nurses provide first aid, health and medical counselling and education, and escort the women to health posts and clinics. PAIF takes care of the costs for transportation, medicines, examinations, or operations. In 2009, PAIF was able to help more than 500 women with medical treatments, transportation to the hospital, medications, food, and emergency accommodations.

Counselling and stabilization

Another focus of the work of PAIF is the stabilization of the frequently severely traumatized women and girls. Many of the survivors suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, feelings of shame, depression, and chronic pain. PAIF counsellors help the survivors in overcoming their traumatic experiences and in finding strategies to protect themselves from day to day violence. With support from medica mondiale, in 2004 PAIF founded the first women’s group in South Kivu, called Faraja. Faraja means consolation, for in the group the women meet other survivors, provide each other with mutual support, and find a way out of isolation. Around 30 women’s groups along the lines of Faraja have since been founded in Goma and Kalehe, in which ca. 500 survivors of sexualized violence find a monthly forum for interaction and support. In addition to the group meetings, the women also benefit from individual counselling sessions.

Start-up aid for a new beginning

Many women survivors of sexualized violence live in extreme poverty. Frequently excluded or outcast by their families and communities, they are forced to fend for themselves and their children on their own. In order to enable women to break the cycle of poverty and ensure themselves an independent livelihood, PAIF offers women and girls literacy courses, vocational training, and economic start-up aid. In training courses that last several months, for example, the women learn sewing, baking, or juice production. In conjunction with the courses, PAIF promotes the economic self-sufficiency of the women through start-up aid: course participants receive financial aid for starting a small business, or they are given seed and goats for a small livestock enterprise. The experience of having one’s own business gives the women more self-confidence and elevates their status in their communities, which are key prerequisites for a new beginning.

Educating families and communities

Very often rape survivors suffer massive discrimination and are rejected by their families, husbands, and communities. To counteract the social exclusion of women, PAIF educates families and communities in the scope of monthly informational events about the consequences of violence against women and girls, and informs them about women’s rights and male role models. The workers also mediate between victims and their family members so that outcast women are accepted back into their families in an understanding manner.

In order to raise the awareness of society and government of the plight of women rape survivors and to prevent renewed violence against them, PAIF documents violent crimes against women, publically discloses the consequences to society of acts of sexualized violence, and advocates for the prosecution of the perpetrators. Because there is hardly any help available locally for women who find themselves in acute danger, PAIF also continuously sees to it that women and girls are liberated from emergency situations and captivity – often at great personal effort on the part of the staff of PAIF.

Support of self-help through qualification training

Along with direct support for women rape victims, advanced training for partner organizations is a key component of the work of medica mondiale. The purpose of qualification training of the local partners is to ensure that the Congolese are able to improve the situation of the women in their country on their own and in a sustainable manner. Among other things, medica mondiale offers PAIF workers advanced training in working with traumatized women and in protecting themselves from burnout. In addition, medica mondiale supports the team with project planning, project and financial management.

medica mondiale is providing the Congolese women’s rights organization since 2004. From 2012 to 2015 PAIF gets around 665,000 EUR in a four years program.