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Times are particularly harsh once again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In this country elections do not constitute a moment of hope for democracy and change but rather signify a moment of terror and impunity, often leading to disastrous consequences – and this especially for women. Human Rights Watch reported 24 dead and about 100 seriously wounded civilians in the DRC in the two weeks that followed the elections which were held at the end of November 2011. Immaculée Birhaheka, a women’s rights activist and director of a Congolese women’s non-governmental organisation called PAIF (Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Féminines), reported that most of those victims were women. Women are often the main targets when violence breaks out, due to the legal, economic and physical power inequalities between men and women – inequalities which are common in most countries of the world. Violence against women is one social mechanism and expression of this patriarchal system built on male supremacy and female subordination. PAIF has been one of medica mondiale’s partner organisations in the DRC since 2004. It was active supporting women’s political participation in the presidential and legislative elections which were held on November 28, 2011.

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This year women’s and peace activists celebrated International Women’s Day for the one hundredth time. Suffrage for women and an end to war were both among the first issues highlighted by early women’s rights campaigners and their voices were later joined by those of female peace and women’s rights activists from Africa, Asia and Latin America as colonies all over the world gained independence in the 1960s. The UN Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace (1975-1985) gave them a new platform to make their demands heard worldwide. In 1977 the UN General Assembly proclaimed International Women’s Day to be the UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.

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