June 15, 2012
Conflict and Dispute Resolution graduate authors article on women of the Congo
Christina Mitchell's work to appear in Peace Studies Journal
Christina Mitchell, a 2011 graduate of the Oregon Law Master’s Degree Program in Conflict and Dispute Resolution(CRES), recently had her article, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: A Conversation with Grassroots Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” accepted for publication by the Syracuse University Peace Studies Journal.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been in a state of unrest since the mid-1990s. The 1994 genocide of Tutsi people, the second largest population group in Central Africa, in Rwanda and the political takeover by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led militia, led to many Hutu refugees in the DRC. The first Congo War began in 1996 followed by the second Congo War in 1998. It was declared over in 2003, but the DRC has continued to be unstable, causing physical and psychological damage to civilians.
The fighting in the DRC is considered the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II, with more than 5.4 million reported dead.
The violence among women is undoubtedly the most alarming. Rape is used daily as a weapon of war. In a 2011 study by the American Journal of Public Health, it was found that 1.8 million Congolese women have been raped in their lifetime, which translates to 48 women and girls being raped every hour in the DRC. With such overwhelming statistics, it is easy for the women of the DRC to be viewed only as victims. However, as Mitchell writes in her article, many women are serving as activists in their fight against oppression.
Mitchell’s article focuses on real conversations she had with Congolese women involved with various activist organizations and their perceptions of their role in the conflict. Instead of being the victims they are portrayed as by global media, the women of the DRC see themselves as “the individuals best positioned to end the fighting and rebuild their country.”
In her article, Mitchell states, “After meeting these tremendously inspiring women in Bukavu and Goma, I have learned that many Congolese women have seen the worst, but are still adamantly working toward the best. These women fight, survive, and excel in ways that challenge the common media stereotypes that relegate them to helpless, voiceless victims.”
The organizations for which these women work focus on advocacy and political action projects. They provide legal support for victims of violence, workshops on gender rights, register female voters, provide loans and organize female cooperatives. Despite their tireless work in the DRC, the organizations remain nameless and invisible.
Mitchell’s use of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is symbolic to the role of women in the Congolese culture. They are not afforded the same basic rights as men, such as education and security. In her focus groups, the women “emphasized that women should have a say regarding their rights and the enforcement of those rights, since they are among the most vulnerable in the conflict.” Decisionmaking is male-dominated and the perspectives of women are not considered; they are out of sight and out of mind.
In 2009, the Central New York Peace Studies Continuum developed the Peace Studies Journal into an international interdisciplinary free online peer-reviewed scholarly journal. The goal of the journal is to promote work and research in global areas of identities politics, peace, nonviolence, social movements, conflict, crisis, ethnicity, culture, education, alternatives to violence, inclusion, repression and control, punishment and retribution, globalization, economics, ecology, security, activism and social justice.