In-depth report on gender and conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo reveals high levels of violence and inequality

Promundo and Sonke Gender Justice have released the complete results from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which reveal high levels of gender-based violence and the continuing effects of conflict on couple and family relations. The report will be launched this week at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict at ExCel London.

The comprehensive report, Gender Relations, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and the Effects of Conflict on Women and Men in North Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, affirms that the devastating impact of war in DRC affects nearly all those living in eastern DRC, and is manifested in highly inequitable and violent partner relations.

Approximately 70% of men and 80% of women were directly affected by war and conflict in DRC, and their reports of conflict-related trauma – including physical displacement, injury, death of friends and family members and experiences of sexual violence – are multiple and widespread.

The study’s results show that years of conflict, combined with persistent poverty, limited functioning of the state and widespread inequitable norms in DRC, create multiple vulnerabilities for women and girls, and no shortage of vulnerabilities for boys and men as well.

One key finding is that rates of sexual violence against women in eastern DRC are some of the highest in the world, compared to other settings where the multi-country survey IMAGES has been carried out.

Another key finding is that sexual violence as part of conflict, while brutal and traumatic for those who experience it, happens at lower rates than sexual violence carried out in the home, which the study’s co-authors Gary Barker and Henny Slegh discuss in the article “Being Honest About Sexual Violence in War, and Everywhere Else.”

This survey, carried out with 1,500 men and women in eastern DRC, found that 22% of women were forced to have sex or were raped as part of the conflict, as were some 10% of men. In addition, approximately half of women had experienced sexual violence from a husband or male partner. Nearly a third of both women and men reported an unwanted sexual experience as children.

In sum, the effects of economic stress, trauma, fear, frustration, hunger and lack of means to sustain the family are felt first and foremost in family and partner relations.

Furthermore, in spite of the compounding effects of the conflict, many findings were consistent with IMAGES studies in other parts of the world: men’s childhood experiences of violence, binge drinking and inequitable attitudes were associated with their use of intimate partner violence. At the same time, men whose own fathers were involved in the household were more likely to carry out household tasks.

The report reveals the urgent need for more intense promotion of gender equality in DRC’s education, health and justice sectors, at both the local and national levels; a rollout of psychosocial and secondary prevention that enables boys and girls to overcome violence they have experienced and witnessed; and long-term rebuilding from the conflict that takes into consideration men’s and women’s sense of loss of status and identity, and their need for psychosocial support.

The report also highlights the needs for a more adequate policy framework in DRC and immediate action on those policies. Sonke Gender Justice recently carried out a review (a summary of which is included in this study) of the policies in DRC and the associated challenges.

This study in DRC is part of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), a multi-year, multi-country study created and coordinated by Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). IMAGES is one of the most comprehensive studies ever on men’s practices and attitudes as they relate to gender norms, attitudes toward gender equality policies, household dynamics including caregiving and men’s involvement as fathers, intimate partner violence, health and economic stress. As of 2013, it had been carried out in 10 countries (including this study in DRC) with additional partner studies in Asia inspired in part by IMAGES.

Learn more about IMAGES here.

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