The Restore the Villages Project
War and rape have always arrived together, leaving shattered lives in their wake. Today, in Eastern Congo, rape is being used as more than a sick prize for the victor. In rural villages of the Fizi and Mwenga territories in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has been reinvented as a primary weapon of war.
This particular conflict resulting in rapes on a mass scale is between different ethnic groups. And like many historical conflicts, it is about natural resources and economics—control and power over the land.
In these cultures, women have few rights independent of their male family members. Women can’t own land or hold on to money. Upon marriage, a woman is expected to leave her parents’ home never to return. There’s even a ceremonial breaking of her childhood bed—after the marriage has been agreed upon and her family has been paid a dowry, she can never go back. Once with their husbands, it is the women’s job to cultivate the land and grow food. And as long as these women serve their men faithfully, cultivate the land dutifully, and raise many children, the tribe prospers. But if a woman is caught in a “transgression”—which includes being violently raped by armed militia groups—the norm is for the husband to divorce her and throw her out. These women usually have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. Since they can’t own property, they can’t farm again in the village. They are considered a source of shame. They can never marry again, since they are deemed defiled or “damaged goods”. Her husband can’t “forgive her” without losing his own honor in the village. It is a very grim situation for these women.
But it is not only the women who suffer. Their children are left motherless and suffer life-long and life-threatening negative health and monetary consequences. And the men also suffer. Women are the only ones that work the farms. Once gone, the farms go fallow, food supplies shrink, the village economy crashes, and the whole village suffers. For all of their social inequalities, women are the life blood of the village.
Sanela Diana Jenkins has a novel approach to try to heal villages where the women have been sexually attacked: the Restore the Villages Project (the “Project”). The Project provides a broad spectrum of services aimed at diminishing the negative consequences of mass rape. Restore the Villages Project currently focuses on two underserved territories in Eastern Congo, Fizi and Mwenga.
While there are many individual organizations concentrating on one specific area of post-rape healing, Restore the Villages fills a gap within the existing NGO population in Eastern Congo by taking a broad spectrum approach. The Project provides five forms of interventions within villages affected by mass rape: medical, therapeutic, economic, judicial, and spiritual.
No single intervention is enough. By approaching the problem from five angles, Restore the Villages believes that it can dampen the negative effects of mass rape on affected villages. The goal of the work of the Project is to encourage villages to remain intact following an attack, and to change perceptions of the way rape is viewed so that the women are not expelled from the village, made to divorce their husbands, or denied any prospects of marriage.
Through the Sanela Diana Jenkins Clinic on Gender Violence in Eastern Congo run by the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at the UCLA School of Law, Restore the Villages is carefully studying the effect of its interventions in these villages so that it can fine-tune its approach for maximum post-rape healing.