|"It's a war against women. When two sides fight the one punishes the other by raping women. When I see the women come to me in search of hope, I say to myself, I must continue to struggle."|
|Justine Masika Bihamba
Coordinator of Synergie des Femmes
One woman's story
Throughout the DRC, ravaged by over two decades of war, the work is difficult and dangerous. In certain areas the female human rights defender is seen as opposing traditional customs; her family tries to force her to abandon her work, for her safety and theirs. Read more.
To address this catastrophe, the organization Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles-SFVS (Women's Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence) formed in 2002. Based in North Kivu province, SFVS unites the experiential skills of 35 Congolese organizations, working in three sections:
• legal defense
The medical section cares for sexual-violence survivors: surgical repairs of fistulas, HIV testing, and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The psycho-social section has established 20 "listening houses" for victims of sexual violence; it holds seminars on the effects of sexual violence and trains counselors in psychological trauma work and family mediation. To help survivors reintegrate into society, SFVS provides them with income generating skills: dyeing techniques, sewing, braiding, livestock herding, and farming. The legal defense section lobbies for equal justice and coordinates legal assistance for victims of violence. It has also trained judges on sexual violence law, and initiated a campaign for establishing tribunals of international and Congolese judges to try high-rank military offenders for sexual violence and war crimes in DRC. SFVS broadcasts awareness messages on national radio and TV, and organizes conferences on Congolese law and the societal effects of rape.
The work is complex, hard, often perilous. But SFVS co-founder and coordinator Justine Masika Bihamba, herself the recipient of the Dutch Human Rights Tulip Award for her work, says, "I chose this work because my passion for the women and young people who are suffering from this human cruelty is so great that I dream of contributing to the mobilization of communities against the violence, as well as getting Congolese authorities to focus on the causes, and not the consequences, of the sexual violence."
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Synergie and World Organization Against Torture Hold Training Workshop In April 2013, Synergie and the World Organization Against Torture organized the first training workshop on the effective use of human rights mechanisms to eradicate violence against women in North and South Kivu. Article in French only
Synergie des Femmes releases 2012 Annual Report See the report (French only) here (pdf, 1.1MB)
"A Champion for Congolese Women"A profile recently published by the Women's Media Center says, Justine Bihamba "is making a difference at the world's epicenter of rape—in the Democratic Republic of Congo." Read the full story.
Watch video of Justine Bihamba
SFVS appeals to Hillary Clinton to implement the Dodd-Frank ActRecently, Justine Bihamba sent an urgent message to the Secretary of State, urging the implementation of the Dodd- Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Read the letter (PDF).