Alexandra Vasseur, an independent consultant was in charge of a large multi-annual evaluation of the international response to sexual violence in the DRC. The evaluation shows a lack of progress, despite years of international interventions in the DRC. A more holistic approach of sexual violence is needed to make sustainable progress. Such approach is based on awareness raising, a strong sectoral engagement and an increased commitment to end impunity.
ENABEL SRHR-expert Marleen Bosmans presented the ‘Programme de lutte contre la violence sexuelle’, developed in response to the shortcomings in the implementation of Congo’s national strategy in the uptake of sexual violence. ENABEL has committed itself to an alternative response by means of ‘one stop centers’. The one-stop centers provide family planning, HIV and STI prevention and awareness raising, in addition to care. The centers collaborate closely with existing civil society associations to reach as many women as possible. However, ENABEL staff also experience difficulties regarding victims’ access to legal support and protection. Moreover, future funding of the one-stop centers remains unsure, and difficulties continue in terms of reaching people living in rural areas and ensuring a sound collaboration with Congolese partners. The absence of a new federal government in Belgium complicates the continuation of the programme.
Taking the sociocultural context into account
Dr. Olivier Schmitz, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) explained the role of social anthropology and more particularly the grounded theory in developing the response. This approach allows a better grasp of the complexity of the phenomenon of sexual violence as well as taking the socio-cultural context of victims into account. Dr. Schmitz organized focus groups for a better understanding of the local perception of sexual violence. These data allowed the understanding of the consequences of sexual violence for different types of victims to be enhanced. The use of socio-anthropological research allows the socio-cultural context to be taken into account when developing and implementing programmes, and is considered to be at the basis of the success of the one-stop centers. The insights of the study helped to rewrite the instruction manuals for care providers in a way that makes them more aligned with their outlook and that of the victims.
Realizing a comprehensive response
Dr. An Verelst, Ghent University, explained how the revision of existing protocols allowed a move from ‘grounded theory’ to ‘grounded care’. Previous programmes were not adjusted to the local realities. The grounded theory allowed an understanding of the interlinkages of psycho-social, economic and medical consequences of sexual violence and the development of a comprehensive response. An Verelst also flagged the need to tackle the stigma endured by victims and their families. Finally, she underlined the need to enlarge the protocols to include children, who have been not been included in the current approach.
The parliamentarians raised a range of questions concerning the collaboration with local feminist associations, the importance of comprehensive sexuality education, sexual violence against LGBTQI, and the financing of the centers.