‘Now, every woman knows she needs to fight violence everywhere’, the Congolese human rights activist Julienne Lusenge told me on the sidelines of the Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy last month.
In a video interview with openDemocracy 50.50, she talks about the struggle to end wartime sexual violence and why she appreciates the MeToo campaign. A lightly edited transcript of this conversation is below.
Nandini Archer (NA): Tell me a little about your work.
Julienne Lusenge (JL): I’m Julienne Lusenge, and I’m an activist. We support women survivors of violence in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] and we promote peace in our country.
NA: What do you think is the biggest misconception, or what’s the least understood, about wartime sexual violence?
JL: I think people don’t understand why violence continues to develop in the DRC. If we don’t work for peace, to restore peace in our country, we won’t put an end to violence against women, and so we need to work for peace.
NA: And what have been some of the biggest successes in recent years? Wartime sexual violence has been in the international news a lot.
JL: The big success is that each woman knows that she needs to fight violence, everywhere… And we saw survivors come together to fight sexual abuse.
We see young people denounce it, even if they have abuse from teachers or pressure, they denounce that. And we now see some judges engaged, to fight this violence, and we now we see our government recognise this situation.
In the past, our government did not accept to recognise that this violence is a big problem in our country. And now we see that in the world, people are coming together to say we need to fight violence.
I appreciate the campaign MeToo, because it allows each women to denounce this. In the past, people thought it’s only in poor countries, as the DRC, that violence, abuse or sexual abuse is a very big problem. Now we know that, even in America or Europe, it’s a problem. Women know that each woman, wherever she is, she can be victim – and we need to come together to fight this.
In the past, people thought it’s only in poor countries, as the DRC, that violence, abuse or sexual abuse is a very big problem. Now we know that, even in America or Europe, it’s a problem.
In the DRC, war is about resources, they come to steal our resources, and they kill us. They need to take the space; they need to push people out.
Today, in Beni, Uganda’s rebels come and kill everyone. It’s not possible. But the European people know; the European Commission knows; the USA knows; they know. The leaders in the world know, but they don’t take action.
When Ebola happened in Beni, they came and said, ‘we need to fight Ebola, we need to fight Ebola’. But people said: How can you fight only Ebola? And you don’t fight those rebels who kill us everyday. You need you to fight to rebels and to fight Ebola. So we can be in peace and go to our field and work.
NA: And what do you feel most proud of in your work?
JL: Maybe I can give you just one example – I have many examples to give to you. Because we have today, I can show you, children who were born from rape, and today they grow; they study; they have diplomas; and they continue to study in university. Some of them have babies, today they are married, and some women who came to us as victims, today they are activists – they help themseves, and other survivors, to stand up to continue fighting.
But we aren’t finished, we continue to work; we continue to help women; we continue to mobilise money for the grassroots; and we continue to do advocacy everywhere, internationally, nationally and locally – we go to meet authorities to speak to them. When I went to the UN council, I spoke to them, I told them that they must understand that women in the DRC need peace. And we don’t need any other resolution. Now we have enough resolutions. We need just them to implement those resolutions – that can help. We have a big mission in the DRC and we need them to fight for peace. We need peace in the DRC.
We cannot understand how in the DRC women have no water, no electricity, no hospital. It’s not possible. This year, I went to a village in Beni. We gave women water; we organised that; we paid for that. Women came to me, they danced, they sang, they were very happy, because it’s the first time for them to have water in the village. Every time they went far to look for water, and rebels killed them, kidnapped them, raped them. Now they have water in the village. It gives me encouragement to continue to work, to continue to mobilise money.
We cannot understand how in the DRC women have no water, no electricity, no hospital. It’s not possible.
NA: With the increased attention to sexual violence in wartime situations, has it changed anything in terms of the money you’re receiving?
JL: We cannot say that we have enough to continue to work, because it’s not enough. We need more money, and I need donors to understand that, even if we’re Congolese organisations, we have tools to manage money and we are clever and we are able to manage this money and to give reports.
Because every time they say ‘ah grassroots organisations, Congolese organisations cannot [do this]’. But we can do that, and we do that, because every year we do audits and we have some donors who gave us money ten years ago. We have this confidence.
But I need to say to donors to believe in us and to give us money. Congolese women’s group are able to manage money and change our country... We cannot have democracy in the DRC if women do not participate at the political level. And to have women in this place, we need to support them, we need to train them, so they can be able to participate in that way.
* 50.50 reported from the World Forum for Democracy (WFD) events in Strasbourg as part of openDemocracy’s partnership with the 2018 WFD.