With 48 rapes per hour according to a speculative study by the American Journal of Health, the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be notorious for being the "rape capital of the world," as described in 2010 by Margot Walström, Special Representative for the United Nations on Sexual Violence in Conflicts. Rape has been used as a weapon of war during the conflict that has torn the eastern part of the country for about 10 years. The rapes - collective in most of the cases and committed by both civilians and soldiers – have ever since ravaged the Congolese communities.
Today, about 10 years after peace accords were signed and a year after the second general elections were held, new trends show that rape by combatants is on the wane in eastern Congo but indicates at the same time that the number of civilian perpetrators rises in the whole country. Contrary to the image conveyed, the phenomenon of sexual violence is not anymore exclusively connected to the existence of an armed conflict.
The war in the DRC is over in most parts of the country, but women and girls remain targets for sexual violence. As a direct aftermath of several years of war, it seems that there has been an acceptance of sexual violence by the Congolese society. This reflects a general breakdown in social norms, withering of traditional conflict resolution and community sanction mechanisms, and absence of functioning state law enforcement and judicial institutions. The men who carry out these sexual crimes, both civil and military, are rarely questioned, judged, or arrested for their crimes. The girls and women - also victims of sexual mutilations, forced marriages, and prostitution - often suffer a double penalty. Destroyed physically and psychically, considered as "dirty" and relegated, they are eventually rejected by their community. For fear of being abandoned and because they are ignorant of their rights, many of them take refuge in silence.
Violent societies beget violent societies, especially when they refuse to acknowledge or seek accountability for wartime trauma.
In 2011, I received the Getty Images Creative Grant to create sensitization tools for AFPDE, a Congolese women nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping sexual violence in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, I had the opportunity to portray and collect testimonies from victims of sexual violence. I was struck by their courage and resilience and also by the outrageous injustice suffered by the Congolese women.
I now wish to use the Aftermath Project Grant to go back to Eastern Congo (Katanga, South Kivu, and North Kvu provinces), in order to continue portraying women struggling in a society dismantled after years of war, and illustrating this climate of impunity that allows sexual violence to flourish. I will also use the grant to document the work of women and activists who wish to stop the impunity by strengthening the Congolese judicial system and changing the perception of the communities toward victims of sexual violence, as well as the outstanding achievements of the general Panzi hospital, run by Doctor Denis Mukwege, that has received 16,000 victims of rapes since 2000.
Gwenn Dubourthoumieu (b. France, 1978) became interested in photography while working in Africa for NGOs. He worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2007 and established himself in Kinshasa as a professional photographer from April 2010 to February 2012, working for the French Press Agency. He recently moved to Paris and joined Myop agency. Since 2010, his work has been regularly awarded. This year, he was awarded second place at the NPPA Best of Photojournalism Awards in the category "The Art of Entertainment." Additionally, his work “Turkana Warriors” was short listed at the Sony World Photography Awards and listed as one of the 10 best series in the Fine Art – Portraiture category. His feature about “the child-witches of Kinshasa” was awarded the jury’s special prize at the 8th Days Japan International Photojournalism Festival. In 2011, the same work was awarded the jury’s special mention at the Roger Pic Prize and the investigation prize at the European Journalism Festival. Gwenn received the Getty Images Grant for Good for his work “Raped Lives” about sexual violence in the DRC. In 2010, he was short listed among the exceptional finalists of the same grant and was awarded the jury special prize at the International Scoop and Journalism Festival of Angers for his work “Etat d’Armes."