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Marceline Kongolo-Bice

Fern Holland Award, 2009

The Congo

Focus Areas

Gender-Based Violence

In Congo, the protection and rehabilitation of women suffering from systematic use of rape as a weapon is one of the most difficult and desperately-needed work being done on the ground. Those working on the empowerment of victims of sexual violence often work “under the microscope.” Women’ s rights advocates have repeatedly been targeted over the past few years in hopes of silencing their voices, as they call attention to the government’ s inability to control the state and non-state armed groups currently operating in the region who regularly target women.

Marceline has been working with women who have been raped since she was 18. SOS Femmes en Dangers, the NGO she founded in 2003, concerns itself not just with healing and rehabilitation of rape victims, but also with empowering women throughout Fizi Territory so that they may better know their rights, defend themselves, and rally together to demand that the voices of the thousands of women raped monthly be heard and addressed. Her programs include: 1) reporting and documenting incidents of rape; 2) visiting and aiding the psychological recovery of rape victims; 3) collecting funding to pay schooling fees for young girls; 4) organizing conferences and formations in South Kivu to highlight the abuse of women and generate support for their protection and assistance in seeking justice; and, 5) literacy programs for victims of rape unable to continue with school work due to the nature of the crimes committed against them.

Raised in Maniema province, which borders North and South Kivu, war has been her daily reality since birth. At age 13, she was ordered by a militia in her region to live as a wife for a local commandant. Upon her refusal and her family’ s support of her bravery, they were all imprisoned without charges ever being pressed before their eventual release. After years of insecurity throughout Maniema province Marceline was forced to flee with part of her family toward Kisangani in 2001. Ugandan soldiers had occupied the roads surrounding Kisangani. Marceline’ s father and older brother were killed by soldiers while fleeing. After the murders, Marceline and her remaining family members were forced once again to flee, this time to Bukavu, in South Kivu, and then further South into Fizi Territory, which at the time was embroiled in conflict between various militias. Reports from Fizi at the time mentioned the widespread rape of women as young as 11 and as old as 80.

In Fizi, Marceline and her family waited out the end of the war, which formally came in 2003 with the withdrawal of the majority of foreign troops. Witnessing the massacres and rampant rape of women in her home province, and in every location to which she fled, Marceline devoted her efforts to beginning to advocate for rape victims in Fizi, despite the continued presence of various militias waging their campaign of violence against women.

As Marceline saw the degradation in Fizi, in particular concerning women and children, she designed numerous interventions to respond to the most urgent needs. She began a series of conferences to respond to the rampancy of HIV/AIDS in the community which accompanied the rapes, working to break down stereotypes and inform the community on their obligation to support those victimized and forced to carry forever viruses transmitted by perpetrators. In addition, she began regular visits to survivor of rape who had been abandoned by their communities and families. A network of women formed and privided emotional support to the women. Marcelline collaborated with other groups to provide additional health and nutritional information.