Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls
ESSAY CONTAINS EXPLICIT CONTENT
Rape, weapon of war in Eastern Congo
In the eastern part of The Democratic Republic of Congo, tens of thousands of women and young girls are being raped with impunity and extreme brutality by all sides in the conflict, civilians, militiamen, armed groups, foreign-armed groups and members of the Congolese Army.
In most cases, many men rape women at the same time, what is know as ‘gang rape’. Not only are the women raped, but also their vaginas are mutilated with guns and sticks. In many cases, the women are raped in front of their children, their husbands, families and neighbors. This shows that rape is being used as a weapon of war to punish or dehumanize the women themselves, or to persecute the community to which they belong.
According to the United Nations, in the province of South Kivu local health centres report that an average of 40 women is raped daily, as a rule of thumb in such situations says the UN, for every rape that is reported, as many as 10 or 20 cases might be unreported. 14.200 women and young girls were registered as being raped between 2005 and 2007 in South Kivu. Complete statistics of the scale of rape in North Kivu do not exist. According to December 2007 United Nations figures, around 350 rape cases were reported every month in North Kivu.
Behind these alarming figures are individual women whose dignity, autonomy and health are constantly under threat. The consequences of rape are devastating; survivors regularly suffer from emotional disorders and mental health problems for the rest of their lives. They also have extensive damage to their reproductive system including miscarriages, infertility, difficult pregnancies, pain in their fallopian tubes, and, fistulas, causing leaking of urine and faces. Rape also increases their risk of contagion with HIV/AIDS, not to mention those who meet their death.
Likewise, there is such stigma associated with rape in Congo – where female virginity is prized and the husband of a rape survivor is considered shamed – that rape survivors are routinely shunned by husbands, parents and communities.
Legal assistance is rare and inadequate in Eastern Congo, where impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence remains a major issue.
Walter Astrada was born in 1974 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He started his career as a staff photographer at the local, La Nacion newspaper. After a formative trip through South America, he joined the Associated Press in Bolivia and later in Argentina, Paraguay and then the Dominican Republic.
From March 2005 until March 2006 Walter worked as a freelancer for Agence France Presse in the Dominican Republic and was represented and distributed by World Picture News. However, in March 2006 he moved to Spain from where he is working as a freelancer. During 2008 and 2009 he covered Eastern Africa out of Uganda. Currently he is based in Madrid, working on a long-term project about violence against women. Since February 2010 he is represented exclusively by Reportage by Getty Images.
Walter won 3 World Press Photo, The Bayeux-Calvados award for War Correspondents, NPPA-BOP, ‘Photojournalist of the Year’ and ‘Best of Show,’ the PGB ‘Photographer of the Year’ and ‘Picture of the Year,’ World Press Photo and PDN annual, among others.