Journalist Fights To Give Voice To Congo Victims For more than a decade in the Democratic Republic of Congo, war has led an epidemic of violence against women. Amnesty International estimates that 200,000 women have been raped by government soldiers and rebel fighters. Chouchou Namegabe, a radio journalist, has traveled throughout the most dangerous parts of Congo, capturing the stories of women. Namegabe talks about the women she has met and her mission to give them a voice on her radio program.

Journalist Fights To Give Voice To Congo Victims

Journalist Fights To Give Voice To Congo Victims

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For more than a decade in the Democratic Republic of Congo, war has led an epidemic of violence against women. Amnesty International estimates that 200,000 women have been raped by government soldiers and rebel fighters. Chouchou Namegabe, a radio journalist, has traveled throughout the most dangerous parts of Congo, capturing the stories of women. Namegabe talks about the women she has met and her mission to give them a voice on her radio program.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Now we go to Congo, where we're going to talk more about a subject we touched on earlier with Ofeibea, the way women and girls are being increasingly targeted by combatants on both sides of a conflict. This is especially true in the Congo, where for the past decade, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by civil conflict and war.

The eastern region of Kivu has been one of the hardest hit and has become known as the epicenter of horrific violence against women. And I should warn our listeners that the subject matter of this conversation may be very difficult and even inappropriate for some listeners.

Human Rights Watch estimates that some 200,000 women and girls have been raped in Congo since 1998. Both rebel fighters and government soldiers have been known to use rape as a cheap weapon of war to destroy the family and spread disease. The agony of the experience has left thousands of Congolese women and girls frightened and socially stigmatized.

One woman has fought back, not with a gun, but with a microphone. Chouchou Namegabe, a radio journalist, has traveled through the most dangerous places in Congo to talk to rape survivors and try to give them a voice through her radio program.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PROGRAM)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHOUCHOU NAMEGABE: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Chouchou is one of this year's Knight International Journalism Award recipients for her work in this area, and she joins us now in our studios in Washington. Welcome, and thank you so much for joining us.

NAMEGABE: Thank you, too, Michel.

MARTIN: Is it hard to get people to talk to you about these terrible things that have happened to them?

NAMEGABE: At the beginning, it was hard, yes. And even to us, we had to prepare ourselves how to meet with victims, how to behave in front of them, what attitudes to have so as they can talk freely to us. So we had first to prepare ourselves, to train ourselves how to meet with the victims. And for them, it was the first step to heal their internal wounds because they had someone to whom they could talk, to whom they could explain what happened to them, and to others who were still hiding, they came to us. They said, ah, we thought that we were the only person who had that problem, but after listening to other testimonies, we can talk, also.

MARTIN: I would like to play a short clip of an interview that you conducted with a very young girl who has been raped. It is in her local language. I'm going to ask you to help us with the translation. I'm just going to play it, and here it is.

Unidentified Girl: (Foreign language spoken)

NAMEGABE: I'm 13 years old. My village is Kalonge(ph). They took my mother and hung her on a tree and started raping her. She doesn't know how many raped her. Yeah.

MARTIN: How old was this young girl when you met her?

NAMEGABE: She was 14 years old.

MARTIN: How do you understand how human beings can do this to each other?

NAMEGABE: I've never understand. I've never understand why such atrocities. Before, I thought that to rape women is for sexual pleasure of military, of rebels. That was my thinking, but when I heard about atrocities which are following the rape through Democratic Republic of Congo, for me, I can't imagine why they are doing that because, you know, it's really a way to destroy all the community by using women's body.

MARTIN: But it's torture. I mean, it's just torture, and it just seems to...

NAMEGABE: Torture, and they don't like to kill them, you know. No. It means that they use that atrocities on the women's bodies, but it's not to kill them, to let them suffering with that all their life because, you know, victims are rejected by their families, by all the community. Someone has to sensitize the community to accept them and to show, to show the problem, that it's not a problem of women, but it's the problem of all the community. And we have - everybody has to do something to help to end it or to help victims.

MARTIN: Why do you think women are still stigmatized who have been treated in such a despicable way? Do people feel it's their fault, that they did something to bring this onto themselves?

NAMEGABE: Yes. You know, it's a shame to see that your mother, your sister, your children was being raped, and so the family, it's ashamed. It's really ashamed. That's why they reject them. They can't live with her when she was being raped. She lose her dignity. She lose all the consideration that she has in the community, and there is no way to get it again. That is why we make many sensitization on the community to accept that, to show that it's a big problem of all the community. It's not a problem of women.

MARTIN: Do you feel that you're making any progress?

NAMEGABE: Yes. We have already make many progress because there are NGOs now which are doing reintegrations. It means the victim has got medical assistance, psychological assistances. Sometimes it doesn't work. They are fleeing. Again, they're running away from their village. So it's really hard to victims to reintegrate their community.

MARTIN: Is there anything that the people listening to our conversation can do to help you?

NAMEGABE: Many things. My first thing that I ask to everyone, to get involved into fighting against rape and sexual violences, and that's why we say to talk about it is to act. It means everywhere you are, you can talk about the problem of Congolese women, and it will be a way to make pressure, to make pressure to government, to make pressure to those who have got power to stop it.

MARTIN: Chouchou Namegabe is the president and founder of AEFM. That's the South Kivu Association of Women Journalists. She's one of the recipients of the 2009 Knight International Journalism Award for her work bringing attention to the survivors of the rape epidemic in Congo, and she was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington. Chouchou, thank you so much for speaking with us, and thank you for your very important work.

NAMEGABE: Thank you very much, Michel, to invite me, and thank you for all the listeners.

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