What if you were mugged on the street or you or a loved one were kidnapped and raped and before the courts would prosecute the case you had to pay a fee? That is what happens in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here are the numbers, and when you look at them bear in mind that most of the victims have nothing, and if they do have an income it is probably just a few dollars per month.
• Fifteen to 20 percent to court of the amount of reparation expected.
• $5 to open the case
• $10 to investigate
• $35 to write up the case report
For example, if it is estimated that the amount of damages that may be awarded is $500, the oft-times penniless victim must come up with $75 to $100 for the court’s reparation percentage, plus another $50 for costs, for a total of $125 to $150, more money than she has had in her life.
I am here in Goma to continue the work started by Yvonne Troya and Charlotte Martinez of the 1st Presbyterian Church, Berkeley, to establish legal clinics in the Wamama Simameni (women stand together) safe houses for victims of violence—rape, domestic violence, assault, sexual and otherwise. These houses serve as transfer stations and collection points. After being attacked, and frequently disowned by her husband, thrown out of home and community because of the shame brought upon her husband and community by the rape, the victim can come to the safe house where she is cared for until she can be taken to Heal Africa hospital in Goma for treatment. After treatment and recovery, the woman may return to the Wamama Simameni where the work begins to integrate her back into the community.
To prepare them for reintegration, the Wamama Simameni offer training in making bread, sewing, soap, literacy. She may be eligible for a micro finance loan, and with the skills acquired at Wamama Simameni be able to eke out a living and care for herself and children.
At the safe houses people will be able to receive education regarding their civil rights and obligations, instruction designed to combat traditional beliefs and practices that suppress and harm women, and to empower women with regained sense of self esteem, self reliance and hope.
The legal clinics will be staffed with third year law student interns supervised by an experienced attorney and a professor from the Université Libre Pays Grands Lacs (Free University of the Great Lakes County). Women willing to prosecute will receive assistance in preparation of their cases and accompanied to the American Bar Association Rule of Law project in Goma for legal representation, and hopefully, financial assistance to pay the costs of proceeding with their case. Women are often in need of assistance in protecting their property and inheritance rights, as well as resolution of family issues. Legal advice and counseling will be available at the clinics.
Over half the wealth and potential wealth of nations rests in its women. It is time to remove the fetters, abandon abusive and ignorant conceptions of the status of women, end the atmosphere of impunity that encourages rape and abuse and enjoy the benefits for all of society when women are free from the shackles of the past.