By Nina Ford, Communications Associate, Promundo.
Women and girls in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have experienced devastating effects of conflict, particularly when it comes to sexual violence.
Research from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) in eastern DRC confirms that 22% of women were raped as part of the conflict, and almost 30% were forced to witness sexual violence. Frequently, the violence does not stop there: men often reject their spouses who have been raped or respond with further violence.
Kyalu and her husband Abby, who live in eastern DRC, know this to be true. After Kyalu experienced sexual violence, perpetrated by rebels in 2008, Abby began to use violence against her at home. Through group therapy, Abby started to take responsibility for his violence, and for its prevention – overcoming the trauma of the conflict to begin living peace together.
This is the story they wanted to tell:
During the war in 2008, Kyalu and Abby traveled to the Congolese village of Walikale in search of work in the coltan mines. Rebels stopped and detained the couple. They raped Kyalu before releasing her, and they forced Abby to do hard labor for three months before he was able to escape. Kyalu gave birth to a baby boy as a result of the rape.
“Finding out what they did to my wife was unbearable. I felt powerless to do anything. I sent her away to live with her parents.”
Unable to cope with feelings of rage, helplessness, and shame, Abby rejected Kyalu, who spent the next three years living with her parents. When friends and family finally convinced Abby to allow Kyalu to return, her homecoming was met with violence.
Unfortunately, Kyalu and Abby’s story is not unique.
In eastern DRC, while over 20% of women were raped during the conflict, about 65% have experienced violence – including sexual violence – from a husband or male partner.
There has been global attention around rape as a weapon of war in DRC. However, less attention has been paid to the violence women experience outside of conflict, as well as war’s long-lasting psychological impacts – including its effects on women’s experiences of violence at home.
Conflict-related trauma is not the only driver of intimate partner violence; indeed, many men and women in Promundo’s IMAGES study were found to have troubling attitudes around violence and gender equality more broadly: 65% of men and 78% of women, for example, agreed that a woman should tolerate violence to keep the family together. Additionally, almost a third of men agree that rights for women mean that men lose out.
Based on this research, which found a strong link between men’s own experiences of trauma and their use of violence against partners, Promundo developed Living Peace in 2012.
While direct health and counseling services for survivors of sexual violence are imperative, Living Peace, a group therapy approach, supplements these services. It provides psychosocial support, and a space to question violence-supportive attitudes and behaviors, for men and their partners, allowing them to develop positive, nonviolent coping mechanisms to deal with trauma.
Over the course of about 15 group meetings, participants work to restore healthy relationships free of violence. They build a collective sense of accountability for violence and take on responsibility for preventing it.
In the Living Peace groups, Abby listened to the stories of other men who shared common experiences. After the sixth workshop, Abby began to change. He started coming home early, talking and listening to Kyalu, and caring for her child as one of his own.
“When he started caring for my other son, I couldn’t believe it at first. Was I dreaming?” Kyalu said. “He changed, so I chose to forgive him.”
Abby participated in Living Peace in 2013. Now, in 2015, Promundo is scaling up the initiative in DRC’s North and South Kivu provinces with Institut Supérieur du Lac (ISL), Benenfance, and HEAL Africa. The initiative will reach over 300,000 individuals in DRC through group therapy, community activism and training of police and military to rebuild men’s peaceful, non-violent identities and relationships.
Watch Living Peace: The Story of Abby and Kyalu, produced by Promundo with GoodFight Media. The film was launched at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum in South Africa.
Learn more about Promundo here.