Sexual violence is more than just a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo

November 12, 2012 Regional and International

Initial findings from the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) reveal that sexual violence is just as prevalent in homes as it is in conflict in North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A new study by Promundo and the Sonke Gender Justice Network conducted in Goma, eastern DRC finds that more than a third of men surveyed have carried out some form of sexual violence and more than three quarters hold deeply alarming attitudes about rape and women’s rights.

The report reveals that sexual violence, while sometimes implemented as a weapon a war, more often reflects widespread acceptance of patriarchal norms and rape myths that justify and normalise rape, the everyday subordination of women, and men’s a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. Sexual violence includes forcing a wife or partner to have sex, as well as stranger rape and other forms of forced sex.

The study also indicates that many men are themselves victims of various forms of violence, including of sexual violence, and shows a clear association between exposure to violence during childhood and increased likelihood of subsequent perpetration. Findings also affirm just how much conflict affects families in the DRC: three-quarters of men and women have had to leave their homes due to conflict.

The findings underscore how critical it is that the DRC government, UN agencies and other development partners promote and protect women’s rights, including by educating men and boys about women’s human rights and changing norms that fuel violence, end impunity for sexual violence and provide psycho-social services to the women, men and children affected by violence.

The survey, part of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey or IMAGES, was carried out in Goma, in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp and a military base, both located in Goma and in rural areas; the latter were the villages of Kiroche and Bweremana located 40 km south of Goma. Due to a new wave of conflict in the period of the research, rural areas farther from Goma were not accessible.     The survey followed standard household sampling techniques and was carried out with assistance from the government statistics bureau.

Findings from this study confirm that the majority of the population of the eastern DRC continues to live in extreme poverty and faces multiple vulnerabilities, which in turn create challenges for men and women to fulfill socially expected gender roles.

While many studies and efforts have been carried out to empower women and assist them in recovering from rape, fewer have examined the impact of economic disempowerment on men and on how gender relations are affected by conflict.

This study sought to provide a nuanced understanding of how gendered relations are affected by conflict and in turn inform the urgent need for humanitarian and human rights responses.  It is part of efforts by Promundo and the Sonke Gender Justice Network to engage men – alongside women – as change agents and activists in ending impunity around SGBV and promoting gender justice and social justice.

Key findings include:

While sexual violence during conflict has received far more attention than sexual violence outside of conflict, the survey confirms high degrees of rape-supportive attitudes among men affirming in many ways the perceived normality of rape. 37% of men surveyed report having raped a woman, and nearly a third of men believe that women sometimes want to be raped and that when a woman is raped, she may enjoy it. Nearly half of all men surveyed think that if a woman does not physically resist when forced to have sex, it is not rape, and, disturbingly, given the very high levels of rape in war, nearly half of all men surveyed say that a man should reject his wife if she has been raped.

48% of men report ever carrying out any form of physical violence (GBV) against a female partner, while 53% of women report ever having experienced GBV (from a male partner).

9% of all men and 22% of all women surveyed report having experienced sexual violence during the conflict. Furthermore, 16% of men report having been forced to watch rape carried out by others.

Witnessing violence by men against their mothers when they were children was statistically associated with men’s use of physical violence against female partners.  Age (with older men showing higher GBV use), education (lower educational attainment being associated with higher GBV use), and alcohol use also show statistically significant associations with men’s reports of GBV use.

At least half of the population lives below the absolute poverty line (less than one US dollar per day), and hunger is an all too common daily reality for respondents. 40% of men and 43% of women eat only one meal a day, while 12% of women and 11% men have only one meal every two days.

In addition to material hardship and hunger, the effects of lack of work and not having enough money to provide for their families are a source of tremendous stress for men and women.  Men often feel ashamed and depressed when they are not able to sustain their families. 72% of men report being ashamed to face their families because of a lack of work; 75% were ashamed to face their families because they couldn’t provide basic financial needs; and 78% are frequently stressed or depressed because they do not have work.

Promundo’s International Director Dr. Gary Barker says, “The DRC has frequently been called ‘the worst place in the world to be a woman.’  The results from our study affirm that at the time of this research, Goma and points nearby are among the worst places in the world to be women or men, and that it is only by transforming gender relations, engaging women and men, and combining gender justice with social justice, that true and lasting change will be possible for the women, men and children who call Goma and North Kivu their home.”


The International Men and Gender Equality Survey – created by and coordinated by Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women – is one of the most comprehensive studies ever on men’s practices and attitudes as they relate to gender equality, household dynamics, intimate partner violence, health and economic stress. As of the end of 2012, it will have been carried out in nine countries (including this study in DRC) with additional partner studies in Asia. The data is providing insights on men’s use of violence against partners, participation in caregiving, and men’s reactions to the global gender equality agenda, among other themes.

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