The announcement was made after the foreign secretary, William Hague, made a visit to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). There, alongside Angelina Jolie, acting as special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner, Mr Hague toured a camp in the north-west of Goma. Here, he met women who were victims of sexual violence. Rape is frequently used as a weapon by armed fighters to terrorise local communities and with continuing instability in the east, rape cases have been rising.
Support and help are especially needed, because many women are abandoned by their families and communities after they’ve been raped. Speaking to the Guardian, one mother said her husband had left her after she was raped. Alone with her children, she was also rejected by her husband’s parents and by her village. Sobbing, she explained “they say I am a soldier’s mistress”.
According to conservative estimates from the United Nations, around 200,000 women and young girls have been raped in the DR Congo since 1998, some of them as young as eight years old. The money from the UK will go towards training medical staff to improve the help given to these victims. This will include psychological care and training to provide women with skills which allow them to find independent livelihoods.
As well as the money pledged to support the health system, Mr Hague also announced funding of 850,000 pounds for the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. This will support the work of this advocacy group in documenting cases of rape in the east of the DR Congo. Such documentation could assist in providing evidence for cases before the international criminal court.
However, while Mr Hague and Angelina Jolie were visiting one camp on the shores of Lake Kivu, a spokesperson for the group Refugees International (RI) called for more humanitarian aid to be dispensed in unofficial camps in the DR Congo. The organisation reported that only around one in nine displaced people in North Kivu province were living in official camps, where assistance is coordinated by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). RI say another 8,000 people live in unofficial sites, where aid and support are also desperately needed. Speaking to IRIN, an RI spokesperson said “aid budgets may be tight, but...UNHCR should assist the neediest people”. And as in the official sites, this need includes improving security for women and girls, leaving them less vulnerable to attack.