Rape is a serious offence that should be treated as a crime against humanity, alongside genocide and war crimes, representatives of women's organisations in Africa's Great Lakes region have proposed.
"Studies undertaken in all our countries have shown that rape has become a real epidemic in our region," Marie Ingabile, a Rwanda gender expert, said on Wednesday in a statement issued at the end of a three-day workshop in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"That is why we are raising men's awareness by explaining to them that these women who are being raped, physically wounded and humiliated are their mothers, spouses, daughters and that men suffer also in that respect," she added.
The workshop, attended by participants from Burundi, DRC, Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, was in preparation for an international conference on the Great Lakes, planned for Nairobi, Kenya, later this year.
Several thousands of women as well as girls have been raped in the civil wars that have ravaged the Great Lakes region for years. Moreover, rape is still being perpetrated in a number of hot spots, despite most of the countries in the region being in a post-conflict situation.
During the workshop, the women said they wanted their request to be translated into a law to make rape a punishable offence. This law, they said, should be enforced in national courts of Great Lakes countries.
Moreover, the women urged their governments to compensate rape victims and pay for their medical and psychological treatment. They said most rape victims were often rejected by their families, or ended up with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, fistula and other dire medical conditions.
The workshop participants also requested that women play a key role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts in their respective countries.
"We ask that women be given ambassadorial positions as an acknowledgment of women's intellect and competence," Francois Ngendahayo, Burundi's minister for human rights, gender and national solidarity, said.