Hundreds of Congolese women appealed to their government on Saturday for better protection against gender-based violence, a persistent problem despite the end of years of fighting in the country.
"In recent years, young men have taken pleasure in flirting with immoral values," Micheline Ngoulou, who heads the Congolese Association Against Violence Against Women, said. "They used [the] period of chaos to inflict violence against those who are most vulnerable: women."
The appeal was made at a rally of womens' organisations in the capital, Brazzaville, two days after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The organisations called for tougher laws against offenders; the improvement of information and prevention mechanisms and a national programme to allow victims and offenders to reintegrate into society.
They also called for other initiatives - outside the prison system - to address gender-based violence.
A member of the Congolese Association of Female Lawyers, Blanche Zissi, said the focus should also be on soliciting the active participation of the public in stemming violence against women. She said urban neighbourhoods should be made more aware of gender-based violence so that a warning system could be set up.
"Human rights activists, wherever they are, are already doing this almost daily. All they need to do is include other people concerned with the respect for human rights into their network," she said.
In Congo, rape and sexual harassment top the list of violence acts against women. Years of wars and political instability have contributed to male victimisation of women, rights bodies have said.
A study conducted by MSF-France between July and November 1999 shows that of some 100,000 people who returned home as the civil war wound down, at least 35,000 women were reported to have been raped.
[On the Net: IRIN Web Special: Our Bodies - Their Battleground: Gender-based Violence in Conflict Zones: http://www.irinnews.org/webspecials/gbv/default.asp ]