While medical and psychological care are being provided to survivors of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 7,000 women and girls have been raped this year alone, UN and aid workers on the ground say the funding response has been too narrow, leaving key issues inadequately addressed.
"Increased international attention to sexual violence in DRC has led to a substantial increase of funding, accompanied by a disproportionate lack of evaluations of the real needs on the ground and lack of understanding of the complexity of the issues," notes the Comprehensive Strategy on Combating Sexual Violence in the DRC, released in 2009 by the Office of the Senior Adviser and Coordinator for Sexual Violence in the DRC.
"Efforts are unevenly distributed [...] The programmatic focus is essentially on two sectors: medical and judicial support to sexual violence survivors, while the remaining sectors show very few interventions," according to the strategy.
The sectors receiving proportionally less funding and attention include prevention and reintegration.
"Just treating the results of sexual violence is a catastrophe. No one is really treating the root or the entirety of the situation. If you just care for the raped women, you will be caring for them up until infinity," said Butros Kalere of Women for Women.
Among those feeling the funding pinch is Heal Africa, a Goma-based NGO that provides medical and social care in the region.
"Sexual violence is not just a physical problem, but we often don't have enough funding and thus, we are limited to real work only for the immediate victims," the organization's community health coordinator, Jean Robert Likofata Esanga, told IRIN, adding that its programmes that focus on prevention, rehabilitation and re-integration continually suffer under-funding.
Effective prevention programming, according to Tasha Gill, child protection officer with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the DRC, "employs advocacy and awareness to mobilize the communities through community leaders, identifying the issues and working towards longer-term changes within local social norms, while alternately working towards protecting those who are most vulnerable".
Photo: Aubrey Graham/IRIN
|A woman and child at a centre for victims of sexual violence in Goma|
Gill also noted that the UN planned over the next few years to better direct funding so that "funding for this sort of prevention programming no longer falls through the cracks".
Even organizations that specialize in protection are feeling the pinch. "We usually try to reduce vulnerability and protect 1,000 women in the communities on the outskirts of Goma by providing them with skills training, literacy and financing a portion of their activities," explained an employee of one such NGO. "Now that our donor wants us to work more in an 'emergency' setting and we are confined to working in the IDP camps, it is very difficult as the population is always in flux. It's hard to keep track of them and be consistent with the training."
The UN's goals for re-integration include "ensuring victims' satisfaction and guaranteeing non-recurrence of sexual violence" as well as ongoing psycho-social care. However, the services are fragmented due to minimal funding, complicated coordination and the distances to be covered for transportation and service provision. Even in Goma's Kibati I IDP camp in July, women were returning without access to further counselling, education or skills-building.
As Constance, a Heal Africa counsellor, said: "We would like to help each victim reintegrate smoothly and carry on with counselling sessions, but we are limited to having a clinic or a skill centre nearby. We do not have the funds to help every woman through her return."
The UN's ideal plan for re-integration also includes a "survivor-centred skill approach". While some NGOs have funding to provide women with the opportunity to learn skills during their hospital stays, their use of those skills upon their return can be restricted by location and availability of material. For example, women are restricted in practising their sewing skills by lack of access to a sewing machine, while literacy skills are restricted by the lack of schools.
"Medical, protection, and legal/justice services and psycho-social care are part of treating sexual violence, but these services also need to include enabling women to be able to provide for their families... for them to feel like they can move on and take care of their children," Mendy Marsh, an independent expert on sexual violence, told IRIN.
Until funding for programmes addressing sexual violence in the DRC makes this a priority, prevention and rehabilitation funding and programming will continue to have to make do with a small percentage of current funding.