Our Bodies...their battleground: Gender-based Violence during Conflict

THEY FIND US IN THE FIELDS as we plant. THEY FIND US BY THE RIVER as we fetch water. THEY FIND US IN THE FOREST as we collect wood .

They are the nameless, faceless bandits-rebels-military
They abuse our bodies, take our souls, empty our guts
Then throw us away

We are the trash they leave behind in their wars

We are the silent ones you see by the side of the road
The ones once called mother, sister, wife, daughter
We are the ones discarded by husbands

We are used up, defiled by other men, dirty
Unwanted, unseen, unheard, UNDONE

We are the battleground - the ammunition
in a war never seen, never heard
Felt only by us…


Throughout the world, wherever there is conflict, women, girls and babies are subjected to an unimaginable terror. This terror comes not from the bullet or the bomb, but from the threat of sexual violence… a weapon of war that has now reached epidemic proportions.

According to the World Health Organization, gender based violence accounts for more death and disability among women between 15 & 44 years old than the combined effects of cancer, malaria, traffic injuries and war.

Mass rape in war has been documented in Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, rape and other forms of gender based violence have not been getting the public and humanitarian attention they deserve. 

Talks about how trendy the whole issue of SBV has become and that must not be a flash in the pan. 

The conflict in DRC is one of the most deadly ever documented in Africa and has claimed an estimated 3.3 million lives since 1998. Most of these victims have been women, children and the elderly.

‘In this country there has become a culture of violence…’ 

This film uses the case of the DRC to demonstrate how sexual violence inflicted on women and children during conflict can destroy the social fabric of a country.

International and local grass roots non-governmental organizations or NGOs are doing their best to provide the care and support that these women need.

The “official” governmental and judicial systems needed to effectively handle these cases, are in shambles. 

Jean Nicholas Beuze This is a lawless country, justice for these crimes is impossible

Doctors on Call Service or DOCS is a local hospital that was set up by Lyn Lusi and her husband, in 1995. With the support of UNICEF it has become a refuge for raped and abused women.

‘Was set up in response to huge need for medical and psychological assistance from women in DRC. Go out and find women and bring the worst cases to DOCS...’ 

Many of the women who arrive are suffering from a debilitating incontinence caused by a ‘fistula’, a tear between the rectum and vaginal wall resulting from brutal gang rapes and genital torture. Not only does the fistula affect their ability to walk but the smell and the humiliation it causes can be far harder to deal with. 

LL describes the state that these women arrive in. How DOCS teaches them to keep clean and re-establish their self esteem etc. 

On arrival at DOCS, the women are immediately screened for Sexually Transmitted Infections. Anti retroviral drugs that reduce the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS must be taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. However, most patients have had to walk for at least 4 days to reach the hospital and they are often too late.

CLIP – Guy gives women positive test results

CLIP – Lyn Lusi (literacy) and Fred Teaching


When it’s time to leave DOCS, many women have not only recovered physically but have also learned new skills to take away with them.

CLIP – Lyn Lusi

How its v satisfying to see women who arrived and signed with their thumb, leave writing their name with a pen. Leaving DOCS is a sad and happy occasion.


For these women, however, returning to normal life will never be easy.

CLIP – Lyn Lusi Blind Woman

One of the saddest cases we’ve had here at DOCS….goes onto to describe case of Balseme who had eyes taken out during rape and now has to live a life blind, no house and poor hearing due to beatings.


Such devastating physical disabilities can change women’s lives forever. In addition, there is a form of psychological trauma, caused by the rejection from their husbands and their communities that can be the hardest part of all to deal with.

CLIP - Marie-Donatienne Nyakasane (PIAF case)

Tells story of how she was attacked in house in front of husband and children, daughter (8yr) raped too, describes in detail


For Marie Donatienne life will never be the same again. Her husband blamed her for what happened and has recently cast her out of their home leaving her financially destitute, and with their six children to raise on her own. Having watched his 8 year old daughter being gang raped by 4 men, he has cut off her school fees as he sees her as unmarriageable and therefore unworthy of further education.

After her ordeal Marie was determined to move on. She and other NGO activists took a petition to the local governor in Goma, asking him to take action to stop violence against women.

CLIP - Jean-Niclas Beuze – Haut Commissionariat aux Droits de l’Homme, Goma

He describes petition action and suggestions like providing street lighting so that women would be less at risk when doing chores…Take a firm commitment and outlines what was in letter.


Unfortunately, the reaction from the governor was not quite what they had hoped for.
He blames the Rwandan militia, the Interahamwe for nearly all the sexual atrocities in his region.

CLIP - Governor of Goma Region, Eugene Serufuli

‘I must stress that the majority of violations, at least 99%, are committed by the ex-FAR, Interahamwe; the people who carried out the genocide in Rwanda, people who are desperate, who are only here to continue perpetrating acts of vandalism, uncivil to a point that one cannot explain’.


With no system in place to monitor these crimes the culprits are rarely caught and with each military group blaming the others, responsibility for the violence is never accepted. Even with countless allegations against them, these captured members of the Interahamwe rebels continue to place the blame elsewhere.

CLIP Captured Interahamwe Rebels

‘There was a rule in FDLR that we had to abide by. If any soldier took a woman by force, he would get the death sentence. These acts were done then by soldiers who rebelled against the authority and deserted. In my opinion, they are the ones who committed these acts’.


Indeed why would the culprits accept responsibility for their crimes when the judicial system is in tatters.

CLIP - Magistrate –Jeanine Bakinasse
She explains how difficult it is to get cases through the present system as prosecutors pass cases to magistrates but they are not paid so accept payment to release the perpetrators.


Although numerous attempts have been made to prosecute rapists, the locals know of only one man who has ever been convicted in the DRC.

Some grass roots NGO’s assist rape victims in practical ways… seeking justice alone does not put food on the table but learning a marketable trade does…

CLIP - Josephine Salima, Director SOPROP (Solidarite pour la Promotion Sociale et la Paix)

Describes how many women are rejected from their community so they need to learn new trades to support themselves.


For some women their bodies will heal and maybe one day the psychological damage of their ordeals will gradually fade. This girl was forced to become a sex slave for a rebel army group for two years when her village was destroyed and her family killed. For her, such hope is impossible.

CLIP 4 - Elizabeth (17yrs)

‘We were taken to become soldiers for the Mayi Mayi. When we got there we were so many….we were in the bush when a big man came and took me. In fact all they did was come and take us often. They used to tie up the women and tie up their husbands to trees then take us. I stayed with them for so long and it didn’t matter any more who took me. I stayed until one day we went to Nyabiondo and found a man who brought me here’.


Elizabeth is now 17 years old. For the time being she has found shelter with a local NGO for rescued child soldiers. But one day she will have to leave and will be forced to struggle alone to bring up her daughter - who is the product of her years of sexual slavery.

CLIP - Lyn Lusi

Talks about the increasing number of children raped and how she thinks the idea is planted by an over zealous media sensationalizing incidents.

CLIP - 10 month baby rape story – army wife

She tells of leaving baby in house for short time and finding an army man in act of raping, he punished through army with help from Synergy


According to a 2004 Pole Institute study, 83% of the rapes in Goma are carried out by armed men. Although this army officer accepted that it was a problem caused by the military, he explained that the acts happened in areas outside the town which he claims are harder to control.

CLIP - Auditeur Militaire, Col. Franck Molishu

Explains that most of these crimes happen in the rural areas or ‘on the front’. That it was hard to control these people as they are short of resources to monitor the crimes in these areas and bring them to justice.


But even if resources were made available does he believe that there is any way of stopping sexual violence during conflict?

CLIP – Auditeur Miliatire

No, where there is war there will always be rape. It is part and parcel of the effects of War.


In the DRC a culture of impunity is left to fester as justice for these crimes against women is virtually non-existent. However, in the similarly war torn country of Liberia, woman are fighting back.

In 2003 AFELL, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, made their first major break through for women’s rights by changing matrimonial property law. With this mission accomplished, their next campaign is to change the legal definition of rape to include all of the sexual horrors carried out on women and children.

CLIP - Councellor Krubo B. Kollie

Explains how rape is beyond insertion of penis to include all instruments inserted into vagina.


Liberia experienced 14 years of civil war. During this period where 40% of women and girls were raped. Minister of Gender, Varbah Gayflor, a longtime women’s rights activist sees empowering women at the senior level as the key to long term change.

CLIP – Varbah Gayflor, Minister for Gender, Liberia.

Minister saying how much she will support Liberian women…but needs more women in government…That the women are ready and waiting.

Insert – Women shouting to stop violence in IDP camp


Despite the positive work that is going on in Liberia, poverty and destitution continue and victims of sexual atrocity are still in their thousands.

In Liberia and in the DRC the local NGO’s are able only to help pick up the shattered lives of the women who come in for help. Their pleas for change at the senior level continue to go unheard.

While there is no fear of prosecution, there is no end to the magnitude of these atrocities. It is only the authorities and government officials at the local level who are in a position to stop the violence. Only they can enforce existing laws, counter corruption in the judiciary and demand an accountable military.

CLIP – Lynn Lusi
Re the need for long term commitment



• During the 1990s war in Bosnia & Herzegovina between 20 and 50,000 women were raped

• In Rwanda during the1994 genocide between 250,000 and 500, 000 of the surviving females were raped

• In Sierra Leone over 50% of women who had contact with the Revolutionary United Front reported sexual violence

• Thousands of women in the DRC have been SYSTEMATICALLY raped during and after the civil war.

• There has only been one known case in the DRC where a man (soldier) was convicted of rape and sentenced to jail

• In Liberia, 40% of women and girls were raped during their 14 year civil war

• Reports from a DRC hospital suggested a 444% increase in victims of sexual attacks from 2002 to 2003.

• In Liberia, refugee women reported in 2003 that 65.2% their attackers were from the military.

• DOCS hospital in the DRC reported a 20.6% increase in rapes of children from January to May 2004.