Amani Itakuya #9: Changing our approach to peace-building in DRC, committing to unraveling the roots of SGBV and the conflict

Changing our approach to peace-building in DRC, committing to unraveling the roots of SGBV and the conflict

Dominique Vidale-Plaza

Perhaps one of the largest stumbling blocks on the road to peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been the failure of peace actors to understand, acknowledge and incorporate in the peace-building process, the social dynamics that contribute to the multilayer, protracted conflict. IPS News Agency recently published an essay attesting that peace-building in the DRC has largely ignored existing local solutions, and that in order for it to be effective, ‘peace building requires intertwined processes and structures that run from the grassroots to the national level.’ This integration of the grassroots however, must go beyond simply inviting  the participation of civil society leaders, it also requires a commitment from all actors to understanding and addressing  the complex interplay among the range of social issues that comprise the conflict. Sexual gender based violence (SGBV) in particular, is one such social issue that has been grossly misunderstood and as a result, improperly treated in the peace-building and development processes in the DRC. The phenomenon of SGBV has by and large been oversimplified and as a result, most of the SGBV programs and actors that now proliferate in the DRC have failed to recognize how it is uniquely positioned in the continuum of factors contributing to and emerging from the Congolese conflict.

The basic understanding of SGBV that the majority of aid agencies and other actors draw from, is centered upon archetypal concepts of ‘war-rape’ and narratives, that while poignant, are fast becoming obsolete. The programs that then choose to operate using these aging definitions and anecdotes, focus on the immediate and obvious implications of sexual violence, in predominantly reactionary ways. A more thorough understanding of the SGBV phenomenon would display however, that it is not static and that our existing definition is insufficient. A more apt understanding of SGBV, would have to include, along with ‘war-rape’, elements such as, the gradual militarization of civilians, the growing numbers of female perpetrators, the use of sexual violence as a means of leveraging aid and other resources including land, and as a means of achieving an ideal of masculinity, just as a start.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of these elements currently missing from the prevailing understandings of SGBV, focus on the perpetrator and the motivations behind sexual violence. Efforts to date, have focused almost exclusively on providing a variety of albeit extremely important, holistic services to survivors, but by comparison, very little emphasis has been placed on the perpetrators and the roots of sexual violence. By analyzing the perpetrator and the social contexts and circumstances that have permitted him or her to evolve into a rapist, we will begin to understand just how inextricably connected SGBV is to many of the other ‘stumbling blocks’ to peace in the DRC, including the DDR process, corruption, impunity and poverty, all of which permit the emergence of perpetrators, whether they be military or civilian.

Once we have established that perpetrators and the perpetration of sexual violence are far more complex than the typical understanding of rape by bloodthirsty militiamen, we can see how SGBV programs to date have failed to appropriately address the phenomenon. A more successful SGBV response model should include proactive components that target the roots of sexual violence and the social constructs that have allowed it to become an epidemic in the DRC. It is this model that can then actually play a role in building a durable peace in this country.

Ultimately however, the argument of this essay is not to posit that simply an intuitive and revised approach to solving the SGBV crisis is what will eventually secure peace in the DRC. It is rather, that taking the time to uncover the dynamics behind sexual violence and other key elements of the conflict, would reveal that in fact, the conflict is by no means clear cut, linear or made up of distinct social woes operating independently of each other, therefore these social issues, whether they be military reform, or SGBV, should not be singularly addressed.

Perhaps it is because the peace process has been so exceedingly externally-led and influenced in so many ways, that so many of these intricacies and interconnectedness that rest heavily in culture and social identity have gone unrecognized. What then could be part of a viable solution to building a more durable peace in this country, would be to not only include community-level stakeholders more intimately in the peace-building process, but to also support and implement a more sophisticated, holistic, and coordinated approach to targeting SGBV and other key issues – which will in turn complement and drive a more organic peace-building process.

Dominique Vidale-Plaza is a blogger and activist, working in the SGBV and community development field in DRC with her start-up organisation, Channel Initiative. She blogs at and tweets at

2 Responses to “Amani Itakuya #9: Changing our approach to peace-building in DRC, committing to unraveling the roots of SGBV and the conflict”
  1. Anand Upadhyaya says:

    I very much agree with the idea that the push should be to help create an environment where SGBV activism is no longer needed. As you said, cultural issues are deeply embedded. I am wondering what strategies can be used to help change negative cultural attitudes. It’s sort of a fine line when you start talking about existing culture. You have to balance morality and progressive thought with an absolutely non-ethnocentric approach. But I think there must be strategies that could address this. Also, as referenced in Rachel Niehuus’ essay, ongoing psychological trauma is a huge issue. So dealing with SGBV will hopefully shift to that side of things.

  2. dvplaza says:

    Reblogged this on Think. Write. Act. and commented:
    Often, I think on how the work that we do as SGBV actors affects, positively or negatively, the peace process in the DRC. Does it add to it, does it take away from it? Ultimately – the strongest SGBV response, is one that looks toward durable peace – and seeks to make ourselves (the SGBV actors/fire-fighters) obsolete.

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