“What have I done?”
A brave survivor, Sandra, recounts her horrible experience of being raped and abused, taking her time as she fights back the tears building up. She talks about the abuse she faced at the hands of those she considered family and felt as though she was in a hopeless situation.
Sandra can’t help but ask herself, “what have I done to deserve this”, as she is forced into situations that no woman should ever have to face.
Unfortunately, she is not the only woman in today’s world who has experienced some form of gender-based violence (GBV). GBV, as defined by the United Nations, “refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender” . The “harmful acts” can be categorized as “sexual, physical, mental (or) economic” and are executed through actions such as “intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honor crimes.'” .
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the use of GBV is a daily occurrence during wartime and greatly affects women throughout the country. As a result, the health effects of GBV, both psychological and physical, and limited access to necessary resources harm the lives of women in the DRC and cause long-term complications.
The traumatic effects of gender-based violence can cause harm to the physical and emotional well-being of survivors. In terms of physical health, women can have serious health issues after being sexually assaulted or raped such as “severe physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies and exposure to HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases” .
While brought on by one traumatic event in a woman’s life, these problems can end a woman’s life both literally and metaphorically.
In correlation with the physical effects of GBV, women are often psychologically tortured after the traumatic event. Women can have an increased risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety or PTSD and oftentimes are unable to treat these disorders due to limited access to survivor support and the stigma surrounding reporting GBV to authorities .
While systemic changes need to happen in order to prevent GBV, WE Restore, a program by WE International, recognizes the limited resources available to women after experiencing GBV.
In order to combat this issue, WE Restore created the ‘Medical Support to Survivors Program’ to help women like Sandra physically and mentally recover from GBV.
WE International is working to ensure that the health and emotional well-being of survivors is a top priority by providing resources and support.
The WE Restore ‘Medical Support to Survivors Program’ helps fund fistula surgeries, which are procedures that repair uteruses from severe damage that rape and/or sexual assault can cause, and provides counseling services for these women.
While medical services provided are crucial for women’s health, the psychological help is, at times, just as important. These women oftentimes need help coping with the traumatic event, which counseling services can provide. Many women are even abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their communities after experiencing GBV and feel shamed by the people around them.
That’s why, in partnership with WE International, a hospital in the DRC aims to provide both psychological and physical services to women so that they man make a full recovery after experiencing the horrible effects of GBV.
If you are able to, please consider donating to the WE Restore ‘Medical Support to Survivors Program’ and you can help make an impact in the lives of those affected by the horrors of gender-based violence.
Pictured is a survivor of gender-based violence in the Congo, Amara. Click here to hear her story.
Written by Caitlin Kulperger
Endnotes – Further Reading:
- Hossain, Mazeda, et. al. “Gender-based violence and its association with mental health among Somali women in a Kenyan refugee camp: a latent class analysis.” J Epidemiol Community Health 75.4 (2021).
- UNICEF. “Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies.” UNICEF. 31 Jan. 2022. https://www.unicef.org/protection/gender-based-violence-in-emergencies.
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Gender-Based Violence.” UNHCR. 2021. https://www.unhcr.org/gender-based-violence.html.