Women Survivors, Lost Children and Traumatized Masculinities : The Phenomena of Rape and War in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Abstract: This thesis aims to investigate the phenomenon of war rape in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand the dynamics, contextual realities and consequences of its perpetration. Practical and theoretical knowledge is generated which is relevant for health care interventions, humanitarian assistance and peace initiatives, that are cognizant of the actual needs of the affected populations.The study employed ethnographic methodology involving prolonged engagement with the field, participant observation, formal and informal interviews, keeping of field notes and the continuous practice of reflexivity. The four papers in this thesis represent formal interviews with participants from three distinct groups: local leaders (Paper I), ex-child soldier boys (Paper II) and women survivors of sexual violence (Paper III & IV).Qualitative Content Analysis was used for the interview study with local leaders (Paper I). Findings from this study reveal how mass rape and the methods of perpetration create a chaos effectively destroying communities. The leaders draw attention to the fact that an exclusive focus on raped women misses other structural factors that contribute to war and sexual violence, factors such as the global political economy, international apathy, the stance of the church, effects of militarization, inappropriate aid and interpretations of gender roles.Through the theoretical lenses of militarised masculinity and gender based violence, interviews with ex-child soldier boys, seen as both victims of war as well as proxy perpetrators of sexual violence, were analyzed using thematic analysis. Findings revealed the systematic and violent construction of children into soldiers, inculcating a rigid set of stereotypical hyper-masculine behaviors promoting dominance by violating the subordinate “other”. These findings argue for a more complex, contextualized view of the perpetrator resulting from the ways society has (re)constructed gender, ethnicity and class.Papers III and IV reflect the interviews and narratives provided by women survivors. Guided by thematic analysis and a matrix of theories: Structural violence, Intersectionality and “new wars”; Paper III bears witness to the women’s expressions of their profound losses and dispossession as they struggle to survive stigmatization in the impoverished margins of the warzone, along with children born of rape. The perpetrator is cited here as well as by the leaders as predominantly Interhamwe. Payne’s Sites of Resilience model used in Paper IV situates stigmatized women survivors suffering in a global context as they navigate survival, demonstrating resilience in the margins through support from their faith in God, scarce health services, indigenous healing and strategic alliances. Findings suggest that collaborations of existing strengthened networks, ie: the church, healthcare and indigenous healers, could extend the reach of sustainable and holistic support services, positively effecting already identified sites of resilience.Findings draw attention to the challenges faced by public health in addressing mass trauma. Women’s raped bodies represent tangible material damage, embedded in a matrix of globalization processes and structural violence involving gender, ethnicity and class. This requires serious reflection.