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Congolese Rape Survivors

Congolese Rape Survivors

I believe that we need to end rape and gender-based violence in the Congo.

Lately I’ve been reading “Half the Sky” and realizing something needs to be addressed.

Before you point a finger at men around the world for raping and beating women, ask yourself,

HOW AM I COMPLICIT IN GENDER VIOLENCE?

Internalized oppression happens every day.

What is internalized oppression?

Well, since external oppression is the unjust exercise of authority and power by one group over another. It includes imposing one group’s belief system, values and life ways over another group.

External oppression becomes internalized oppression when we come to believe and act as if the oppressor’s beliefs system, and values are reality.

“Self-hate” “internalized misogyny” and “internalized racism” are other ways of saying internalized oppression.

The result of internalized oppression is shame and the disowning of our individual and cultural reality. Without internalized oppression, we would not now have previously unseen levels of violence, especially against women and children.

Internalized oppression means the oppressor doesn’t have to exert any more pressure, because we now do it to ourselves and each other. Divide and conquer works.

For example, in the Congo, I thought that women were raped by men traveling in packs. As it turns out, the women are sometimes lured to the men by another woman, who then holds her hands behind her back as they gang-rape her.

So, it’s not about women against men.

It’s about changing an entire mentality of a country, to make women worth more, to make every gender respect women more. TO CHANGE OUR VALUES, ON A GLOBAL SCALE.

I will give a personal example, just to make a point.

A few years ago I was involved with a nonprofit that helped women in an oppressive religious system. In this system, a woman is usually married very young, has 7-10 kids, and she can be beaten at any time, for any reason, and she has no recourse. In this system, it is NOT okay for a woman to divorce her husband, or she will be cast out. Her community is her life, and if she is cut off from her community, she feels she cannot cope with the outside world. So, you’d think that this system was from the mid-1700s or something, but it’s really still here, with us, in America, in 2011.

I am not going to mention which nonprofit or religion this is, because I don’t want to give publicity to such horrific practices any more than I can help it.

I went to a board meeting for this nonprofit, which was all women, except for one man, and told them what they can do to help fundraise for their cause of empowering women. The board just looked at me, and wouldn’t engage at all. They seemed angry that I was there. I heard later from the executive director, who is also a woman, that they wouldn’t listen to someone without a penis. They wouldn’t answer her emails or voicemails or texts. They wouldn’t even come to the meetings unless a man asked them to be there.

And this is all women. What they don’t realize is how their internalized oppression is affecting their ability to build a strong nonprofit, and actually radically change conditions for women in their religious community. It’s incredible how much this affects us every day, even in our own lives, as we snipe at other women, and do not value our own achievements or the achievements of other women as much as we value the achievements of men, or listen to what they have to say. Even in how differently we treat our sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Have you ever sat there in a meeting and seen a woman talk, and seen people not really pay attention, and see a man talk, and suddenly everyone is paying attention? That’s internalized oppression too. It’s not always as dramatic as rape and murder, but it is just as destructive, because these little hits to our self esteem build up over time.

So, how can we change internalized oppression?

I believe we need to change it person by person. First by talking about it, acknowledging it in ourselves, and then starting to educate others about it. It may seem overwhelming, as we have problems with internalized oppression here in America, and of course in some other countries it’s even worse, but I want to leave you with this parable.


A man goes out to a beach and sees it is covered with starfish that have washed up with the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.

“What are you doing son?’ the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”

The boy paused thoughtfully. and picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

“It sure made a difference to that one,” he said.

-Naka Nathaniel, from a Hawaiian parable

If you want to do something to stop gender based violence in India, please go here.

If anyone else knows of a place people can donate to stop gender based violence in the Congo, please leave a comment.