Kasomba women walk up the steep slopes to quarries in Kamituga, carrying baskets full of quartz stones on their backs.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
1,152 women are raped every day
53% of girls 5 to 17 do not attend school
57% of pregnant women are anemic
In 2011, the DRC accounted for 50% of maternal deaths worldwide.
Children as young as 4 work in an artisanal mine in Kailo, searching for wolframite (a component of tungsten) and cassiterite (used to make tin). Here, children work alongside their parents, panning for ore and selling goods to other miners. Most pits are 15 to 30 feet deep.
The Global Impact of Mining in the DRC
High-tech equipment such as smartphones, tablets, and cars run on minerals and metals such as cobalt, coltan, tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. However, their mining and illegal trade are often controlled by armed groups, so our everyday devices and innocent-looking jewelry can help to feed a vicious cycle of conflict.
This table was developed by Annie Callaway and Demand the Supply. It ranks retailers on their efforts to source conflict-free materials from the DRC, so you can make an informed decision. On this chart, a higher score indicates a more responsible retailer.
Women in the DRC Are Forging Their Own Path Forward
By: Kathleen M. Carroll
Margot Wallström, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, has dubbed the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the “most dangerous place on earth to be a woman.” According to a 2011 report, 1,000 women are raped every day.
In the DRC as a whole, 35.6 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported having suffered physical or sexual violence by their partner in the 12 months prior (according to a 2018 survey conducted by UN Women). In the east of the country, the figure shoots up to 75 percent according to Doctors Without Borders. In addition, almost 70 percent of Congolese women over the age of 15 live below the international poverty line (roughly $2 USD per day).
It is hard to believe that in such a beautiful and lush country there is such extreme violence against women and girls. But while the political landscape is constantly shifting, this violence is the one thing women can rely on.
According to a UN report chronicling one family’s experience, “After [the] family escaped an attack by an armed group on their village, the mother and daughter were raped by soldiers from the national armed forces who had been conducting operations against the assailants.”
Working Together for Change
Congolese women have long known the power of organizing collectively to combat injustice. But the Femme au Fone (FAF) Project, started in 2013, has allowed them to accelerate change.
It provided basic cell phones to allow women to report incidents of violence against themselves or others. Along with an information storage program and a weekly slot on community radio programs, this helped the word get out. FAF provided training for small groups of women so they would know their rights and could better define and report the types of violence they suffered on a daily basis.
An individual woman who is attacked becomes a target a second time if it is known that she reported it. The FAF model allows other women to become aware of the danger and work together to keep themselves safe. In some circumstances, they report the crime to the authorities; in other places, it is the authorities that are the perpetrators and the women must protect themselves.
More Than Half the Sky
As a result of the systemic sexual violence, between 60 and 90 percent of women (depending on the region) are single heads of households. Women are also disproportionally impacted by HIV in the DRC: Of the 390,000 adults infected with HIV 71.79% are women. The rate of new HIV infections among women ages 15 to 24 is four times higher than that of men in the same demographic. Women are also less likely to have access to treatment than men. About 73% of adult men living with HIV receive treatment, compared to 58% of adult women.
The mistreatment of women in conflict areas is staggering. One woman, called Nabintu, shared that she was living a safe, comfortable life with her husband and three children. When her husband was away on a business trip, armed men assaulted her in front of her children, ransacked her home, and took whatever they could find of value.
Nabintu and four other neighborhood women were bound and led away. One was executed for complaining along the journey. Nabintu was eventually sold to a man for two rounds of bullets and a case of beer. Despite spending three months as his sex slave, she says she is grateful to him. This is because he gave her $10 and an old soldier’s uniform so she could escape the night she was scheduled to be executed.
Digging Into the Problem
Of course, where women suffer, the children suffer, too. The DRC plays host to more than half the world’s cobalt, and over 70% of the world’s cobalt mining happens here. Small-scale, so-called “artisanal” miners produce a significant portion of the country’s cobalt output, with the remainder managed by foreignowned firms, mostly from China.
Small-scale mining in the DRC is harsh. Driven by extreme poverty, families opt for the only wages available. Some bring their children into the pits with them; some send their children in alone. According to an Amnesty International report, children work for at least twelve hours a day without protective equipment in deep underground shafts around thirty feet long, which they have often dug themselves. With no mask or helmet, they go down into the shafts unprotected and put their lives in danger to bring mineral-encrusted rocks to the surface. Other children work sitting on the rocks at surface level – again without masks or gloves – collecting minerals that they find, sifting rocks and mine residue, sorting the minerals, and then washing them to prepare them for transport (Amnesty International, 2016.)
Of the 255,000 Congolese mining for cobalt, 40,000 are children, some as young as six years old (younger children often spend a full workday strapped to their mother’s backs). Adult laborers earn less than $2 per day; children are paid less. In some areas, the mining operation provides meager shelter and subsistence rations in exchange for labor; the workers are essentially slaves.
Faith Leading the Way
In March, more than three thousand women took to the streets of Kinshasa to protest the rising violence against women and children in the eastern part of the country.
Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, archbishop of Kinshasa since 2018 and a member of the C9 (a group of nine cardinal advisors to Pope Francis) addressed the group at a Mass following the march.
“We are before the Lord to cry out our thirst for peace, to say no to this war that has been unjustly imposed upon us,” he said. “We now need a country where feelings of fraternity and solidarity reign.” While noting the role outside interests have played in the situation, he said, “It is also caused by the sons and daughters of our country who arethirsty for money and power. No outsider can divide our countryexcept with the help of our brothers and sisters.”