The risks of instrumentalizing the narrative on sexual violence in the DRC: Neglected needs and unintended consequences

09 September 2015 Laura Heaton

Public understanding of humanitarian emergencies tends to focus on one story and one type of victim. Examples are manifold: amputees in Sierra Leone, victims of kidnapping in Colombia, or victims of chemical weapons in Syria. At times, the aid community, and the media in turn, seizes upon a particular injustice – landmines, female genital mutilation and child soldiers are examples from recent decades – and directs resources and attention its way. Similarly, thematic trends tend to dominate aid discourse, with funding proposals to donors replete with references to the framework du jour. In a related phenomenon highlighted by author and aid worker Fiona Terry, “[w]ords are commandeered to give a new gloss to familiar themes: ‘capacity building’ became ‘empowerment’, which has now become ‘resilience’”. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the conflict has been largely defined by sexual violence, and raped women are its most prominent victims.

About the author

Laura Heaton
Writer and reporter

Laura Heaton is an East Africa-based writer and reporter whose extensive field research throughout the region has focused primarily on conflict and human rights, humanitarian assistance, and women’s experiences in war. Her reporting has appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including Newsweek, Foreign Policy, National Geographic, and the Daily Telegraph. She is currently contributing to a book on the role of women’s leadership in the rebuilding of post-genocide Rwanda.