By Marie Haka
Gender/Sexuality Reporter

Members of Advocates for Congolese Women (ACW) aspire to raise awareness as well as resources for the thousands of women who are raped each month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Jessica Carsten, a second-year UC Santa Cruz student, founded the group in February of this year after studying the humanitarian crisis in the DRC.

City on a Hill Press: What inspired you to start ACW?

Carsten: I was doing research on the Rwandan genocide and had questions about what happened to the surrounding countries and displaced people. This led me to studying the two Congolese wars, and more specifically, the humanitarian crisis and the mass atrocities that were happening to women.

CHP: What are some of the main goals of the group?

Carsten: Our primary goal is to get aid to women in the eastern Kivu provinces of the DRC. Generally, when women are raped over there, they’re not easily able to access any medical care. The rapes are very violent and many women die of their injuries or are raped and brutalized again on the way to seek help.

It happens every day. Over a thousand women are raped per week. If we can bring aid to them, I think that would make a huge impact on saving lives and empowering women in that region.

CHP: Why is your focus on the eastern Kivu Provinces?

Carsten: The majority of these atrocities occur in the eastern Kivu Provinces because those are the most war-torn regions right now. However, it happens all over the country. Rape is being used there as a weapon of war.

It’s mass rape-terrorism, and a lot of it occurs when certain militia groups try to infiltrate mining sites and take over land. They’re trying to dismantle villages and in order to do that they need to break down the social structure. To do that, they rape the women.

CHP: Why are these sites so contested?

Carsten: The Congo is really rich in natural resources, more so than almost any other country in the world. Foreign nations are trying to come in and get a piece of it right now. That’s why these mining sites are being so heavily fought over; especially coltan and tantalum mining, which are huge.

Coltan is used in cell phones, and that’s not to make anyone feel guilty, but just to establish that there is a connection. There is a relationship and a reason why we should be aware of what’s happening, the lives that are being lost, and the people that are suffering for these things.

CHP: How do you plan to get resources and aid to these people?

Carsten: I’m working with Friends of the Congo right now, a nonprofit NGO [nongovernmental organization]. They have contacts on the ground in Bukavu and in the Kivu provinces, and they are aligned with different parishes and small communities. Also, I have a contact with a woman who used to work for the French U.N. Aid, MONUC. She is over there on the ground right now.

CHP: What are some of ACW’s plans for the rest of the quarter?

Carsten: We have a film screening April 24 at 6 p.m. at Kresge Town Hall, called “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo.” It’s a feature-length film that sheds light on the realities of the sexual violence. On May 15, I’m having a representative from Friends of the Congo fly out and put on a presentation with me. We’re going to discuss their experience being in the DRC and meeting these women. Before the school year ends, I’m also hoping to put on a music benefit.

_For more information, go to www.acwucsc.org._