With support from Norway, UNHCR provides vocational training and psychosocial support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
© UNHCR/Olivia Acland
Christine, a 45-year-old mother of nine, has a visible scar on her neck, a sign of the severe trauma she suffered in her past. The injury is from a bayonet that was held against her skin, whilst she was raped by armed men during fighting in the Nganza area of Kananga, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai-Central Province.
After finding out that she was raped, her husband left her to fend for herself and her children.
“I had nothing in my life after that. I couldn’t eat,” she said.
Christine became internally displaced due to a brutal conflict in the Kasai province during 2017 and was subjected to physical and sexual violence as she fled. She is among the 400 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence receiving vocational training, psychosocial support and literacy classes at the Mary, Mother of Hope Recovery and Reintegration Centre in Kananga. The support includes lessons in mechanics, electronics, baking, soap-making, sewing and small business management. Psychologists and social workers are also at the reintegration centre in Kananga to help survivors cope with their trauma and manage everyday tasks.
The centre is supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the programme for the survivors is part of a wider project helping thousands of women rebuild their lives and reintegrate them into society. This support is possible due to flexible funding to UNHCR, such as the unearmarked contributions from Norway.
The DRC currently hosts 5.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) – one of the largest IDP populations in Africa. Deadly attacks by armed groups continue to force families to flee their homes. Women and girls are among those most-at-risk, with the number of sexual and gender-based assaults and abuses on the rise in recent months.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has also dramatically increased existing risks of gender-based violence and raised the urgent need for health services for women and girls. Despite this, programmes to protect and support survivors remain severely underfunded.
The Norwegian government has been an engaged partner in combating gender-based violence in humanitarian crises for years, which is a visible priority in Norway’s humanitarian efforts and policies. In addition, Norway is one of UNHCR’s top donors and has thus far in 2021 provided UNHCR with USD 101 million, of which 78% is unearmarked funding.
Norway’s flexible funding grants UNHCR the possibility to prioritize the most urgent needs, such as providing much needed support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC.
Until May of this year, around 472 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence were reported in the Kasai region. UNHCR continues to assist these survivors by providing them with essential access to healthcare and education. The activities supported by UNHCR have a positive impact on their lives, as the survivors become empowered, self-reliant, and reintegrated into society.
“Endemic violence has plagued areas in the DRC for many years, and whole communities have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence. International support is essential for the protection of these displaced communities, and especially for women and girls who are at greater risk of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation,” says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative to the Nordic and Baltic Countries.
“UNHCR is committed to prevent, mitigate and respond to gender-based violence, but some of our programmes for these efforts remain critically underfunded. Early and unearmarked funding from partners like Norway allows us to enhance critical prevention and protection activities for the most vulnerable,” says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative to the Nordic and Baltic Countries.
After being part of the programme for a year, Christine was given the opportunity to become a trainer and share her new-found baking skills with other survivors. With the support and training Christine receives at the centre, she is now able to send her nine children to school with the income she generates as a cake business owner.
“Now I can make a good living. If it weren’t for the programme I would still be a victim. I want the other women I teach to become what I am today,” Christine said.
Norway is a reliable and strategic partner to UNHCR. Norway’s generous and flexible funding allows UNHCR to support and protect refugees, internally displaced and others forcibly displaced around the world, particularly vulnerable groups, such as women and children. The flexible funding reinforces UNHCR’s ability to immediately respond to emergencies and to provide life-saving assistance, as well as critical protection activities for the most vulnerable.