Democratic Republic of Congo: “Women are the worst ones affected by war”

March 12, 2017

GPJ-DRCKANYABAYONGA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Civil wars and extreme poverty are the two ills that have become a daily reality for members of my community. And the saddest part is that women, girls and children are the ones who pay the highest price.

Like many people around the world, my fellow villagers regard sex work as taboo. As a result, a young woman who performs sex for money always falls prey to discrimination from other females — girls and women alike. But as far as my personal experience is concerned, things started looking different to me a few days ago. This is the moment when I met 19-year-old Afisa Kanyere Kamate.

When I first saw her, she was dashing to hospital, carrying her 4-year-old brother. And as it turned out, we were heading to the same destination, because I was planning to visit a friend who was in the hospital.

As I was seated with other women waiting for permission to see patients there, I heard a mix of whispering all around me. The women were gossiping. And all I can remember from what I heard is: “She’s the new prostitute in our neighborhood.” When I asked them where she came from, they replied that she had been displaced by war. I was intrigued to find out more about her. So I approached her, and she seemed to politely enjoy talking to me.

Afisa Kanyere Kamate, 19, pictured with two of her brothers in Kanyabayonga, a town in Democratic Republic of Congo, fled her village after her father was killed. Her mother died from malaria a few months later. Now she cares for her six younger siblings and has turned to sex work for survival.

Her painful experience has been quite an eye-opener to me. Eventually, I discovered that sometimes people make tough, if not despicable, choices when they have no one to turn to.

Kanyere has been forced into selling off her virginity, selling sex to two or three men per day to help her six brothers and sisters. If people had known the true story of Kanyere’s life, they would not have been intolerant of her. Instead, good Samaritans would have hastened to her aid.

Reporting this story made me come to terms that women are the worst ones affected by war. I now realize the extent to which they’re ready to sacrifice themselves to support those around them.

As one of the few journalists in this region, I am the voice of my community. I pray every day that we will finally work together to find a solution to this plight. I have the responsibility to uncover injustice and to draw the world’s attention to the suffering of Kanyere as well as others trapped in similar situations. I hold out hope the world will hear my wake-up call.