When taking up my duties as World Bank Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a few months ago, data on the prevalence of gender-based violence (GBV) were among those that struck me the most. DRC ranks 151st out of 179 in the 2021 Gender Inequality Index (GII), a composite metric of gender inequality using reproductive health, empowerment, and the labour market as main dimensions, with only 14.3% of women occupying parliamentary seats. One in two women report having experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime (2014 DHS), while 3 in 4 women and nearly 3 in 5 men believe that wife beating is justified for at least one specified reason. More worryingly, acceptability of intimate partners violence (IPV) is more prevalent in younger age groups for both men and women.
DRC carries with it the devastating legacy of violence and conflict, including high rates of conflict-related sexual violence, particularly in Eastern DRC. However, we know that violence against women and girls is not tied solely to conflict, and in fact, research indicates that conflict-related sexual violence reflects pre-existing discriminatory and violent societal views toward women rather than a new phenomenon brought on by war. Indeed, IPV prevalence is higher in the more stable former province of Kasai Occidental (71%) compared to the conflict-affected North Kivu province (34%). This data underscores the fact that GBV is a societal issue, anchored in entrenched norms that normalize men’s power over women and, more generally, inequality between men and women.
Therefore, to tackle GBV and reduce violence against women and girls, DRC needs to invest more in prevention programs to change the harmful social norms and behaviors that underpin violence and perpetuate gender inequality more broadly, as well as in programs that empower women and amplify their voices, while raising awareness on the thorny issue of impunity. Those programs need to be complemented by quality response services to ensure that survivors who are encouraged to come forward have access to the quality, survivor-centered care that they need.
Reaching 7 million beneficiaries through enhanced GBV Prevention and Response Programming
Building on the lessons learned from previous interventions, the World Bank invested $100 million through the DRC GBV Prevention and Response Project (P166763). With a focus on four provinces in Eastern DRC, the project is implemented by five government ministries in partnership with local NGOs, civil society actors, and two Centers of Excellence, including Panzi Hospital of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Denis Mukwege, Heal Africa, and their satellite one-stop centers (OSCs).
Building on global good practice and on approaches with strong positive results, this project combines prevention interventions targeting individual, household, and community levels, including awareness raising campaigns through social media and radio programming, gender-transformative interventions and implementation of evidence-based prevention programming, with the overarching aim to change attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors among both women and men around gender equality and violence.
I am proud to note that we are achieving important results in targeted provinces. GBV prevention and response interventions have reached 7 million beneficiaries – 10 times the project’s planned target– including 55,000 survivors accessing holistic services (psychological, medical, legal, case management); over 80% of these survivors are accessing care through community-based entry points. In addition, Centers of Excellence have provided lodging in “maisons de transit” for survivors accessing services, as well as nearly 4,000 surgical interventions for fistula, prolapse, and other major gynecological problems.
Economic support services supported by the project are playing a key role in both GBV prevention and response, by addressing key vulnerabilities that increase women’s exposure to violence and by providing for medium- to longer-term recovery and reintegration support. As of May 2022, there were over 8,500 beneficiaries participating in community-level economic support services in North and South Kivu – more than twice (225%) the project’s target.
Following a demand-driven approach towards livelihoods, the project has supported capacity building of partners to provide training in areas such as agriculture, livestock rearing, and breadmaking. We are also anticipating initial results of a survey that should give us a sense of whether the project has been successful in shifting community perceptions and reducing the acceptability of violence.
Opportunities to End Widespread GBV
Designated Champion for ‘Positive Masculinity’ by the African Union, President Félix Tshisekedi of the DRC has demonstrated his commitment to fight all forms of GBV, by adopting a policy of zero tolerance and appointing a Special Advisor to the President on GBV Issues. As the Bank prepares for new investments in GBV prevention and response, I believe this is an opportunity to continue working closely with DRC authorities and other stakeholders to support the implementation of these nationwide policy commitments. Based on lessons learned from the current project, it is time to work on some areas that are still lagging, including ensuring the widespread availability of holistic services for survivors throughout the country, improving access to justice, and continued work on shifting social norms.
As shown by the growing body of evidence, GBV is preventable, and attitudes and behaviors around acceptability of violence can change. There is still a long way to go given the current GBV prevalence in DRC, but it is possible. We will continue working to put an end to widespread GBV in the DRC and remove this barrier to the equal participation of women and men in social, economic, and political spheres.
 The World Bank has invested significantly in GBV prevention and response programming in the DRC over the last 10-15 years, including the trust-funded pilot interventions in North and South Kivu, the 2014 Great Lakes Emergency Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, and Women’s Health Project which included over $47 million to strengthen violence prevention and multi-sectoral care for GBV survivors in Eastern DRC.
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