Esperance is a young and up-and-coming women’s rights and peace activist from the province of North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Esperance works with Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral/ Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development (SOFEPADI) to raise awareness about sexual violence in her country and mobilize survivors to demand justice.
Esperance’s life as an activist began in her youth. In 2009, while traveling by foot from Goma to Walikale after completing school exams, members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) violently assaulted and raped Esperance in a forest. Following the attack, the perpetrators abandoned Esperance in the forest, leaving her seriously injured and alone to complete her multi-day trek home. This harrowing experience motivated Esperance to become involved with SOFEPADI, shaping her as an outspoken activist against sexual violence.
The situation for women and girls living in North Kivu is desperate. Warring armed groups – some from neighboring countries – often target women for violence. Statistics from the UNHCR have shown a dramatic rise in violence against women, particularly rape, in North Kivu throughout 2013. Over 700 cases of sexual violence were reported between January and June, in stark contrast to the 108 cases reported during that time in 2012 (although many cases remain unreported). The majority of the perpetrators are members of armed groups.
North Kivu is located in eastern DRC, a region that has been particularly affected by the conflict due to its shared border with Rwanda and Uganda.
Last month in November 2013, the M23 rebel group declared an end to their insurgency in the DRC. Although only one of the 40 militia groups in the region, their disarmament represents a step towards peace. However, there still remains a long road ahead to bring peace for women and survivors of sexual violence like Esperance.