Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence (SFVS)
Pax Christi International is pleased to announce that Justine Masika Bihamba, coordinator of Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence (SFVS), an organization focused on justice for women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (details below), will receive its 2009 peace award. The award ceremony, a collaboration of Pax Christi Italy with Pax Christi International, takes place in Rome on October 26.
For over 10 years, war has raged in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), leaving nearly six million dead, the highest war-related death toll since World War II. Throughout the conflict, women and girls have been the victims of a sexual violence pandemic, making eastern Congo arguably the worst place in the world to be a woman. In response to the particular way in which the war has affected women, the Congolese organization Women’s Synergy for Victims of Sexual Violence (Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles, SFVS) was created in early 2002 to develop means of supporting women and girls in eastern Congo that have been raped and subsequently rejected by their communities.
Bringing together the skills and experience of 35 Congolese organizations, SFVS mobilizes women around efforts to end violence against women in eastern Congo. Based in North Kivu province, the organization provides medical care to victims of sexual violence; offers psychological counseling; raises community awareness of the destructive effects of sexual violence against women; provides legal support; and gives victims opportunities to participate in income-generating activities.
SFVS’s medical attention to victims has helped countless in North Kivu. Since 2002, SFVS has repaired 260 fistulas, nearly 93 percent of which healed after the first operation, provided 2,581 patients with HIV testing, and have treated 7,018 cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Considering the psychological effects of sexual violence, SFVS has held numerous seminars and trained dozens of counselors in psychological trauma counseling, family mediation, and other indispensible skills, and have established 20 “listening houses” to welcome victims of sexual violence. Tasked with identifying victims, passive and active listening, and assisting in their reintegration into society, counselors form an essential part of SFVS’s work in North Kivu.
Aiming to increase the public’s, the authorities’, and the military’s level of awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual violence in eastern Congo, SFVS regularly broadcasts their important messages on national radio and television, organizes conferences and discussions on Congolese law on, and the societal effects of, rape, and posts public educational posters.
As a means of providing both group therapy and economic self-sufficiency, SFVS helps women and girls reintegrate into society, by providing them with socioeconomic skills, including African dyeing techniques, sewing, braiding, as well as livestock herding and farming.