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Life is difficult for many women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. Although the civil war in the DRC ended in 2003, armed conflict continues. And so does one of the most heinous weapons that the militias used against the civilian population -- violence against women and girls. Abuse of women and girls, especially rape, persists, but it has changed in nature, says UNICEF's representative in Congo, Koen Vanormelingen.
"Younger and younger girls are assaulted by people who are closer and closer to them. Forty percent of victims are under [the age of] 18, and 16 percent are under 13 [years old.]"
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer says that abuses not only destroy the lives of individual girls and women, families, and communities, but also rob the world of the talent it urgently needs:
"There is a powerful connection between violence against women and the unending cycle of women in poverty. Women who are abused or who fear violence are unable to realize their full potential and contribute to their countries’ development. There are enormous economic costs that come with violence against women.
"Ending violence against women is a prerequisite for their social, economic, and political participation and progress," says Ambassador Verveer. "Preventing violence against women isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do."
Raising the status of women is a necessary step toward ending systematic abuse. But there also have to be efforts to prosecute the people who perpetrate these crimes, said Melanne Verveer:
"A level of impunity that leaves these kinds of actions unpunished is never going to be a retardant to further actions like this occurring," she said. "There has to be a rule of law that comes into place, a systematic justice through institutions that work. ... so that there is an end to the impunity that basically condones this kind of behavior."
"Women are the key to progress and prosperity in the 21st century," said Ambassador Verveer. "When they are marginalized and mistreated, humanity cannot progress. When they are accorded their rights and afforded equal opportunities in education, health care, employment, and political participation, they lift up their families, their communities, and their nations."