My iPhone Raped a Congolese Woman

Source:guardian.co.uk

On July 30, 2010 hundreds of armed Rwandan and Congolese rebels entered the town of Ruvungi claiming to be looking for food and shelter. Instead, they gang raped anywhere between 150 and 300 girls, women and young boys, depending on which estimates prove accurate. The victims ranged from babies 10 months old to elderly women. Many women were raped by multiple men, some reporting up to 6. They were violated in front of their families, in front of their children. The nightmare lasted four days.

 

“Imagine your 15-year-old daughter walking to the corner store to get a carton of milk. She has walked along this street nearly every day growing up. But this afternoon on the way home, a group of men pull her into the bushes. Each man takes a turn raping her, the last one with the barrel of his AK-47. Left bleeding and unable to walk, she takes shelter in the nearby forest. Why doesn’t she go home, you ask? She can’t. The rape is considered her fault. She is now disowned by her family. After surviving weeks on berries and sugar cane she is discovered by a man who thought he smelled a rotting corpse. But the stench is the result of a rape so brutal that the passageway between her vagina and anus broke down, becoming one gaping wound.”

-Robin Wright, actress and advocate for the Enough Project

 

The UN estimates that the number of women who have been raped in the Congo in the last 10 years is between 200 000 to 300 000. Dr. Denis Mukwege, director and founder of Panzi General Referral Hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu province in the DRC says the number is likely much higher. He says “Simple everyday tasks like gathering water, fetching water, expose these women and children to a great danger”. His facility can do 10 surgeries a day, and has treated 24 000 women so far. They also have psychologists on hand to help treat the women. But resources are limited.

 

A sad story, but what does it have to do with you? Not a thing, unless you are a fan of technology, as I know I am. I love my I-phone. I rely on it to tell me the time, give me my daily schedule, get me places when I don’t know where I’m going, keep me in touch with people, wake me up, play my favorite itunes, tell me the weather, tell me what song is playing and otherwise run my life. I also use a computer every day (alas, I’m typing on one now!), watch TV more than occasionally, dabble in photography, and play a video game here and there. As a consumer of these products, I have blood on my hands. The money I spend on these products filters down to Eastern Congo and helps finance the country’s war. In this war, rebel groups and the national army fight bitterly to control the very profitable mines in the region. These mines produce the ores of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, all of which are crucial in powering the above consumer electronic products none of us can live without. Conflict in the Congo exists for many reasons, political, ethnic, racial, land disputes. But over time it seems the fighting has focused on mineral reserves, and the hundreds of millions of dollars to be made over their control. Control is often gained by murder and rape in order to intimidate and demonstrate power. This has led to millions of Congolese losing their lives, including many young boys being forced to fight on front lines, many unarmed (another blog post altogether-see fallingwhistles.com). While there are legitimate mines, many are illegally and forcefully controlled, using young boys as slave labor.

 

So why are we just standing around and letting this happen? Well for one, people rely on their technology, so there will always be a demand for the products which use these minerals, which means a supply will be required. Secondly, minerals from the Congo are cheap, about 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of those from other countries which produce them. And, according to electronics companies it is nearly impossible to trace the origin of the minerals their manufacturers use. But there is hope. In July 2010 The US Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act was signed into law which requires American companies to ensure the raw materials they use to make their product not be tied into the conflict in the Congo by auditing the mineral supply chains. A great idea, but many feel there are too many loopholes for companies, and many popular companies that produce electronics are not American. Also, at this point there is no good system in place to properly distinguish between conflict and non-conflict minerals. One man, Delly Mawazo Sesete from DRC has petitioned Apple to make all of their iPhones conflict free by christmas 2013. He has launched his campaign on change.org. The problem? He wants Apple to purchase minerals from the Congo, just not from militia mines. However, at this time, it is very difficult to determine which mines are militia mines and which are not, and the only way a company can be sure they are not buying conflict minerals is to not purchase any minerals from the Congo at all. Good idea, you say. However, by doing this, tens of thousands of miners working legitimate mines will be without jobs and will have no way of feeding their families. Clearly this is something that needs to be worked on so that we can do the best thing for the Congolese people.

 

So should we all throw out our iPhones? Toss our iPads? Let’s not be rash here. But maybe we can use our technology to spread the word, sign a virtual petition, or share this information with our friends on Facebook. There is no better force for change than education and knowledge. We can speak to the rest of the world for the women in the Congo whose voices have been silenced by fear.

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