Four Questions for Sylvie Mbanga Maunga

  1. How did you begin your work as a lawyer and activist? I think it was my vocation. In my own life, my parents said sometimes, “Women can’t do that, and men can.” I answered all the time, “Why do you think that women can’t do that?” When I got the opportunity to begin work as a lawyer, I was focusing on women’s law. In Congo, the culture said women couldn’t inherit land. We have a great law—but the implementation, that is the problem. I began assisting women pro bono in the east, in Goma. Then for five years I worked in conflict transformation, to make negotiations between rebel groups. You are, all the time, suspected by the government—and the same thing from the rebels.
     
  2. When did you start working with survivors of sexual violence? During my work in life and peace issues, I used to discuss with a group in Uvira, in the east of the Congo, about the priorities about peace in the area. It was a place where rape was happening every day, but when we asked the question, they didn’t talk about sexual violence against women. I thought, “We have a problem here. Why don’t you talk about it? They’re abusing your wife; they are abusing your daughter.”
     
  3. How did you, in your work at the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, help survivors? Most of the time when women are raped, the rebel group picks up all the stuff in their house and burns the house. The first step is, we bring them to the hospital. We sign a contract with the hospital and pay, and they treat the women. After that, six months of counseling to get them out of trauma, to tell them this is not the end of life, to not give up. It was not easy. I used to train 60 women in the east of the Congo, for two months, to become professional counselors. Before, we didn’t have many counselors; we brought some from Holland.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2010
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