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Abuse of Power / Foreign Policy

abuseofpower

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 8.11.09 AMBUNIA, Democratic Republic of the Congo A dust-diffused brightness illuminated female speakers dressed in patterns of orange and green, yellow and blue as they addressed a group of journalists and activists about the many challenges facing women in their country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These challenges include low literacy, a lack of representation in politics, and disenfranchisement from access to other sources of power, including money. Then, almost as an aside, a woman named Jacqueline Borve from a group called Programme Amkeni Wamama made a remark that stood out among the litany: The most prevalent form of violence against young women she sees in her home town of Walikale, in Congo’s North Kivu province, is sexual harassment and assault in schools.

She was not referring to the treatment of girls by male students, however. She was talking about abuse mainly perpetrated by teachers.

“They use their power as teachers to impose on girls what they want through sex,” she said. And there is no recourse for girls who are subjected to a teacher’s violence. “The system does not allow girls to raise any complaints.”

“They use their power as teachers to impose on girls what they want through sex,” she said. And there is no recourse for girls who are subjected to a teacher’s violence. “The system does not allow girls to raise any complaints.”

Other human rights activists I met in eastern Congo told me that this kind of abuse against girls in schools is shockingly common. A survey by the Brazil-based nonprofit organization Promundo found that 16 percent of girls in North Kivu said they had been forced to have sex with their teachers. And according to a 2010 UNICEF report, 46 percent of Congolese schoolgirls in one national study confirmed that they had been victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence committed by their teachers or other school personnel.

“There’s something exceptionally perverse here,” said Pablo Castillo-Diaz, a protection specialist on U.N. Women’s peace and security team. “School is supposed to be a safe haven. Teachers are seen as protectors, so it’s even more harmful when these people become perpetrators.”

This problem is hardly unique to Congo. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, “it is not uncommon to find teachers promising higher grades or reduced school fees or supplies in exchange for sex with girls,” UNICEF has reported.

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