'If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo


Kelly, Jocelyn, Justin Kabanga, Will Cragin, Lys Alcayna-Stevens, Sadia Haider, and Michael J. Vanrooyen. 2012. "'If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Global Public Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy, and Practice 7 (3): 285-98.

Authors: Jocelyn Kelly, Justin Kabanga, Will Cragin, Lys Alcanya-Stevens, Sadia Haider, Michael J. Vanrooyen


More than a decade of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has resulted in extensive human rights abuses, of which sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is one of the most salient and disturbing features. This paper uses qualitative data, based on 10 focus groups with 86 women and men to better understand gendered community perspectives on SGBV and its consequences in South Kivu. We conclude that for many survivors, rape has consequences far beyond the physiological and psychological trauma associated with the attack. Respondents saysexual violence has become a societal phenomenon, in which the community isolation and shame experienced as a result of the attack become as important as concerns about the attack itself. Male focus group participants explain their own feelings of shame and anger associated with knowing their female relatives were raped. These findings highlight the complexity of community reintegration for survivors and identify a number of programmatic and policy implications, such as the need for counselling for survivors of sexual violence with their families as well as individually; the importance of income-generating training; and the need for improved justice mechanisms to bring perpetrators to justice.

Keywords: sexual violence, conflict, Stigma, rape, focus groups, qualitative research


“Participants also suggested that rape has become a norm for many men who have grown up in the recent decade of intense fighting.  Men and women spontaneously noted that Congolese men were increasingly prone to raping.” (289)

“Indeed, some male participants in the focus group interviews suggested that women might 'provoke' rape by wearing revealing clothes, travelling at night, or being far from their community. The majority of focus group participants agreed that women were not to blame for being raped, although they nonetheless recognised that blame of the rape victim was the basis for many of the negative community reactions of rejection and stigmatisation.” (290)

"Women described gossip has being particularly hurtful and making a significant contribution to community stigma." (290)

“Two female focus group respondents noted that their communities did help them by taking them to the hospital and counselling them.” (290)

“Men seemed less likely to reject a female relative, such as a sister or daughter, who had been raped compared with a wife. When asked about the reason for the difference in men's reactions, participants noted that male relatives may truly love the victim because of their 'consanguinity,' while the husband may only see his wife as a burden once she has been raped -- particularly if she has suffered debilitating injuries.” (291)

“Men's narratives repeatedly brought up HIV/AIDS as the reason a man 'must' reject his wife….'how can you feed yourself spoiled food?'” (291)

“Other reasons cited by participants for a husband's rejection of his wife after rape were: reluctance to raise children born of rape and pressure from his family to leave his wife.” (291)

"Female rape survivors who tested negative for STIs and HIV were considered potential candidates for reintegration into their communities and families." (291)

“Participants from the men's groups emphasised that husbands of women who have been raped experience stigma and haya [shame] too. While men were quick to acknowledge women's suffering, they also repeatedly stated that they were also affected.  As one participant put it, ‘You can't live with that woman because sometimes when those aggressors come they will tie you and give you a torch to help them have light while they are raping your wife.’” (291)

“Men also stated their inability to defend women from rape is traumatic.  This inability to protect one's wife can lead not only to shame and stigmatisation in the community, but to discord in the home….‘The husband will lose his power in the family because the wife will be implying that he is weak and unable to protect her.’” (291)

“Women stressed how important the relationship with their husbands is in determining the community's response to rape.  Another explained, ‘They can also help [survivors] to get respected from other people, because if your husband doesn't humiliate you, other people won't.’” (291)

“Women from the focus groups emphasised that certain customs that traditionally were directed towards female adulterers were now being applied to victims of rape.” (293)

“When asked what the major problems were upon returning home after being raped, women in the focus groups repeatedly spoke of restricted access to their fields; lack of income-generating activities and access to markets; and not enough money to feed or send their children to school.” (293)

“Women saw their increasingly impoverished state as a result of rape….Men, however, saw property as a key reason rape is so widespread.” (293)

“When asked about how communities could come to terms with how to respond to rape, participants stressed education and religion as potentially effective interventions.” (293)

“Women are the driving force behind the subsistence economy of South Kivu, which is based on farming and livestock. These findings suggest that the fear of rape, and the isolation of women from their families and farms as a result of rejection, may have a significant economic impact on individuals, families, and communities.” (295)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2012

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