Philanthropy editor Joan Kelley Walker says the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls needs to be discussed. Here’s how World Vision is helping, and how you can help, too.
By Joan Kelley Walker

My last trip with World Vision Canada was to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The reality of life there is much different than what we know, and I want to shed light on a terrible topic that lingers in the shadows — sexual violence against women and girls. It happens everywhere, including in Canada, but in the eastern DRC, it is often a weapon of war. “It is used by armed groups and regular forces to punish, dominate and destroy local communities,” says Christine Amisi (known as Dr. Tina), executive secretary of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC, in a new interview with Michael Messenger, president and CEO of World Vision Canada, to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

According to Dr. Tina, an average of 1,152 women are raped every day in the DRC. This, of course, has a horrific impact on individuals, families and entire communities, including mass displacement, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, increased poverty and the destruction of social cohesion.

believe it is important to create awareness about what is being done about this and how you can help. We can feel hopeless, however, there is hope.

In 1999, the Panzi Hospital (located in eastern DRC), founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege, opened its doors, and the hospital has treated more than 50,000 survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. “We realized early on that medical care wasn’t enough to treat survivors,” says Dr. Tina. “We take a holistic approach that combines medical health, psychological and socio-economic support.”

This holistic approach includes the innovative Healing in Harmony (HiH) therapeutic music program developed by the Canadian organization Make Music Matter. HiH helps heal emotional wounds that can last a lifetime by pairing survivors of violence with a professional therapist and music producer to unlock trauma from deep within the brain. By writing, creating and performing songs about their experiences, these survivors become empowered artists and community members. “The negative perception of trauma is replaced by positive perception,” Dr. Tina says of the HiH’s approach. “It gives them a sense of recognition and stabilizes their emotions. It changes their sadness to joy.”

Canada is committed to ending gender-based violence. Equality for Girls’ Access to Learning (EGAL) is a new Government of Canada grant-funded project that continues to develop successful approaches that build the resilience of young women and girls in the DRC to cope with the trauma of gender violence. The aim is to reduce their anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. EGAL, implemented by World Vision and Make Music Matter, removes the barriers to education to provide learning opportunities. The project aims to reach 600,000 people over three years, including more than 11,000 vulnerable children, girls and youth at risk of losing access to education. “We cannot eliminate violence against women and girls without educating them,” Dr. Tina says. “We need equal access to education. We have found that in the EGAL project area, participants of the Healing in Harmony program are now deciding to return to school. They want to be educated. They want to prosper. And they want to build their community.”

“Grace,” one of the EGAL HiH participants, is a 19-year-old artist and young mother who shared her story after entering the program. “The story of my life makes me sick,” she said. “In 2017, there was a war in our province. The militiamen entered our house by force, killed my sister and then my grandfather, who paid my school fees. In the end, they raped me, and I ended up with an unwanted pregnancy. Since that time, I dream of the atrocities of the militiamen as if it was happening now. I live in total despair, and I am ashamed when I see my colleagues who progress in school.”

After going through the HiH therapy and music sessions, she realized she was not responsible for what happened to her. Her nightmares diminished and she no longer feels shame and despair. “My thoughts about my life, my environment and my future changed. I relieved myself by sharing my story. I feel good with my body and feel connected to the child I thought I would never love.” Now her desire is to go back to school and study like her peers, regardless of what people will say about her. She is hoping to find a way to pay her school fees with World Vision’s help.

Together as Canadians, we can do more to end this shadow pandemic of violence. Learn about how you can help people in war-torn DRC and other dangerous places through World Vision’s Raw Hope initiative at worldvision.ca/rawhopecause.