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Press Release

Women and girls in DRC facing an increased risk of violence and higher exposure to Ebola since start of the outbreak

A rapid assessment conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) shows that the ongoing Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, DRC may be exacerbating an already dangerous situation facing women and girls.

  • Assessment participants perceive an increase in violence against women and girls during the current crisis, with the highest risks being viewed as sexual violence and domestic violence.
  • As primary caretakers for the sick, women and girls are at increased exposure to the virus and account for 57-62 percent of confirmed and probable cases.
  • Women also manage household prevention, meaning that women and girls, and particularly adolescent girls, must increase the number of times they travel by foot each day to fetch water. This results in elevated risks of sexual violence and harassment.
  • Community members report commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls to meet basic personal and household needs. Some also raised concerns about sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • The IRC is working with the DRC government and other partners and stakeholders to improve the response and protect women and girls.

A rapid assessment conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) finds some community members in North Kivu, DRC perceive an increase in violence since the start of the Ebola outbreak. As primary caretakers of the sick and elderly, women are more exposed to the disease resulting in infection rates which fluctuate between 57-62 percent. Additionally, due to increased use of water for handwashing and other prevention activities, women and girls are more frequently traveling long distances to collect water where they may be at increased risk of sexual violence and harassment. The IRC is committed to using this information to protect women and girls in North Kivu.

Kate Moger, IRC’s Regional Vice President for Great Lakes, covering DRC said,

“Around the world, research shows that epidemics and conflict compound pre-existing gender inequalities, often leading to an increase in harm and risks experienced by women and girls both in the home and community. During the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak women and girls were disproportionately affected, leading to both an increase in sexual and domestic violence, as well as a higher infection rate and long term recovery implications. Learning from the West Africa experience, aid organizations, WHO and the Ministry of Health in DRC have been proactive in incorporating the specific needs and challenges faced by women and girls throughout this response from its onset.

For this reason, we conducted a rapid assessment to gauge community members’ perceptions of how the Ebola outbreak and response has affected the lives of women and girls. The assessment shows more must be done to protect women and girls. The IRC has a long history of putting the needs of women and girls at the center of our work, and we are working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to jointly adapt and improve the response to limit risks for women and girls accessing Ebola and other services, strengthen reporting mechanisms, and increase coverage of Ebola response services. We will work with partners to do whatever it takes  to ensure women and girls are protected. ”

Leading on infection prevention and control, the IRC is working in 59 health clinics, training health workers to recognize symptoms and safely triage and transfer suspected Ebola patients to treatment centers; as well as working in women’s and children’s protection and community sensitization. In order to apply our own learning from the West Africa Ebola response, the IRC deployed specialized women's protection and child protection staff to establish dedicated programming for these populations within our Ebola response to ensure survivors of gender-based violence receive proper treatment and services and to strengthen prevention and outreach to women and children.

The IRC has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 responding to the humanitarian crisis in the east. It has since evolved into one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance and post-conflict development, with life-saving programming in health, economic recovery, women’s and children protection, and livelihoods.   

To read the full assessment, click here.

To download images of the IRC’s Ebola response in North Kivu, click here.

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Notes to the editor:

The snowball methodology relied upon one focus group participant identifying others, which results in participants selecting people they know and trust. While this methodology allows for open and safe participation, it also has limitations. Focus groups were largely made up of participants with similar backgrounds and less diversity of experiences or views. For this and other reasons note here, the findings cannot be generalized across the entire response.

The IRC carried out this rapid assessment in an emergency context, and the findings are not reflective of the scale or prevalence of any of the issues raised. The IRC’s assessment reflects respondents’ perception of trends and concerns they have in the current context. During the focus groups, no women reported specific individual cases of sexual exploitation and abuse to the IRC that they may be familiar with in their family or community.

During the IRC assessment, nine out of 34 focus groups raised either sexual exploitation and abuse or commercial sexual exploitation generally as concerns. However, when speaking about commercial sexual exploitation, it was not always clear if this represented a change since the Ebola outbreak; these responses may also refer to the prior context.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.