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Work to help DRC rape victims wins peace prize

Posted on: November 17, 2014 2:17 PM
Therese Mema Mapenzi awarded the 2014 Coventry International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation
Photo Credit: Diocese of Coventry
Related Categories: Coventry, England, Peace

The Coventry International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation has been awarded to Thérèse Mema Mapenzi for her work with those who have suffered sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The prize honours initiatives, organisations, individuals or projects that have made an exemplary contribution to working for peace.

Thérèse Mema Mapenzi is the Sexual Violence Programme Leader for the Justice and Peace Commission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  She works with rape victims in the city of Bukavu, in South Kivu, which is in the east of the country.

Thérèse runs 16 listening centres in different villages in South Kivu.  These centres help women to tell their stories in a safe place, coming to terms with their ordeals through counselling, listening and support.

Thérèse said:

"It is very important that the voices of women affected by sexual violence are heard.  Rape has become a weapon of war and we must not let it be forgotten because it has become commonplace.  Every assault against a woman or girl is a terrifying and devastating experience, especially when it is often followed by stigmatisation by family and friends.

The Listening Rooms offer a safe place for women to talk and make friends with other women who have been raped.  When many have been disowned by their families and communities after their attacks, the Listening Room becomes their family and offers a crucial lifeline in very hard times."

The award ceremony

Coventry _Peace _award
Bishop of Coventry, Lord Mayor of Coventry, Dean of Coventry, 2014 Coventry Peace Prize Winner, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Warwick University, Professor of Peacebuilding at Coventry University,
Photo Credit: Diocese of Coventry

The award ceremony took place at Coventry Cathedral on Friday 14 November, marking the 74th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz.

During the ceremony, Bishop Christopher commended Thérèse and her work.  He said:

"As the Pro-Vice Chancellor [of the University of Warwick] says so eloquently, now is the time to do all in our powers to bring to an end sexual violence in war.

To do so will require the will and commitment of the leaders of the nations and their armed forces to reverse the reality of history that has increasingly become in our time not only a despicable consequence of conflict but a strategic weapon of war. This epidemic of evil is a scourge not only on (as the Pro-Vice Chancellor put it) her–story but on the story of the whole of humanity in the twenty-first century.

We can take some satisfaction that our own Government – under the determined leadership of the previous Foreign Secretary – has taken a lead in galvanizing politicians across the world to work for the end of sexual violence in conflict. But William Hague is the first to admit that in order both to deal with the effects of sexual violence in the past on women and men (including the bringing of perpetrators to justice) and to build the sort of world culture in which such action is deemed utterly and absolutely unacceptable, we need people and organisations on the ground who will work for healing and justice, peace and reconciliation.

One such organization is the Sexual Violence Programme for the Justice and Peace Commission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo funded by CAFOD (The Aid Agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales). It is a remarkable organization that uses a beautifully simple and profoundly Christian method: a space where victims can tell their stories and be listened to by their communities.

  • Stories that are unbelievably and disturbingly harrowing.
  • Communities which themselves have been traumatised by the horror of rape and who have found themselves ostracizing its victims.
  • Listening Centres – and this is the genius of the project – where women who have suffered terribly can speak and in speaking be heard and in being heard be helped to healing.

The Bible tells us that God said: 'This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him'. It seems to me that this programme is founded on the Christian conviction that the suffering of the world are enveloped in the beloved Christ, who also suffered terribly at the hands of wicked men, so that God says to the world: 'This is my daughter, my beloved, listen to her'.

The programme is, indeed, remarkable but remarkable programmes need remarkable leaders. The leader of this programme is an extraordinary person full to capacity of courage and compassion, love and a fierce commitment to care together with a passion not only for healing the wounds of sexual violence on women but also for ending its deepest causes – including the perpetration of violence and war itself. That is why it is an honour for the city of Coventry to award its 2014 International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation to her.

And the name of this remarkable person is Thérèse Mema Mapenzi."