Every March 8th International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world in order to highlight the economic, political and social achievements of women. But this year, as well as thinking about all the positive things that have advanced the cause of women’s equality, we invite you to turn your thoughts to a part of the world where women’s rights are not only overlooked but where women are killed and abused daily.
The Congo is Africa’s deadliest conflict, in which an estimated six million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped as warring factions fight over its mineral wealth. The continued use of rape as a tool of war and as a way to intimidate local people makes life in the Eastern Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo especially violent and hard.
UN officials consider the problem of sexual violence there worse than anywhere else in the world. Add this to a female life expectancy around the lowest 10% of the world, huge numbers of displaced families trying to survive in refugee camps, and a dramatic increase in rapes by civilians, and you can understand why an international day to mark women’s progress towards equality might seem out of place in the Congo.
Why should this matter to people in the Western World, and to Facebook users in particular? Because much of the conflict in the Congo is over mineral rights, and the minerals concerned are essential to the production of mobile phones, game consoles, and similar technologies. Without these minerals, your mobile phone would not work; that means that some of the money that pays for your phone goes to fuel the civil war in Eastern Congo and the resultant violence against women, children, and others.
What can you do about it? Here are three things you can do right now – call them additional ways of marking International Women’s Day:
1. Write to your MP to tell them about the situation and why you’re concerned about it. To make things easy for you there’s a template letter here (doc), and if you’re not sure you can find out who your MP is here.
2. Put pressure on the companies that manufacture your phone and other new technologies. The campaign is already making a difference, for instance Apple recently reported that “we’ll require our suppliers to move their sourcing of tin, tungsten, and gold to certified conflict-free as smelters become certified” (see here). Please keep up the pressure and sign the petition calling on Apple to make conflict-free products that include minerals from eastern Congo. You can view and sign the petition, as well as read why others have signed it, here. If you don’t use Apple products then why not write to the manufacturer of whoever does make your phone and ask them how they plan to improve their policies on conflict-free minerals? You can check out the position of other technology companies by following this link to the Act page of this website.
3. Read more about the work of Congo Calling on this site. We are a new organisation devoted to campaigning for peace and ethical natural resource management in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You can find out more about what you can do to make a difference here too.
Here’s to solidarity with the women of The Congo on International Women’s Day!