Graphic film on survivors of DR Congo conflict

Posted: 8 September 2009

North Kivu, in the eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been described as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Since 1998, as the Congolese army has battled against half a dozen or more rebel militias, five and a half million civilians have been killed and more than half a million women raped in the country. It's a conflict, one estimate claims, now bloodier than any since World War II.

In 'Grace Under Fire' - the latest in tve's Life on the Edge films filmed by award-winning director Bruno Sorrentino and launching on BBC World News on September 8th - we follow Dr Grace Kodindo, a leading advocate for women's reproductive health and rights, as she explores what help is available for the men, women and children affected by the fighting.

Grace Kodindo with rape survivors
Grace Kodindo with rape survivors
Grace Kodindo with rape survivors and their children. Photo © tve
Women in sub-Saharan Africa have a one in 13 lifetime chance of dying in pregnancy and childbirth - and must sometimes feel they're in a combat zone in any case. So when they're caught up in armed conflict, it's like being on the front line twice over. But do the humanitarian agencies working to provide emergency services and health care in war torn North Kivu have the specialist drugs and equipment that women here need? Grace talks to doctors, nurses and ordinary people to find answers.

"Where to even begin ending the suffering?" asks Grace in the film after visiting clinics and meeting doctors, nurses and survivors across the region. "By far the biggest casualties of this conflict are civilians - not the fighters. And the women and children suffer the most. Their need is the greatest... Reproductive healthcare must be seen as a frontline priority - not something to think about only after the fighting is over."

For many years Grace Kodindo fought to save lives in ill-equipped maternity wards in her native Chad in Central Africa. Her work's been honoured by the international community and documented in the BBC documentary 'Dead Mums Don't Cry', broadcast around the world. But for all her experience of treating women suffering the effects of neglect, she's still not prepared for the real life stories of inhumanity and sexual violence she hears from those caught up in the DRC's long running conflict.

There's 19-year old Yvonne, pregnant after being raped by soldiers on her way to her parents' field. Sebutanwa and his wife Claudine who were fleeing the fighting when Claudine went into labour in the bush, where Sebutanwa delivered their baby with the emergency 'clean delivery' kit they'd been given, containing a sterile plastic sheet, clean razor and tape - which helped save both Claudine and her baby's lives.

Court martial of soldiers
Court martial of soldiers
Roadside court martial of soldiers accused of rape. Photo © tve
But there are also the rays of hope: the therapy programmes organized by humanitarian agencies working in the region for rape survivors, teaching skills to help them earn a living; the heroic doctors and nurses who struggle against the odds to provide decent healthcare: and finally, the Congolese court martial that Grace stumbles across, where an army judge metes out punishment of hard labour to soldiers convicted of rape - a sign, Grace believes, that there may finally be an end to the impunity for the sexual violence that's come to characterise the DRC conflict.

For more on the subject, go to tve's website. To watch a clip from this film, go here.