Beauty may not be the first word that leaps to mind when contemplating the rape crisis in eastern Congo, and it’s an easy one to overlook amid the horror. But one photographer, Pete Muller, has set out to portray it in his images of survivors and the women who, against the odds, offer them medical, psychological and legal help.
Muller, an award-winning photographer, travelled to war-torn eastern Congo in February, to highlight the voices of the women activists and survivors who are working for a lasting solution to the violence.
His work is featured in an exhibition organised by the Nobel Women's Initiative at the Global summit to end sexual violence in conflictin London, from June 10 to 13, 2014. The summit is the largest-ever gathering on this issue, drawing in representatives of most of the world's countries to discuss how to end rape in war.
Images of soldiers and peacekeepers are the first thing you see. Armed men kneeling in prayer, or looking on as women searching for their lost relatives walk by.
As you turn a corner, the images change. No longer armed, soldiers are now on trial for rape, slumped in chairs looking bored or tired, with children looking on.
The hurdles of the justice system in this part of Congo are striking. Survivors must pay to have their case heard in court and to house the accused in prison. There are few convictions.
The last corner brings the visitor face to face with portraits of survivors, and the women trying to help them.
There are few government services in eastern Congo. Rape survivors often turn to local women's groups who take the survivor to hospital, help her if her family or village rejects her, encourage her to take her case to court, and later help her rebuild her life.
One such is SOFEPADI, a coalition of 40 women’s organisations.
WOMB OF THE NATION
One of the most striking portraits is of Neema Namadamu, who established Maman Shujaa after her 25-year-old daughter was attacked by government soldiers.
Maman Shujaa, which helps women share their stories online with a global audience, has been petitioning internationally for an end to the violence.
"We are tired of only being cast as casualties of war," the organisation says. "We are the womb of this nation, and we demand the insanity stop."
Muller’s photos, along with videos made by two others who travelled with him, will be made available online in September 2014.