Archbishops and UK minister visit project against sexual violence in Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been plagued by widespread violence against women and girlsAP

The Archbishop of Canterbury was joined on Wednesday by the Archbishop of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the UK's Minister for Africa in a visit to Heal Africa, a UK-funded charity that partners with communities on health and development initiatives.

Heal Africa is working to put an end to sexual violence and receives funding from the UK Government's Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.

The charity is part of Tearfund's 'Silent No More' project, which is being implemented in the DRC in partnership with the Anglican Church of DRC.

It uses various programmes and initiatives to tackle the issue of sexual violence and work towards the protection and support of victims, including training faith leaders to promote gender justice.

The three men met with representatives to discuss the devastating impact of sexual violence in the DRC, which is particularly prevalent in areas of conflict in the eastern regions.

Minister Mark Simmonds praised the work of faith groups in fighting sexual violence, saying he felt "honoured" to witness the work of the groundbreaking projects.

"We cannot succeed in stopping rape and other abuses without local people working at the heart of communities to develop a shared commitment to end this devastating crime," he said.

"I am encouraged by the important work they are doing...together we will do everything we can to ensure that sexual violence is no longer a feature of conflict in the 21st century," he assured.

He and the Archbishops heard more about planned campaigns to develop safe communities and mobilise positive male role models for young men in the DRC. Co-founder of Heal Africa, Dr Jo Lusi underlined the importance of making sure that men are educated in how to treat women.

"Although men are most often the perpetrators, they are also a crucial part of prevention and of the solution," she said.

Speaking about the visit, Archbishop Welby stressed that the suffering in eastern DRC is a "global tragedy", and reiterated the importance of protecting those most vulnerable to sexual violence in the region.

He applauded Heal Africa for its "notable contribution, setting a wonderful example of holistic care, best practice, and deep Christian compassion in partnership with the Anglican Church".

"The FCO programme against sexual violence is of huge significance, and a foundation of reconciliation," he concluded.

The Archbishop of DRC, the Most Reverend Henri Isingoma, also welcomed the partnership, noting his hope that "other churches and Christian organisations as well as civil society will actively take part in more vibrant and concrete advocacy to end the hostilities that have lasted for so long".

Eliminating sexual violence is "a priority issue for my church and for me personally," he said, noting that "ending the conflict in the region is also crucial".

The UK is to host a global Summit on Sexual Violence in Conflict this June, and Mr Simmonds noted that he is looking forward to working with the DRC Special Representative on Sexual Violence in particular "on this critical agenda".

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