It’s an abnormally gorgeous day in March, and Felicité Nduku is marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people like her are also on bridges for International Women’s Day, showing solidarity and support for women who are victims of conflict across the globe. But Nduku’s cause is one that has received virtual radio silence, a fact that is horrific in the context of its scale. In 2008, the International Rescue Committee estimated that the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo cost 5.4 million lives since 1998, a conflict’s largest loss of life since World War II. But there’s something else sickening going on in the Congo, even in the war’s aftermath: to this day, militias are systematically raping women for control over minerals used to make electronics.
Thanks to a recent Times exposé, the West is now well-acquainted with the troubling factory conditions in China due to iPad demand. But since 1996, the U.N. has put the number of women raped and brutalized because of demand for the eastern DRC’s minerals used to make cell phones, iPhones, iPads, refrigerators and other products—tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold—at 200,000, a conservative estimate.
“We are not counting on any politician, because we know that their interests shift,” Nduku says. Instead, Nduku and others are part of the Black Out movement for the Congo, and they are asking consumers, directly, to give up their cell phones.
“A lot of people have never been to Congo, have never heard about Congo,” Judita Kalongi, another marcher, says. “But somehow, you have something that belongs to Congo. You have Congolese life and blood in the use of cell phones.”
At this point, I realize that the recorder that Nduku and Judita are speaking into, the one I am holding, might very well run on some of the “blood electronics” that fuel systematic rape in their home country. At the time this piece is being written, it remains a nauseating and unfinished thought.
There are programs are operating in the DRC to empower women and counsel rape survivors. Women for Women International, the organization sponsoring the march, runs a support and vocational training program in the DRC. To find out more, click here.