Seeds of Hope: Sanctuary and recovery in the DRC
The film opens with a shocking statistic: 48 women are raped every hour. Seeds of Hope attempts to humanise this figure by documenting the lives of women living in Masika’s centre. The centre is a shelter for victims and, over time, has managed to develop livelihoods for the women who live there, in the forms of farming and sewing.
The film reveals how endemic rape has become in the Democratic Republic of Congo and during conversations with members of the military explains not only how they use rape as a weapon, but also how it has become an almost standard part of military practice.
Director Fiona Lloyd-Davies described how, as a filmmaker who has covered different wars, the use of rape in conflicts was not new. She was, however, shocked by “the frequency, the violence, the level of violence against women” when she visited the region. She described how, when she first visited in 2001, rape was frequent, but did not seem to have a structure or real pattern, and was still random. By the time of a next visit in 2005, she was appalled by the accounts she heard:
“Very organised rape camps. . . . It seemed to have shifted and become much more organised, . . . they talked about having name calls . . . and it seems that many girls get taken and they’re led into the forest for several weeks to quite remote areas where the militias have got their camps, and they’re kept there until they escape.”
Lloyd-Davies explained to the audience that many soldiers had been arrested and put on trial in November 2013 in Minova for the charge of rape. Out of the 40 that were originally charged, one soldier died before the trial and five never appeared in court as they were still able to work, and were deployed with their units. The final verdict took place in May 2014, where only two soldiers were found guilty of rape as a war crime. She described this lack of justice as “virtual impunity”. As the risk of punishment is so low, there is no deterrent for soldiers to stop committing these crimes:
“If they know that they (may have) done it before, they may not have; they may have seen, or heard of friends do it before [or] their colleagues in the army, and with so little justice and with this virtual impunity, there is a sense . . . that they can get away with it.”
One audience member enquired after the director’s personal safety while making this film; as a low budget documentary the crew was very small, and she was filming in a dangerous and violent area. Lloyd-Davies explained that 2011, when she did most of her filming with Masika in Minova, was a “very quiet time”, and that she was staying at a priest’s house. She then told the audience that she had been attacked in Minova, but went on to say that she has been back to Minova since then, and intends to go back again.
She also discussed how the situation is improving in terms of the stigma attached to rape and the treatment of rape victims. The film discusses how many of the women were rejected by their families after they were raped, which is the reason that many of them found their way to Masika’s centre. One of the questions from the audience was whether any improvements or developments have been made, and Lloyd-Davies described the work that many NGOs are carrying out within villages, working with village elders, to address the stigma and encourage communities to view rape victims differently, which has meant that more rape victims have been able to come forward and receive the help that they need.
Information on future screenings of Seeds of Hope can be found on the film’s website here.