Restoring stability could increase access to critical health care in the region
The U.S. government is deploying 100 troops to Central Africa to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a decades-old organization notorious for rape, sex slavery, and other forms of violence against women. The troops will be armed for self-defense but will primarily advise regional military forces in hunting down the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, who became the International Criminal Court’s first indictee for war crimes about 10 years ago.
Since 1987, the LRA has terrorized civilian populations throughout the central African region, including parts of Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Uganda, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Over the years, tens of thousands of children have been abducted to serve as child soldiers, women and girls were enslaved for sex, while tens of thousands more were disfigured or killed. Those who have been displaced by the violence continue to live in refugee and displacement camps with little opportunity for education, work, or proper health care.
While it will inevitably take time, restoring stability in the region is a prerequisite for improving physical security and developing roads and other critical infrastructure that are key to expanding people’s access to medical care. This includes access to quality reproductive health care, a goal that EngenderHealth works to achieve in both Uganda, the DRC, and throughout Africa. EngenderHealth’s Fistula Care project supports health centers in both Uganda, where the LRA originated, and the DRC, where the group continues to operate today. The project focuses on providing treatment for women living with fistula resulting from both obstetric and traumatic injury. Read a story about EngenderHealth-trained fistula surgeons in the DRC.
Some consider President Barack Obama’s deployment decision to be a positive sign that the United States will not tolerate sexual violence in Africa. The decision to deploy is consistent with legislation in Congress, the “International Violence Against Women Act” (IVAWA), which aims to establish gender-based violence as a top priority for U.S. foreign policy. IVAWA passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December 2010 but failed to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives.