Mathilde Muhindo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been awarded the prestigious Human Rights Defender Award for 2008 by Human Rights Watch. Her award was one of five announced by the international organization that polices human rights violations around the world.
Muhindo, once a member of Congo’s parliament, was honored for her work supporting rape victims in South Kivu in eastern DRC, where a woman is raped every thirty minutes. The area has been ravaged by armed conflict for over ten years and sexual violence is used by government forces and rebel militias to terrorize the civilian population and control territory. Sexual slavery, gang rape, and mutilation are endemic.
Muhindo now works as director of the Olame Centre, a nongovernmental women’s rights organization that provided psychological and practical assistance to victims of abuse. Its programs empower women to fight against pervasive discrimination and sexual violence. She also founded a parliamentary committee to investigate rape as a weapon of war.
“Women and children are paying dearly for the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Muhindo said when told of the award. “Sexual violence in eastern provinces should be seen in its proper contexts – a war within a war. A war against women.”
In partnership with Human Rights Watch and other groups, Muhindo has brought the issue to the European Union, the United States, and others. She led a coalition of local women’s organizations that advocated for a comprehensive law on sexual violence in the DRC.
Muhindo faced death threats for her work, but refuses to be silenced.