Understanding the Experiences of Congolese Women with Children Born from Rape: Data Analysis – Day 2

I’ve made it through the first thorough read of the transcripts for all 5 focus groups. The margins are filled with notations and I’ve gone back through each a couple of times to get a sense of “the whole.” I used the original set of interview questions as a guide for organizing the themes that are emerging from the data. There is much consistency across groups in their discussions and answers to the questions. What’s obvious is the power of stigma and how adversely it impacts the lives of the women and their children. It’s this particular injustice that sends me through the roof when I read about the shaming and rejection they experience.

It’s early in the analysis but I already see what’s missing in the data. While the women detail the implications of stigma, they give little insight into WHY rape carries such a heavy stigma. This gets tricky as I immediately jump to my Western feminist viewpoint which indicts patriarchy and narrow gender scripts informed by Christianity, etc. etc. etc. This may be a piece to the puzzle but I’m the outsider so I must turn to African feminists for perspective and of course, previous research. That said, what I’ve read so far from African feminists is quite divided in their theoretical standpoints. More on this later.

What’s also troubling and not a surprise, is the internalization of the stigma by the majority of the mothers so that they are both the victim and purveyor of harsh shaming and interactions. This of course is complicated greatly by their own trauma but the women do not address this and I didn’t ask. Another interesting observation is that the women overwhelmingly identify poverty as a culprit for their stigma and economic independence as the solution. In other words, if a woman can provide for herself and her family (and no longer need to rely on the generosity of others for housing and food), and be “successful,” she will be respected by others and the stigma will end. This is not a link I anticipated and will require some unpacking. What’s interesting is that the burden is on them to end the stigma. There was little mention that others should take responsibility and cease casting stones.

Here are the notes from my analysis thus far:

Focus Group Emerging Themes

1) Is there a stigma associated with being a mother of a child of rape? Is there a stigma for the child?

Terrible stigma for both mother and child.

For child, labeled as Interahamwe which is a terrible insult. Implications:

– insulted by other children

-not accepted in community

– mother views child as burden, can’t meet basic needs of food, clothes, etc.

– predicted to become like father or Interahamwe (ruthless, murderer)

– other children won’t play with him/her or share food

– beaten by other children

– beaten by mother, physically separated from siblings, made to eat alone

– scapegoat for other children’s mistakes

This stigma + trauma + poverty leads to desperation.

Coping with stigma:

– abortion

– wishing child would die

– it’s not our fault that we get such children

– tell themselves that child could be comfort to them

– powerless against it, no choice about being stigmatized (fate?)

– if society accepts or stops stigmatizing her, she can better accept child

– cry

– keep children inside to protect them from others

– lie to kids about their fathers

– counseling can help

2) Are these women/children accepted or rejected by others? Why?

 Women and children are overwhelmingly rejected.

The price of stigma (overall suffering):

– rejected with no place to go

– husbands may divorce mother

– families don’t want the children around

– no support or assistance (so can’t provide for basic needs), must resort to begging

– not accepted by community

– instructed to take the children back to the father

– insulted, labeled as “raped woman”, publicly humiliated by people laughing at them, pointing, neglecting them

– ashamed

– less than human

– exploitation by men (sex for housing)

– assumed to be contaminated with HIV+ or with other STIs

– feel alone, isolated

3) Is it possible to hide that you are a child of rape? Is it possible for a woman to hide the fact that her child is born of sexual violence?

            Do women ever give birth alone to conceal a pregnancy due to rape?

 Difficult to conceal. Other children will tell the child. Difficult for a woman to hide – others seem to know. Women do prefer to give birth at home as a way to hide rape.

 4) Do women give special names to these children? Like what?

Names are very symbolic.

– some names are chosen to avoid possible detection of child born from rape (Rose or Vanessa)

– symbols of hope: Ushindi=victory; Amani=Peace

– their condition: Mateseo=suffering; Patience;

– their fate: Luck or Chance; Ishara=miracle; Baracka=blessing from God; Divine=because child comes from God; Gift=gift from            God; Ashuza=an answer from Jesus; Fahida=prophet because it is the will of God to have such a child

5) Do you think most women accept or reject their children? Why? How can you tell?

– Most women reject but they are conflicted

– Even if they do accept, they won’t value or love the child the same as the others because it came from trouble and hardship

– Counseling makes a difference

– Poverty causes them to reject

– Men can cause them to reject

6) What is the relationship like between a mother and child when she accepts the child? Is it the same as the relationship she has with her other children?

– very few women could accept the child and love it/give it the same value as the other kids

– if community accepts her, she can live in peace with the child (not the same as acceptance)

7) What is the relationship like between a mother and child when she rejects the child? Is she violent? Does she neglect the child?

 – Women may be violent, insult the child, withhold food.

– pushes child away so doesn’t have to answer questions about the father

– child become scapegoat for other children’s mistakes

8) Does ethnicity of the perpetrator matter? Sex of the child?

Ethnicity matters but sex of the child does not.

– If Interahamwe then not part of the tribe and will be like father – a bad person, a killer.

 9) Do some women try to end their pregnancies? Why or why not? How is that viewed by others?

 The perception is that most women try to have an abortion because the children make life difficult. But there are several reasons why they don’t end up having an abortion.

– abortion is a sin

– hope that the child may be a big help in the future

– hope that the child might be great person if God blesses

-fearful that she will die

-want the child

-worried doctor will refuse or they will be found out

Rational for abortion:

– avoid another mouth to feed

– increases chances of getting married

– avoid stigma

10) What services are needed for the women? Children?  Explain.

 -Women need housing.

-Panzi is a refuge providing safety and place of acceptance (very appreciative of Dr. M) but also outs them as raped women

– Want someone to support them (financially). Pay for housing or school fees because poverty is a trigger.

11) What are hopes for kids? Moms?



help others

help the mom

be president, priest, teacher, doctor, member of parliament

learn English

go to US or Europe


get respect

be independent

have an education

have a small business (sewing)

12) What else would help end the stigma associated with these women and children?

– If a woman is independent, this will help end the stigma.

– If society accepts the woman then she and child can live in peace (doesn’t indicate that she         will accept)

– If she’s accepted, she can forget the situation

– Poverty is a problem (trigger)

Overall observations:

Religion/faith permeates experience

Seems to be a certain fatalism (if society accepts her then she can accept her child? “If god provides…”, “nothing can end stigma”, “one day god will bless me”, “their fate is to be rejected”)

Wants someone to support her, provide assistance

If she isn’t dependent, this will end stigma, people’s perceptions of her will change

About Lee Ann De Reus

Executive Director, DV LEAP; Co-founder, Panzi Foundation USA
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