Rape is cheaper than bullets. And in countries where war has been the constant backdrop to life for decades, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are brutally raped, every minute of every day. The Congo is one of the most war-torn countries on earth; it is also therefore, by definition, the rape capital of the world. Up to 70% of all women have been raped, sometimes as many as four separate times, and this has been going on for so long that their children from rape are now being raped.
In Africa, minerals rule. Where once terror prized open the cracks between tribes, religions and beliefs, now it plays out in the crevices and sharp boundaries of land which holds untold riches – for the strongest leader, and for the cruellest militia. To safeguard these valuable natural resources, armed groups use violence and rape to control communities. And they use the money from the sale and export of the minerals to fund their wars. These are not Blood Diamonds, distastefully gifted to supermodels and discreetly removed from fingers and ears; these are Congolese tin, tungsten and tantalum. Never heard of them? You hold them every day: they are the most common minerals found in your mobile phone. These are Blood Minerals, and every time we send a text message or make a call, we are complicit in the monstrosities which fuel their extraction.
When we are confronted daily with frontline reports on the known atrocities of war, power, greed and hatred, it’s rare that something cuts through to such an extent that it leaves me speechless. Without words, but not without anger; born out in heaving, wracking sobs. A new short film, Unwatchable, was created by a collective of film-makers and campaigners and tells the real story of a Congolese woman, Masika, and her family’s harrowing ordeal at the mercy of an armed militia, who gang raped her and her daughters and brutally mutilated and murdered her husband. But the story is not set in the unknown backwaters of the Congo, too far away to comprehend; it is set here, in our home, in the idyll tranquil of the English countryside, with a family who did not expect or deserve their barbaric ordeal. A family just like Masika’s. And a family just like ours. Unwatchable, through gritted teeth and gaps between your fingers. Unwatchable, even though you can close your laptop, and walk away, heart pounding in frustration.
Often, it is hard to watch the unwatchable, because it is hard to think the unthinkable. But unthinkable acts are happening right now, in the Congo and beyond. They’ve been going on for generations, and we consistently fail to give them the attention and response they require. Too distant, too intractable, too difficult, too complex. I say, pick your battles. Too much of the world is raw with pain and horror, and to understand it all is impossible, even for the most open-minded of us – from the legal stoning of adulterous women in Iran, to illegal organ harvesting in China. But in the Congo, women are raped for a commodity we take for granted, and I just can’t sit here and let that happen.
Unwatchable asks us to petition our mobile phone manufacturers. I think we can also do more than that; I think if we keep talking about it, and asking questions, and needling business and confronting politicians, it will become unavoidable. No longer unthinkable. No longer unwatchable, when all the world’s eyes are on it.
Unwatchable, but we must. And you can watch the film, here, too.