In september 2010, I attended a Women for Women event during which a Congolese woman was invited to the stage to speak on behalf of all Congolese women. She stood in front of us, a crowd of mothers with their children, sisters, cousins, colleagues, friends, and men, and said that Congo women are “raped so that you can be happy.”
She spoke in reference to the economic importance of Coltan, a mineral that is highly valued by violent militias in the DRC for its importance on the global market. Columbite–tantalite composes the main hardware in computer chips and SIM cards, which most of us in the audience had used at some point or another to benefit the way that we work, play, and have sex in the industrialized Western world.
So in some way, she was right. Western people who absent-mindedly use computers, and are made happy by that usage, are indeed allowing Congolese women and children, and sometimes men, to be raped for their benefit. This assertion, however, begs the question: who benefits from the rape of American women?
The word rape is used loosely by pundits, comedians, and legal entities of all sorts to emphasize a great injustice. But it is not a word to be used lightly in the English language, and most especially by people for whom English is not a mother tongue. I would like to have a conversation with this Congolese woman who insulted me on that day. I would like to talk to her over a cup of coffee, with the great injustices of humanity being the sole focus of conversation. However, before any discussion could begin, an employee of Women for Women ushered the woman in question away from the microphone and I ran for about twenty minutes until I got a double Charlie-horse. So that woman is no longer in my life, except for her experience which she expressed and explained for me and everyone else in the audience, on that day.
I really would like to speak with her, but how can I? How can I ever relate to the injustice which she and her family, and her family’s families, have suffered? How can I even cheer her up, or tell her that things will get better, or that America is full of conscientious, caring people would are trying to understand her situation and the conflict in the DRC? We could talk about food, or music, or the beautiful mountains of the DRC, or the beautiful mountains of the USA. However, I am bereft of any contact except for the lingering stab to my confidence when she spoke for ten minutes and then removed herself from the podium.
I would have liked to understand, but I don’t think I ever will. Perhaps, with a little time, I might have been able to help her understand, too.