“Sex with her was like fighting, I did not care what clothes she was wearing, I just ripped everything off.”
Who makes this statement is Moises Bagwiza, a man from the Republic of the Congo who now reflects with regret on his past.
And his accounts of how he treated and raped his wife , Jullienne, are sincere, graphic and disturbing.
In a modest bungalow in the quiet village of Rutshuru, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bagwiza recalls a particular attack when his wife was four months pregnant.
“I turned around and gave her a little kick in the stomach,” she says, while describing that she fell to the ground and was bleeding. Concerned neighbors quickly took her to the hospital.
His crime? Jullienne had been secretly saving money for household expenses through a local women’s organization.
Before the attack, she had refused to give her husband money for a pair of shoes.
“It’s true, the money was his,” says Moises Bagwiza. “But as you know, nowadays, when women have money they feel powerful and they show it .”
Traditional ideals of virility
This resentment is at the heart of what some call a crisis of modern African masculinity.
For centuries, men were educated with clearly defined ideas of what it means to be a man: strength, emotional indifference, protection, and being the provider of their family.
But the evolution of gender roles, including greater female empowerment, combined with high levels of male unemployment, is frustrating men’s ability to live up to those traditional ideals of virility.
And for some men like Bagwiza, a woman who has financial independence represents an existential threat that leads to crisis.
He felt that violence was the only way to communicate with his wife.
“I thought it belonged to me,” he says. “I thought I could do what I wanted with her, when I came home and she asked me something, I hit her.”
Compensation for male “failure”
The case of Bagwiza is far from unique.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has one of the highest rape rates in the world, and an estimated 48 women are raped every hour , according to a study by the American Journal of Public Health.
Many experts attribute the country’s rape crisis to a long-standing conflict in the eastern part of the territory, where rival militia groups commonly used rape and sexual slavery as a weapon of war.
But the main cause of rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is much deeper, according to Ilot Alphonse, co-founder of the NGO “Congo Men’s Network” (Red de Hombres del Congo), based in the city of Goma, very close to Rutshuru.
“When we talk about sexual violence only in the context of an armed conflict, we are a little lost,” he says.
” We have inherited this way of treating girls like to subjects . The men believe they are entitled to have sex all the time. The cause of sexual violence is the power and position that Congolese men have always wanted to keep.”
Danielle Hoffmeester, of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in South Africa, agrees.
She believes that gender violence is directly related to the way men are socialized since childhood and their inability to comply with the strict rules of traditional African masculinity.
“Providing is very important in manhood and the inability of men to support their families led many of them to compensate for this ‘failure’ in frequently toxic and violent ways ,” he says.