The Congo wars disrupted the lives of people who lived there and involved dozens of armed groups. Now, in an economy that largely relies on aid from the UN and NGOs, some women are forced to prostitute themselves in order to survive. Hamida, mother of four, is one such person.
26-years-old Hamida is a sex worker living in Benghazi, a neighborhood in the city of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. She moved there in 2002 when nearby volcano Mount Nyiragongo erupted and destroyed her home in Berere.
Benghazi, a slum of wooden shacks built atop lava rock, was named after the city of Benghazi, the Revolutionary base during the Libyan Civil War, as it is a place of “fighting and crying”. Many residents are prostitutes and upon arrival, Hamida roomed with other sex workers to save money. She now has two rooms and pays $30 per month.
In 2000, when Hamida was 13, she went to the airport looking for water and was kidnapped by an FARDC soldier, who held and raped her at an FARDC base for six months, calling her his “wife.” Hamida could not leave the base, and though she did not have to cook or shop, she was required to sleep with the soldier every day. Her mother looked for her but received no answers until the soldier was sent home to Kinshasa and Hamida was set free. Shortly after, some sex workers learned of Hamida’s experience and gave her small things like clothing and brought her to nightclubs and found men for her, though Hamida was given no money. Eventually, the women gave her money and Hamida would give it to her mother.
Hamida has four children by four different men. Several of her clients are UN soldiers and one of them, a South African, fathered one of her children. Another father is also South African, and two are Congolese. The Congolese do not come to see the children, but the South Africans occasionally do. Her oldest, Israel, is 13.
"I see many people who have riches, money and cars, but they have no children. To keep a newborn in my body for nine months is not expensive, and it is something I can do. I have the kind of body that God gives children to ... I have never studied, so maybe these children will help me one day. Yes, I could kill a baby and have fewer responsibilities, but I am afraid of God and of my mother"
- Hamida, 26, a sex worker living in Benghazi
Hamida occasionally attends the Pentecostal Sepac church with her children and mother, who works at the church. “I have to go to church, to hear the preaching and the singing. When I was young, I sang in the church. I respect the God my mother prays to. My mother was a Muslim and converted to Christianity. My father is still a Muslim and when she converted they began having problems. He stopped helping to support her, saying she had ‘become the wife of Jesus.’”
“I have a difficult life. I live this way because I have many problems to resolve. I have no education or opportunities to study, but one day if I can have a job I can improve my situation. If God gives me a man to marry and who supports my children, I can also be happy. Because no woman can receive so many men in this way and be happy, it is only out of necessity. In Congo we do not have many men, the many wars here killed them. So have many women and to stay married is difficult. Often if we marry the Congolese man, we have a child after six months or a year, and then he leaves. Sometimes the South African men forget you and his child, but sometimes he has a good heart and sends money. When we ask the South African UN soldiers, who say they come here to give us peace, why we do not have peace they cannot tell us why. Sometimes they just cry and ask us why there is no peace in Congo.”