The Most Dangerous Women in the World: Justine Masika Bihamba

by Teresa Wiltz
Photograph: Illustration: Sean McCabe

Her Truth & Its Consequences

One day in 2007, Masika Bihamba returned home to discover that six soldiers had invaded her house and attacked her two daughters. One girl had been sexually assaulted, and another had been kicked in the face with such force that a tooth was knocked out. When her driver and daughter identified four of the men, an army guard told Masika Bihamba, “Do you think it would be a problem to kill you? We have already killed two today.”

Masika Bihamba believes her family was singled out because she has been fighting the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war since 2002, when she encountered an 80-year-old woman who’d been brutally raped. She tried to help the victim get medical treatment, but the woman was so poor that no doctor would touch her, and in the end she died. “That was a turning point,” says Masika Bihamba, 44. Since then, she has poured years into documenting rape as a war crime and providing victims with emotional, medical and legal support; more than 1,800 women have been helped by her organization. Synergie also drafted a 2004 bill pre­sented to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s parliament, pointing out the flaws in the country’s judicial system when it came to the proper punishment of rapists and violent offenders, but it went nowhere.

Today Masika Bihamba lives under constant death threats. And even though she filed a police complaint against the men who attacked her family three years ago, they have yet to be brought to justice. But she is undeterred. “I need to do something about sexual violence,” she says, “or our women are going to perish.”

Her Dangerous Thoughts

“Women in the Congo are second-class citizens, not just because of the patriarchal order but also because women themselves are ignorant about their rights. This is not the way things should be. I can work with women, educate them, so they will be able to liberate themselves. I can put myself in these women’s shoes.”

READ MORE ABOUT BIHAMBA AND HER FIGHT AGAINST RAPE, AT AMNESTYUSA.ORG
SEE BIHAMBA RECEIVE THE TULIP HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD

CLICK TO MEET ANOTHER OF THE MOST DANGEROUS WOMEN IN THE WORLD: NAWAL EL SAADAWI

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