What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

In Congo, "A Dead Rat Is Worth More Than the Body of a Woman"

October 27, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sexual violence against women occurs everywhere in the world, yet a strife-torn pocket of the Democratic Republic of Congo has recently become a global focal point for such attacks as incidents of rape, violence and brutality have skyrocketed.

The scale of sexual violence in the Congo right now is the worst in the world. There were more than 15,000 rapes recorded in the Congo in the past year, according to the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission there. In a four-day period at the end of July alone, 303 civilians were reportedly raped in 13 villages along the eastern border. In the province of South Kivu local health centers report that an average of 40 women are raped daily, according to the U.N.’s 2010 State of World Population Report.

Much of the violence has occurred in and around mining communities, where rebel groups and government troops clash for control of lucrative gold and coltan deposits.

Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues" and founder of the advocacy group V-Day, recently toured the region, speaking with women about the attacks. She told Big Think that rape and brutality have become tools of war that are now used to destroy and scatter communities from around these mines. The brutality is an “incredibly inexpensive tool for controlling and eviscerating the population,” she says.  The result, says Ensler, is a systematic pogrom against women to destroy the Congolese communities so that rebel groups and outsiders from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda can take over the mines.

“I think the Congo has always been a place where women have been severely repressed, where they have not had access or a realization of their rights,” says Ensler. “This desecration on top of this has further impeded women’s confidence.”

What becomes apparent about Congo, as well as about such attacks everywhere, is that the sexual violence isn’t about sex, but rather is about power. “Sexual violence is there for one thing and one thing alone, which is to keep patriarchy in place,” says Ensler. Without such violence, she says, “there would be no threat to women, no way of controlling women, and no way of undermining women.”

Ensler also points out that while each act of violence has unique qualities, there are similar undercurrents common to all brutality against women. “The variation of the violence changes from place to place,” she says, “but the mechanism and the reason for it is the same.”

The U.N. has attempted to gain ground in the region and stop the violence, but its gains have been slow. Margot Wallström, the U.N.'s Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict, visited the Congo in October and came away with the conclusion that such rampant sexual violence "brutalizes the whole society."  Rape destroys communities by stigmatizing the victim, she says, and then becomes a legacy issue as the following generation of young men and boys come to believe that such acts are natural.

As the destruction ripples from each individual through the whole society, it starves opportunity at each stage.  Women are, in many ways, the backbone of the Congolese economy and society, says Wallström.  Since the violence began, the economic and social structures framed by women, from familial roles to labor, have been fractured.  In the fight to control resources and their wealth, the violence has hobbled economic development in the country. 

Opportunity fails as well on the individual level.  Drawing from work by the U.N. and from stories heard during her visit, Wallström compares the ongoing sexual violence to killing a person without taking their life. Often, she says, when a woman has been raped she is rejected by her husband and family and she is marginalized and stigmatized without income or resource.

"A dead rat is worth more than the body of a woman," one victim told Wallström.

During her visit, Wallström asked a Congolese woman what "normal" would be if she had not been brutalized. "She didn’t seem to understand the question," Wallström says. "She said that the life of the woman is to work. … to give birth to children and then to sort of please your husband and do whatever he tells you sexually at night. That’s the life of a woman. And there was sort of no joy, no love, no concept of what we would think was a dignified life."

Even amid such unconscionable violence, Ensler believes the future of Congo is found in its women. Through her organization’s work she sees “more women coming into their power, more women coming into their voice, more women believing they have a right to be.” If current gains are sustained and many new gains made, Ensler says, “the women in Congo in the next five years will indeed rise up, and will indeed take over, and will indeed come into a voice of power.”

More Resources

Eve Ensler's V-Day Congo Campaign 

U.N. State of the World Population 2010: From Conflict and Crisis to Renewal: Generations of Change. 

*Photographs by Myriam Asmani/MONUSCO


In Congo, "A Dead Rat Is Wo...

Newsletter: Share: