Running for Congolese Women to End Violence

Chris Jackson is running 12 marathons this year for Run for Congo Women to raise awareness about violence against women and children in the Congo. Here he is running the Congo marathon with Congolese children beside him.

Last Sunday morning, Team Congo Paris raced from Paris to Versailles for Run for Congo Women. It was a 15K journey heavy with French history, because King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were brought from Palace Versailles to Palace Tuileres at the start of the French Revolution. Around two miles into the race, came Île des Cygnes along river Seine housing a small version of the Statue of Liberty erected by Americans living here in France. It is a replica of the original standing in New York Harbor given by the French to America as a sign of international friendship in 1886.

The race had authentic historical depth to say the least. Yet, I spent it thinking how all last week while reporting on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), I noted that media did not acknowledge that violence against women and girl’s (VAW/G) is not one of the eight goals specified by the MDGs. In the World's Women at the Center of Achieving the MDGs conference during the UN Summit, one of the first points addressed was that very issue.

In August, Post-AIDS 2010 Conference Her Blueprint highlighted how tied the issue of violence against women and girls to the violation of a plethora of human rights in Health Versus Harm: Zero Tolerance on Violence Against Women and Girls. Yesterday, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) was up for a critical vote in the United States Senate but was postponed until November. However, Ritu Sharma, co-Founder and President of Women Thrive World Wide published her thoughts about her own grandmother's death in East India in hopes of sharing why the bill should pass when voted on.

“I never met my grandmother. She was burned alive with kerosene doused on her sari and lit on fire. Some think it was suicide, some think it was a dowry murder since her mother-in-law was not pleased with what my grandmother brought into her new husband’s family. She had four children; one of them my mother, the other my uncle, who was just a few months old when she was killed. I cannot imagine her shock, grief and pain in the moments before she died…Regrettably, her story is not uncommon.”

In the United Nation's special meeting World's Women at the Center of Achieving the MDGs, Denmark's Minister of Health noted that women of the Democratic Republic of Congo have to ask their husbands before they can sign a contract or start a business. After citing this statistic, he asked, "Can you imagine?"

To be honest, I cannot imagine any of the previous scenarios. Yet, I know they are happening daily and consistently and have been for a very long time. On Sunday while racing Paris to Versailles, I began reciting statistics in my head about Congolese Women that I know by heart because right now they are who I run for.

“Congo presents one of the world's deadliest emergencies to date. More than 5.4 million people have died since 1998. Gang rape and brutal torture are a daily reality for the women and children of Congo. Women as old as 80 and as young as five have been victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. 38,000 continue to die every month, 1200 a day. Half of these deaths are children under the age of 5 years.”
At moments I was not sure what to do with all the emotion.

One Man’s Admirable Effort of Support

Chris Jackson, a London lobbyist pictured here running the August 18th marathon in Congo for Run for Congo Women and Women for Women International, is well acquainted with the intensity of emotion and action Congo can provoke because he has devoted himself, utterly, to raising awareness about violence against Congolese women and children as part of his year-long endeavor to run 12 marathons for Run for Congo Women. Already successfully completing nine marathons, including an Ironman as well as an Olympic Triathlon along with a smattering of 10Ks, Chris is someone who is exceptional and sincere in his endeavor -- so much so he will actually be running 13 marathons just to make sure he completes one every month in 2010.

Chris can also voice what most of us can only imagine because he has run Congo. He went. He ran. He returned. And, now he shares why the Congo race was the hardest one so far for him.

“I was running and didn't know what the hell I was doing and how much difference it would make, I felt so distraught while running, thinking is this the best I can do? Run a marathon when the people I run past are living in fear. All the races are so hard because all I can think about is the victims of the conflict, I'll often just start crying while running and want to stop. But then I realize that I've got to keep going.”

That is the metaphor in all of this. How we as runners in health desire to raise awareness for those who do not yet have the tools, means, or safety to speak for themselves. Chris shares that the support for his efforts have brought in abundant responses from friends and family, no matter their age or gender.

"Six million people are suffering," he told me in a recent phone interview, "and people do not have a clue."

He attributes this to the fact that the acts of violence against women and children in Congo are often rape, and that is used as a weapon of war. Although dyslexic, Chris studied conflicts in Africa at university and says his greatest effort in all of his running is to raise awareness.

"The average person can run a marathon. I could barely run two years ago, now I'm flying along. It is just a case of trying. People can take part in the Run for Congo Women events and runs. You need to think about what you are trying to achieve, if it is fundraising then try and do something different. You'll be amazed at how much support you'll get when people see you trying to make a difference. With a little bit of hard work you can do anything."

Recently, Alice Phan, a member of Team Congo Paris shared her thoughts as to why she supports Run for Congo Women. “I feel so lucky to have the freedom to run while thinking about the fact that we have this freedom and we want women in conflict to have the same, so that they aren't running from something but towards something."

This coming weekend Chris Jackson takes part in Marathon 11 in Jersey off the coast of Normandy, France before he completes Marathon 12 in the New York City Marathon on November 7, 2010. That same day Team Congo Paris will be taking part in a 1.5K, 5K, or 10K race in Paris to support Run for Congo Women.

U.N. Seeks Congo Rapists; Congolese Urges War's End [Women's eNews]

Photo credits: Women for Women International and Fjona Hill

Team Congo Paris is looking for more runners for their November 7 race in Paris, France. You can email for more information or visit the Team Congo Paris fundraising page.