The director of the programme, Fiona Lloyd-Davies, has been interested in the region for a long time, so she certainly knew what she was getting in to. I asked her to tell us more about making such a challenging documentary.
Fiona Lloyd-Davies writes:
Making The World's Most Dangerous Place for Women was the realisation of nearly ten years of work for me. I had first gone to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in October 2001 post 9/11. I had been banned from Pakistan after making a film there about Honour Killing and as the worlds press flocked to cover the emerging situation, all poised on the border to flood Afghanistan, I found myself excluded.
So I looked for another story and found a virtually unknown but ongoing horror in eastern DRC. Mass rape against women. It was like a virus. In Shabunda, a town deep in the forest, I found that nearly 70% of the women had been raped. Since then I'd gone back to DRC on and off over half a dozen times to write articles and make short films. But I'd never been able to secure a commission to make a whole film about what was happening to these women. It was as though they had been forgotten by the world. The women had totally captured my heart. I felt I couldn't let them down.
Then, last year, nearly ten years later, I was asked to join the BBC Three team to take Judith (known as 'Jude') back to her birth place to discover for herself what was going on. The channel was taking on difficult but important global issues and bringing them to an audience through the eyes of a young British woman. It was going to ask a lot of 23 year old Jude. She was not only going to meet her parents for the first time since she was three and a half; but she was also going to meet women who had survived the most brutal violence she could imagine.
(Photo: Judith Wanga with a three and half year old girl who was raped. Panzi Hospital, Bukavu, DRC.)
It seems inconceivable, but since I first went, the situation for women has got even worse. The sexual violence has now become generational. Women are being raped for the third or fourth time, and their children who they conceived through rape, are themselves being raped too. It was going to be quite a responsibility taking a young London woman to a hostile environment, immersing her in a culture so close to her but one which she had been away from for twenty years. It would be her first time in Africa since she left. Her total experience of foreign travel since leaving DRC had been Europe and a visit to New York.
I knew it would be a challenge. Working in DRC always is. It's not just the threat of physical danger, meeting a militia group that decides not to be friendly; running into a roadblock who want more than just money; the heat; and then the dust that gets everywhere - yes, really, everywhere, every nook and cranny. It's also dealing with the shocking truth of what's happening here. It's stressful, tense, emotionally draining, but also one of the most intoxicating places I've ever been to. The people, who have endured so much are totally inspirational and the country itself is breathtaking in its beauty, virtually untouched by human hand.
The waiting for Jude was finally over. We arranged to go first to meet her parents in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC in the far west of the country. Like Jude, I was seeing Kinshasa for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised by how much calmer it seemed than the other places I had been to in DRC. Jude seemed to take the reunion in her stride, after hugs and kisses she settled into 'Kinois' life as if she'd never left.
(Photo: Judith with her parents, Pierre and Angela Ezalapa, at their home in Kinshasa, DRC.)
Her parents were warm and incredibly welcoming to us, the cameraman, Luke and I, who were invading their home and sharing such a special moment. Their modest house in the suburbs was filled with relatives and friends all eager to see the 'daughter from London'. Many of them remembered Jude as a child and there were enormous amounts of food cooked, barbecue goat and catfish; celebrations and all night dancing. There was lots of laughter and it couldn't have been a happier occasion.
But as arranged, after a few days it was time to head east. Jude would be coming back for a longer stay when we finished filming. Her parents were worried; they knew only too well what had and continues to happen in the east. It was a brief sombre moment before their goodbyes. After they wished us a safe journey, they looked me straight in the eye and said they trusted me to protect their daughter. It was a huge responsibility.
(Photo: Judith with her father Pierre in Kinshasa.)
Travelling across DRC is not as straight forward as it sounds. The troubled east is nearly 1,000 miles away and the only BBC approved direct airline is the UN mission in DRC, MONUC. But journalists are bottom of the pile and you can wait days to get on a flight. So the alternative is to fly to Nairobi, then to Kigali, capital of Rwanda and drive to the border. A journey of several days.
(Photo: Judith Wanga on her way to mine on the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu, DRC. She's about to discover what drives the conflict and the violence against women.)
But it's also a good way to psychologically start a gradual immersion process into DRC. Many of the problems in this region started in Rwanda after the genocide that saw the slaughter of over 800,000 people in 1994. Jude heard first hand from our local guide about what had happened and was knocked sideways by it all. It would be the first of a number of times when she wasn't able to hold back the tears.
Jude met a bunch of extraordinary women on her trip to the east; there was 24 year old Delphine, a final year law student who was also going out to villages to record survivors' testimonies; Merveille a teenage former child soldier; and then Masika a survivor who has set up her own support network for other women. Some had survived terrible brutality; others were and continue to work through incredibly difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions to make sure people know what's happening. I think it would be fair to say that we all found these women totally inspirational.
And the best part is that we're not the only people that get to meet these amazing women. Our friends and family will too on BBC Three.
(Photo: Judith Wanga with Christine Schule Descriver, Director of V-Day Bukavu.)
Fiona Lloyd-Davies is the Director of The World's Most Dangerous Place for Women.
(Photo: Judith Wanga and Thandie Newton. The film is narrated by Thandie Newton, who is involved in the work of campaign groups in the UK to stop violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.)
You can watch the programme TONIGHT at 9pm on BBC Three and afterwards on iPlayer.
- Judith Wanga talks about filming the documentary on Guardian.co.uk
- More about The World's Most Dangerous Place For Women