Liberators or Perpetrators? Co-Opting, Committing, and Condoning Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in the Early Belgian Congo

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Abstract

This article focuses on the sexual abuse and enslavement of African women in the Belgian Congo. Gender violence directed and committed by local officials against specific communities served important purposes: to assert colonial authority and dominance, demoralize and subdue Congolese resistance to colonial power, and reward colonial soldiers. The experiences of women under the ‘reforming’ Belgian colony are explored by examining the consequences of a punitive expedition in Kasai. Missionary discourses and the role of the Belgian administration are also analysed. The Belgian administration was anxious to present itself as a reformed and more humane regime than its predecessor, King Leopold II’s Congo Free State. In its efforts to avoid public exposure of any abuses that could delegitimise its claims to colonial control, the new administration fostered a culture of impunity where forms of colonial gender violence and exploitation were rarely legally penalized. Despite their efforts to draw a line under the past, these Belgian narratives of reform were undercut by the continuation of colonial abuses.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-393
Number of pages28
JournalSlavery and Abolition
Volume43
Issue number2
Early online date7 Jun 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2022

Keywords

  • Belgian Congo
  • Congo Free State
  • colonial impunity
  • double standards
  • gender violence
  • marriage
  • slavery

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