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The Democratic Republic of Congo lost a hero this week. Rebecca Masika Katsuva, a women’s rights activist who dedicated her life to helping rape victims in eastern Congo, passed away unexpectedly on February 2.

Rebecca Masika Katsuva. © Fiona Lloyd-Davies

Masika had a huge heart and incredible courage. She was raped herself – multiple times – and witnessed unimaginable violence against her husband and children. She turned her pain and suffering into action. Her home in Buganga, South Kivu province, was transformed into a support center for victims of sexual violence and children born of rape. Over the years, Mama Masika, as she became known, helped save thousands of lives.

I first met Masika in 2009 while documenting killings and mass rapes in eastern Congo. I was moved by her bravery. When hearing about an attack by armed groups, Masika would set off to the area, often on foot, to see whether she could help the women and girls who had been raped. If the survivors were too badly injured to walk, she would carry them on her back to a hospital or to her center. On one occasion, fighters from an armed group raped her as punishment for trying to save others.

Through Masika’s steadfast family mediation and community work, many of the survivors – who had once been rejected by their husbands and families due to the stigma associated with rape – were able to return home. Others still live at or near her center, having become part of Masika’s ever-growing extended family.

Masika’s impact on these women and girls has been profound. Many survivors I met over the years told me they were able to keep going because Masika gave them hope.

Masika died just a few months before what would have been her 50th birthday, from complications related to malaria. When I learned of her death, the world seemed a bleaker place. But Masika’s extraordinary legacy will live on. Because of her, thousands of the women and girls whose lives she touched will know they are loved, valued, and empowered, no matter what they’ve been through.

My life, too, was made richer for having known her. Rest in peace, my dear Masika.

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