The Countess of Wessex has become the first member of the Royal family to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Buckingham Palace has said.
She will use the visit to the African country to address the impact of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, meeting survivors and helping them to tackle the stigma they face.
Security is tight for the visit, which was planned several months before the death of the Queen at the request of the Foreign Office.
The Countess is accompanied by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Prime Minister's special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.
It is a subject on which the mother-of-two has campaigned for many years, travelling to countries including Kosovo, Lebanon, South Sudan and Sierre Leone to meet women peacebuilders and survivors of sexual violence.
Last January, the Countess revealed she had gone to “some very dark places” whilst working with sexual violence victims, describing the “tears dripping off your chin” when you hear their stories.
In 2020, she wrote about her work in an article for the Telegraph in which she accepted that it might be hard to see it as a priority when it seemed such a far cry from life in the UK.
But she said that supporting women peacebuilders was one of the most uplifting things she did.
“There are no magic wands when it comes to negotiating peace,” she wrote. “Any and every negotiation will be fraught and difficult, requiring enormous patience and effort from all sides, open minds, a willingness to concede, but above all the desire to find peace,” she wrote.
“Including women in the process is essential and means a greater chance of sustained peace. Who wouldn't want that?”
In its recent history, the DRC has endured years of civil conflict in what has been called Africa's world war, with the loss of up to six million lives through fighting or disease and malnutrition.
A peace agreement was signed in 2002 but violence continued in some areas, requiring a large United Nations military force to try to maintain order.
In August, Africa’s second-largest country faced rising regional tensions in the east, with weeks of deadly protests against UN peacekeepers.
The Countess’s visit is taking place in the run-up to the International Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative Conference in London next month, which is being hosted by the UK Government and which the Countess will attend.