Lifting a Weight from Women's Shoulders
Rudimentary Cultivation Helps DRC Women Feed Their Families and Improves Quality of Life
"Women of Congo need to see their rights become respected by men. Their rights are written in the Code de la Famille but they are never respected because there is no one to put them into practice."
Bahati Valerie Theophile - co-founder of COFAPRI
By the Sweat of Her Brow
The women of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) face hard ways of living: they have to tend to various hard tasks to survive in their daily lives. One of these is rudimentary cultivation.
And any woman who has no land to cultivate must feed on the sweat of her brow.
Sometimes, they carry on their back burdens that are heavier than their own weight.
Some of these women, having been abandoned, are widows, and others are married – but their husbands never support them, and so they seek activities they can do in order to get a little money to feed their children.
Despite these hardships, women have no means to feed and educate their children – and these women are fond of bearing a lot of children. In most cases, these children will never go to school as their parents are poor, and because others are never helped by their fathers – who are generally involved in beer drinking instead of working hard for feeding their families.
This is the reason that pushes some male children to become cow keepers. These women often go to carry heavy things just to get something to feed their children. They fetch wood and cultivate crops for those who have means and give them a little money, just to get food.
A Women's Rights Infringement
Women in the DRC suffer from lack of owning land.
They do not have the right to be the owner of plots of land because this is typically a man’s right, and not a woman’s.
In addition, DRC women never inherit their fathers’ property, including land, which is a women’s rights infringement, and this discriminates against them and pushes them to remain eternally poor individuals.
Cultivation Involves Everyone
In conjunction with these women, COFAPRI (Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development) has decided to involve each category of its members in their own activities that can be helpful to all the members in a way or another.
Very young boys are mostly concerned with seeking and transporting wood for building cages for rabbits, and pens for the pigs. Sometimes, when they have time, they also help in feeding the pigs and rabbits. They also cultivate for people who own land in order to get some cash that will be helpful to the whole group.
Another kind of activity we are involved in is cultivation.
This involves everyone and when the crops that have been grown are ripe, they can be sold and the members get some money that they can use for different purposes.
We have started a plant and vegetable growing project on a very small plot of land in or near the compound of every member. Besides, last year we were given a plot of land (though we pay for it as a lease) where some women are cultivating crops.
Working Close to Home
COFAPRI believes that with this kind of cultivation, though on a very limited area, will be helpful to its women members. These women are now growing cabbages, onions, egg plants, garlic, pepper, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, etc. And these women ascertain that this will be helpful, though done on a small area.
They do not have to cover long distances to reach the area where they work; they do it within their compounds.
The dung of our pigs and rabbits is being used as fertilizers for this way of cultivation.
Nothing is Difficult if We are United
Last year, we were given a plot of land of 30m square by a friend of ours.
Here, some women are cultivating maize, sorghum, soya beans, beans, vegetable marrows and potatoes. The first harvest was very beneficial to the whole membership of COFAPRI.
The women who cultivated this plot of land said that although they did the hard work of cultivating themselves, they still got strong motivation from other members who did not participate in cultivation. But these other members gave another kind of contribution: they collected money to buy seeds to sow.
This shows that nothing is difficult if people are united and determined for the same cause. All the women could not participate in the cultivation practice because they are scattered now over 10 villages.
They decided among themselves that those who are near the plot of land could be involved in the cultivation activities, and those who are far could wait. The girl members of COFAPRI comprise of some who study and others who do not. Those who do not go to school helped the women cultivate, sow, weed and harvest.
Working Jointly With the Boys
As for the boys, all of them – those who go to school and those who do not, actively took part in the process, from cutting grass where cultivation had to be done, to cultivating, weeding, harvesting, and transporting.
When the crops were harvested, a quantity was sold, another was kept for the next sowing period, another was eaten by the members, and another used to feed the pigs.
For the quantity that was sold, we met a serious problem of crop transportation to the road. Roads in DRC villages are basically non-existent – and where they are, they are impractical.
As the boys really wanted to help out, each boy volunteered to carry some of the crop's load on his head to where a car could be found. They had to walk some 10 km before they could reach a so-called road, which was not an easy task.
The money these women gained from the sold quantity of the crop was shared among all the groups that form COFAPRI. Some money was contributed to each group as a saving and the remainder was used to further help towards achieving COFAPRI's objectives. It is hoped that, in the longer term, such income-generating activities will help to finance the education of children who are not currently able to go to school.
This hand of support given by boys pushed COFAPRI women to confirm that it is important not to discriminate against boys; working jointly with them is very beneficial for the whole team.
Life is Improving, By Helping One Another
In sharing activities for community interest, people showed how committed they are to helping one another for their global welfare.
Although what we are doing is somehow very rudimentary due to lack of appropriate tools and modern information regarding agriculture, the women avowed there is change in their daily income, though little. They concluded that with time, they are now convinced that things will be better.
They affirmed that before they could not improve their way of life, but with COFAPRI, now they can organise their ideas and achieve something valuable to them and their families.