By Mugisho Ndabul Theophile, Founder/Exec. Director, COFAPRI
Gender Equality and Development
All over the world, there is no sustainable development process in any community if the whole process remains discriminatory. Empowerment is unfair and non-beneficial to a community where it involves only one gender. Men and women need to unite hearts and minds to make big, successful achievements. Two ants can easily lift a cricket. Nothing sustainable can be achieved with only one gender.
This fits an African adage that says that a single finger can never crush a louse.
A community that needs solid empowerment should build on ideas and work done by both genders. Involving women – or men, alone, will achieve something, but will not be completely satisfactory. Women and men need to both contribute to the development of their families, communities, and nation.
This is how we create empowerment regarding gender equality.
Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development (COFAPRI) thinks it is crucial to involve men as important partners to achieve more female empowerment in the rural villages of the DR Congo. Women and men must engage with one another if we want to chang lives, achieve equal access to opportunities, and improve women’s prospects.
Challenging Patriarchal Attitudes
It remains very important within communities for men and boys to be educated regarding the rights of women and girls, including their proper, fair and respectful treatment.
This can move us toward remarkable, successful changes in social attitudes, and gender roles in communities, which can lead to development. If the women and girls of any given community become empowered, it is the whole community that benefits. This will only happen if men and women are joining hands in every aspect of life.
This is positive change; change of mind-sets, and change of behaviour as both men and boys become engaged in supporting women and girls. The relationship and structures of the community are now changing and so, there can be great change at a national level.
If such development can be achieved, there is even greater empowerment for better lives in the future, and empowerment for full community development. Women and girls will have a voice of resistance against the patriarchal rules and system that dehumanizes women and girls by reducing them to objects of little worth.
Such patriarchal social norms provide men and boys with the option of resorting to violence in an attempt to regain control of women and girls. In order to try to avert this situation, COFAPRI has been seeking preventive ways to deal with the issue in rural villages of the DR Congo. In this perspective, preventive activities have been sought, and both genders have been involved.
Men and women, and boys and girls are involved in addressing empowerment struggles. COFAPRI began working on this issue since its inception and has noticed great positive changes in the villages of the respective regions in eastern DR Congo. This confirms the importance of education and how it is useful and necessary for community development.
Encouragement from Traditional Local Leader
Since one can easily notice the growing attention of men and women towards addressing gender challenges, the conclusion becomes clear: sustainable empowerment and development needs both genders to unite for the common cause.
During graduation of our laureates, traditional local leader, Mr Cishugi gave this remark:
“There will be no empowerment in our villages around here if you, women, are not educated. No future for you, if you are not involved with your husbands in making decisions. So you women and you girls here need development, and this is what COFAPRI is helping you to do. We give our full support to this great effort.
COFAPRI has made a way for you. It is a long way. Now it is up to you to walk from where you have been brought. On this date, we all witness COFAPRI women and men working together. In their meetings and in their daily activities at their centre both genders are present. This is helping to teach our children how we need to work hand in hand, not only for family and villages development, but also for community and the nation.
If all local organisations based in our villages here in Congo could take after COFAPRI steps, things would have changed drastically countrywide. We believe this a good start with COFAPRI; they have not totally succeeded as they have planned, but the way things are going gives hope for betterment. We do support you in all your efforts here in our area.
Incorporating Women's Rights to Strengthen Rural Communities
COFAPRI insists that for rural women and girls, as well as men and boys, to be empowered equally for family, community welfare, and development, a lot of action is still needed. These endeavours include a deep focus on women and girls’ empowerment, a strong development of sensitisation crusades of both genders, and well-designed programmes focused on gender development in villages.
These programmes would support issues related to the rights of women and girls, at both national and international levels. Focus would be on how these rights can be helpful in cementing families and communities in rural villages, and focus on the necessity of joint decision making within families and communities in order to reach a broader, more successful goal.
This would also require men and boys to receive appropriate information and training on ways to see the necessity of finding solutions to women and girls’ problems related to discrimination and underdevelopment in communities.
This would include discussing the rights of men and women in order to walk at the same pace.
Equality and Respect Begins in the Family
For our villages to develop, men and boys need to change their behaviours and attitudes toward women and girls. In most cases abuse toward women and girls in rural villages of the Congo happens within families. If women and girls’ rights are not respected in their homes, violence will always be their way of life, which causes family underdevelopment.
Respect and admiration of family members’ rights must be discussed by family members, and be instated and protected in the home. Mr Mushagalusa Ezechiel (in charge of education and training at COFAPRI) stipulates:
“In our villages we have to empower our mothers and sisters; wives and daughters. Men alone cannot go forwards. See our families, where women are the only ones who go to farm. They are not really developed.
We have to think on ways gender can be valued. In this way, we need a perspective of gender that opens a process of weighing the inferences for women and men of any planned action in family, and in community. This is a good way that can surely consider the concerns, experiences and decisions of women as well as of men a vital portion of the family and community.
This infers that there will be a fair consideration of ideas, work, contribution so that both genders in each family and community gain of the development and empowerment. This can scale down family and community inequality between men and women in families.”
Families, communities, and the nation of the DR Congo will expand only when women and girls are being valued at a family and community level. To do this, men need to set inclusive family norms.
These rules have to foster women and girls’ rights at the level of the family, opening a place for discussion for both father and mother on the one hand, and sons and daughters on the other.
This will create a sense of harmony, and so reach empowerment and development.