By Bahati Valerie, Co-founder, COFAPRI. April 2013.
On her recent visit, Bahati Valerie talked with villagers and COFAPRI members about education.
The education of women and children, if respected and applied, can promote positively and impartially to the whole society and so bring bright economic, social and even political development.
Uneducated minds feel hopeless and are extremely vulnerable because they feel sure their future is dark and hard; no positive future is expected if it is not prepared through education from an early age. Neglecting to educate people – particularly children in their early age, to their satisfaction, is purely inoculating them with a kind of cancer that kills them little by little: it is applying structural violence on them.
“By educating our children, we will have prepared our them for a better future; we will have motivated them to develop the whole nation.
They will have been made strong roots for development, for human rights, and so they will have been equipped with a strong shield of knowing their rights in order to scale down violence, discrimination, and injustice that are often directed to women and girls in particular, and the whole community in general.”
Mother of six children
Not educating the people regarding their rights, particularly the women, is to make them die slowly and gradually as they ignore their rights and ways to boost their development.
The more women and girls are educated, the better they can address violence, promote their development, and understand issues pertaining to their home and social rights.
“If we are educated, we can understand why men abuse us and learn how to resist them non-violently.
Education can give us and our children hope for a better future where we enjoy our rights and where we fight for sustainable development.
This is to create a safe world for us to live peacefully because ignorance has no more place in our minds.”
Addressing Violence Through Education
COFAPRI believes that education is a reliable tool that can easily help the people and particularly the women to overcome social obstacles.
It can surely lift women and girls from the ignorance of their rights and enable self-development at local and national levels, in order to generate an economic environment that is favourable to them.
“Without education, people are dead.
They become comparable to a boat abandoned on the sea without a captain where there are a lot of waves ahead. Not educating the people in different contexts that trigger development is to oblige the people to melt like a candle.
We’ll only overcome structural violence, the different evils of violence, address the effects of underdevelopment by erecting strong pillars and foundations through educating the youth and the population in general.
This is like getting a kind of insurance for the future, via appropriate and non- discriminatory education.”
In this way, education remains one of the key strategies that can easily improve women and girls’ welfare and livelihood in their respective societies.
Once the economic context of women and girls is improved, it becomes certain that their respective communities and societies will reach a certain level of sustainable economic and social development.
“We as women – we need to be educated and to be developed, not in the same way as our children, but to help us resist abuse and violence we often face in life.
COFAPRI has started this and I think the government must help him [Mugisho, co-founder] in what he is doing. We want our education and that of our children so that our future can be fine. We need sustainable education because our children are not like us; if they are not educated, they can cause more harm, and they can destroy their environment, the society and the country.
Give this chance to our children so that the days ahead of us can be easy to live. Educate these children so that they can give to their children what they got through education.
If we are educated, we will educate our kids for women’s development and rights.”
Changing the World for Women and Girls
Such development requires that education be taken seriously and in a non-discriminatory way.
Women as well as men have to commit to the agendas of education in order to benefit from it, for development. This is then a long and well-initiated process that helps women to become totally and widely aware of their personal reality in a manner that leads to effective action. Once a woman or a man is well-educated, they understand better their world and their situation. They become aware enough to deal will it in an effective way.
“The existence of educated men and women in our villages, and in sufficient numbers, would prevent the absurdities of the present world of discrimination and violence against women throughout the world.
But what is true is that via education, the world of the women and girls may change, and so they can be able to truly boost their social and economic development. “
Countries develop because of their educated people; women, girls, men, and children all combined.
If the population is given non-gendered and quality education, the people will develop and enjoy it.
To paraphrase Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer (1483 - 1546):
The prosperity of a family, a community or a country depends not on the abundance of its revenue, nor the strength of its fortifications, but rather on the number of its cultivated members or citizens; their educated men and women of course, their illumination and character.
DRC people need to explore and experience the great importance of education at all levels of society.
This proves of paramount necessity as many DRC families, societies and the whole nation are thirsty to deploy more efforts and opinions for the education of their children and women. Such need of education remains a veritable tool for individual and social development if well implemented at local and national levels.
“We as parents, we do our best to give to our children what we have. We teach them from home how to love the neighbour, the country, and be committed to unity, collaboration, and work. This is particularly our case; now, the government should provide education for all – with a focus on ways to lift its people from ignorance.
This should be highly rated in families, social, and national development agendas because it remains the most important tool for family, social ,and national change.”
Mr. Baseme Janvier, COFAPRI coordinator
Dependency and Responsibilities
DRC women in particular, and those from many corners of the world, have from time immemorial traditionally been saddled with many domestic and social responsibilities.
These roles include taking care of children, maintenance, and work at the home, looking for food, wood and water, feeding the family members from her side and that of her husband's, taking care of animals at home, and safeguarding of family health.
“We feed our families day after day – the home must feel the woman is there; this is our life and we are proud of it, but sometimes it becomes hard if no one can help you.
Our husbands never help us; they are men and this is not their concern.
We have duties that are beyond us, but we must bear this, being mothers we must understand that our families exist because of us.”
Woman member of COFAPRI
Not considering these roles previously enumerated for the typical woman, the modern woman, who is expected to be a wife, then a mother, is like her traditional counterpart, expected to play the role of a dutiful home keeper.
“Educated women are not different from us, but they are a bit freer.
They also keep their families alive; [they] do not stay home day and night as we do here. They have their jobs and they bring money back home at the end of the month.
This gives them liberty and power in the house, not like us who wait for everything from the husband.”
Respect, Healing and Empowerment
By playing such roles, women and girls are supposed to be capable of addressing the different challenges of this modern world where rape against them has become routine, particularly in war torn countries like the DRC. Education can help the women become adapted to real life contexts and modernization such as automation and computers.
“Educated women are women of decision and men respect them because they know they are capable women. They are strong women who can try to live in this world where men dominate us.
Education can open the minds of women, their brain becomes very active and so they become able to say no if something goes wrong. Like you are helping us to denounce violence in the home; this is what we want us to be doing next time. In case I am battered or raped for instance, I must be able to report it with no fear.
This can help us get emotional support to heal trauma.
We have gained a lot with your presence in this area. This is also a kind of education we need. Other women who studied can use those machines that tell stories (computers, radios, TVs…), but not us. We only know to use hoes, machetes, tie our goats, etc.”
Home is the First and Last School
Another challenge before them is the one imposed on them as the first and the last teacher of the child before and after school. This is tremendously significant because they are expected to prepare the child to cope with the challenges of contemporary society.
Generally speaking, it becomes true that the repercussion of such reality is that the average woman of this period is not likely to play these positions efficiently unless she is fortified with adequate and functional education.
“If there is promotion of women’s education in our various villages, this can boost development in the country. With education, men and women will benefit from a lot of things that are helpful for them in various aspects. This is necessary since the children can also benefit from it in different ways.”
“Women know that the home is ideally the first and the last school of their children. This makes it be considered as the foundation of children’s real socialization, with the mother serving as the first teacher. So, it becomes clear that an educated mother will also educate her children toward development and social life because we will always give to our children what we inherited from our background and families.”
An educated family will raise educated children whereas an uneducated one will never educate its children.
The consequences in the last case are that the children become vulnerable.
Thus, they may become street children, thieves, bandits, and girls may become involved in risky and untimely, unprotected sexual activities just for survival. Such children view life as truly hopeless: they don’t think the future can make them change.
“Not educating us for the future and for social development is like punishing us, just like inoculating us with venom of any incurable disease. The future of ours, if not built on solid educative system, becomes dark and hopeless.
This often moves some of us into negative consequences. We will become very hostile and dangerous if we are not educated. We will be obliged to destroy our community since we do not understand what is right and what is wrong for our welfare.
This is due to the fact of being hopeless for the future and we can’t even trust ourselves.”
Uneducated Children are Vulnerable
The education of the youth should be given weight for different reasons. This is because not giving them opportunities to get educated will affect the family, the community, and the whole nation in different ways. This should be fought from the very early age and it is the duty of the government supported by families.
If this is not addressed appropriately, the future will be covered with great darkness, violence, discrimination, and revolts.
“If the youth are well-educated, at home and at school, on the effects of warfare and negative values, they grow up knowing that evils are not to be tolerated by society. In this way, they must learn how to love their neighbours and how to serve the country. In this way, our country’s rebellions could not have been nurtured as they are today.
Having influence on the youth and affecting women and girls in the country, these rebels have fetched manpower among the uneducated youth who have been discouraged by life – and so they thought enrolling with rebels is a way of making their lives.
They should have learned that protecting the nation gives them pride and honor.”
Male member of COFAPRI
Their parents are wanderers of streets, markets, etc., because they have nothing to rely on. We owe it to our children to show them how education is very important in their lives.
We’ll only do this by sending them to school.
“We are six children in my family and no one helps us. No adult to help us and we can’t even help each other here.
My father died when I was a small child and I did not see him. The way you see me here is the way I am every day: no shoes, no food, nothing.
No... I wonder why God created me. I see other children going to school, but me – not. Others organize ceremonies on their birthdays; not me. My mother is poor. But I heard you are helping people around here; I will tell my mother to come and me, too, I will come, ok?
You see, I did not know you physically, but I was hearing people talking about you and we came here with our ball you see here to meet you and talk to you. You can send us to school next year.”
Reliance on Men
Based on statistics from various countries, women still constitute about half the total population in most regions of the world. Besides that, women are generally more vulnerable than men to diseases, abuses, and economic hardships.
In DR Congo, women constitute over half the population. The present situation here is unhealthy and unsustainable, bearing in mind the wide national disparity in the ratio of male and female enrollment in school.
This is what clearly explains why the DRC women’s representation in decision-making remains low. This exists at home, social, and national levels. Women who currently manage their homes are rare in the DRC; some cultures stipulate that, when a woman is widowed, the family will impose one of the youngest brothers of the deceased husband to marry the widow in order to 'help' her and the brothers' children.
This means there is no home without a man.
Other tribes give all the power to the young boy or child who inherited his father's rights.
“Whether he be mature or not, the boy child has full power over all women and girls of his family. This happens and we understand it because, in our area here, men think a woman is not a human being and therefore, unable to hold a household.”
Women's Dependency Reflected at a National Level
At the national level, the same discriminatory beliefs against women exist, and this is why the DRC’s current representation of women in ministerial offices is very low – that is, 15% in the national assembly; there were only 8.4 % and 10.4 % women in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
This shows well how poor the representation of women is in decision-making positions.
If women are less represented in decision making institutions, who will speak for them?
Most men behave selfishly and fewer would speak for women and girls’ promotion, so the realities of women are better explained and understood by other women than by men. Elevating women to this level, where they are involved in decision-making, would mean that they are educated and could vote and even stand for election.
Since women are the majority of the population, then those standing for election need to attract the attention of women.
However, women voters need to be educated in order to vote for their counterpart women, which they rarely do; most women prefer to give their voices to men than to women.
“Such a situation does not interest any person here.
It shows clearly how the elections are not well-prepared in our country. This depicts that the system is completely partial as it favours more men than women. It discards girls and their mothers.
This is to discourage us women.
We need a system that understands that we suffer and we need to be lifted from ground; we want to be encouraged or educated in strategies to participate in the political arena.”
Education Will Empower Women to Have a Voice
The other aspect is that though most victims of war violence are women, their percentage in peace negotiation teams is quasi-unrecognised.
The women of Congo have trouble sleeping, due the atrocities the consecutive wars impose on them: they dream of becoming actively involved in conflict resolution by being given the opportunity to take part in the different negotiations for building peace in the country, particularly its eastern part.
However, to do so requires them to have a certain level of education.
As most members of negotiation teams are men, educated women participate in discussions with men. Uneducated women would not affront men as they would fear them or think they would be considered as insubordinate. Educated women would openly say what they need and how they want it to be done, they would attack men in a nonviolent way to get their rights respected.
Lack of such capacities and opportunities greatly weakens women's representation in various negotiations. To illustrate this, there were only 47 women out of a total of 360 delegates to the Pretoria inter-Congolese dialogue, which led to the signing on December 2002 of the All Inclusive Agreement.
Moreover, women were also poorly represented during the Goma Conference - regarding seeking peace in the DRC’s eastern part.
Inequality in Police and Judiciary
In every social aspect of life, DRC women are always lagging behind men.
There is disparity in the army, where the armed forces is comprised of 3,249 women and 121,869 men; women make up 2.59 % out of a total of 125,118.
As for the police, there are 5,600 women and 103,800 men. Women make up 5.11% out of a total of 109,400 police officers. In 2009, there were 150 women (5%) in the Magistrate, compared to 2850 men. In 2010, 400 women (20%) and 1,600 men were appointed to the Magistrates.
“The fact that the average population perceives both the army and the police as being a man’s profession, it becomes clearly automatic that their representation reaches a low percentage. This perception coupled with lack of promotion to higher ranks does not encourage young women to join the police and the military.”
Bagalwa - member of COFAPRI
Such disparity shows how without education, formal or informal, women will never meet their objective. And even if educated, women need to be empowered and encouraged to promote other women.
DR Congo Will Benefit From Women's Education
The above facts are a few among the many that cause women to suffer a lot because they are not educated and not involved in everything being organized in the country.
By involving women in development issues and in education, we can be reassured of a brighter future, for us and for our future generations.
Without education, life will be absurd and so women will always be suffering, which affects the whole society.
We need to educate women so that society will benefit from their knowledge.
All photos by COFAPRI