International Women’s Day with Bahati in Katana
By Bahati Valerie, Co-founder/Exec. Secretary, COFAPRI. March 2015.
“My baby is not a burden for me; she is me. I took her with me as I know she is seeing what I am doing. When she grows up, she’ll take on me. Nothing gives me joy than meeting these women and children in their areas where they are confined to themselves in poverty and discrimination.
Many of them are victims of rape, we have to show them we think and care about them. Being close to them means a lot to them. Look how they have forgotten their plights but are dancing and singing.“
With Baby Bethel
Since the Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development (COFAPRI) began its activities with women, girls, and children in Katana at the end of last year, the members have always shown their strong motivation towards self-empowerment. On this International Women's Day (IWD) 2015, masses of women, girls, boys and men came to join us on this great day.
With baby Bethel held tight on my back, I arrived with a commitment to meet the women, men, children, and old people in Katana on IWD 2015. The women were very eager to see me again, especially on this great day. The last time I was there, in December, I promised to return, and they promised to set up a managing team. As I honoured my promise, the team was ready to honour theirs, and welcomed me with joy, dance, and songs to express their happiness.
On Being a Woman...
I was introduced to the leading team in Katana, comprised of women and men chosen among the local community as a sign of joint, inclusive collaboration.
On this IWD 2015, I briefed them on the rights of women, within the home and in the community.
Despite the problems faced by women in both areas, they should not get discouraged, but rather commit to communication as a sure way of addressing such social evils.
Being a woman does not mean losing hope, or not thinking properly. It does mean to be the model in overcoming life challenges because there is an objective ahead, and that goal must be achieved. They were very pleased I had returned, and shared their thoughts with me.
“We thank you for coming among us on this great day of women in Katana [with your baby on your back- audience laughs]. This tells us how committed you are and how much you love us. You are an extraordinary woman with such courage and determination of pulling us from the quagmire of poverty, discrimination and person’s rights. Despite the fact that we are women, mothers and wives, we have some rights, if not global but basic. We need our rights to be respected; the rights of our children to be observed as well.
Being a woman in this area is not easy. We face lots of problems, in the home, in the community, and at the national level; we are never valued. We are blessed: we are being opened in the eyes as we now have such a caring lady who wants to lift us, to help and teach us is a blessing.
We are sure a woman moving for another woman gives a good meaning. Our husbands should be supporting us as her husband is behind her. This is a good example we need to build on.”
Education and Changing Out-dated Attitudes
Highlighting the issue of education for women confirmed the strong need for and also the relevancy of changing local beliefs that confine women to the kitchen. Moreover, educating the youth can outline a better future. The majority of the girls were raped and expelled from their families, and the other children, born of rape, have no support at all.
I told them about the generous Anne Seery who, despite her numerous needs, is committed to helping them become involved in sustainable development. The women were pleased to know about her commitment.
I told them:
“The role of educating the youth for a better life in the future remains our focus. I always dream seeing all girls going to school. Not allowing them to enjoy their basic rights in education is damaging our future. We should not be calling for more violence, poverty, and discrimination of the women in our villages, our communities because our lives are in our hands.
The abusers damaged us but we have to rebuild ourselves; we have to stand united and see the importance of our neighbor in development. Nothing is worse than not educating the women of a community. If our mothers, daughters, and sisters are educated, we shall have power; not power to sit on men and harm them as they do to us but that soft power to build our minds, our families and communities, have critical thinking; in a word the power to develop and go nonviolent.
This is the great legacy we can only leave to our children for a better future. This day is great as we all are meeting here because of it. Long life IWD in Katana! [clouds of claps]”
We envision education in a positive way. If all people, adults and children, men and women, in the community are educated, this can greatly boost development within homes and in the community as a whole. Discrimination in education causes people to lose self confidence, and not to develop the spirit of positive thinking.
Education can help women and children victims of rape and domestic violence forget about the destructive past they experienced, and actively work towards building their new life.
"My message on this IWD 2015 is that we are together and united toward the same cause. Every woman and child must go to school here in Katana.
Today, in standing among you I feel pride; I mean, I am equal to you - for rape and discrimination has existed here for ages, I am convinced in every raped woman: I see a peaceful mother, a committed aunt, a nonviolent niece. In all raped girls and children, I see my own daughters, my own children who can build our community. So why not unite for the better and move forward?
The past should not be eating us alive; we have heads, arms and legs, let us move ahead and together explore what the future will tell and what the past has hidden us.”
I also got an opportunity to meet local leaders in order to discuss together how things will be going in Katana. The leaders promised to bring the needed support to COFAPRI in empowering women and girl victims of rape, as well as children born of rape. In this context, one of the local leaders, Mr. Muhindo Buhuma Joseph was very thankful.
“This is a great day and I think women should be given more days like this. I have never seen such a big number of women amassing here at a go. This is a special day!
Women and children are said to be weak persons but I do not believe that. In fact, if they are fully empowered they are the pillars of every community. I appreciate to see a lady coming to the rescue of families with a wonderful plan. I have discussed with her the plans of COFAPRI for the women, the girls and the children here and they are great. I think all the women here will benefit of this opportunity. On my side, I will do what I can in my power to support you and her.
Supporting her is to help you and your children here, to help our families address some social evils. The women here must also be motivating you in order for you to work satisfactorily. A woman supporting other women must be helped to move forward.”
Mr Muhindo Buhuma Joseph, the traditional local leader in Katana.
Feasting, Sharing, Singing and Dancing
After the meeting, everyone was invited to share a meal. Men, women and children were on Rendezvous and all of them shared happily, singing and dancing with pure joy. I often feel that sharing everything with my fellow women is great motivation for them to become committed.
So, I, too, sang and danced with them on this joyous occasion.
Bahati in Nyangezi…… this is coming soon!