"We need people to vote for Safe World for Women in the Katerva People’s Award. If we can win this award it will be a great step forwards for the Women’s movement and Gender Equality Movement in the world at grassroots level.
Safe World for Women works with true commitment and dedication to allow change, positive change to occur in the world. It is working tirelessly with the grassroots located in different countries around the world.
So please do vote for this great ethical organisation that honestly works for empowering Women, children and promoting Gender Equality throughout the the world.
Your vote means more than a lot to us." Mugisho Theopile, co-founder of COFAPRI, DR Congo (Safe World Field Partner).
By Bahati Valerie, Co-founder/Executive Secretary, COFAPRI - January 2013
In December, COFAPRI co-founder Bahati again crossed the border from Rwanda back to her homeland in DR Congo (DRC) border, climbing mountains and walking through valleys to meet the women and girls COFAPRI serves in Eastern DRC villages, to discuss their activities and some issues.
"If those fighters could give us one war helicopter and one box of bullets, we could sell them and help the helpless raped women and girls of the DRC, we could send them to school for a better future..."
The women of COFAPRI recently discussed human rights issues with Bahati, particularly those relating to the DRC context. They talked about how their rights are often infringed at family, community, and national levels.
“We and our daughters suffer a lot in our villages; there are some tough rules that do not allow us to enjoy our rights like men.
Here and there, you hear one is beaten, one is raped, one is insulted – and neighbours cannot do anything to help.
We suffer in silence.
Look for instance, our daughters do not finish their studies – they are discriminated by their fathers and the society; privilege goes mostly to boys. To know to read and write their names is not enough; they can do more, but no chance is given to them. With this, we can’t go anywhere, we can’t develop – and this is why we have no rights here.
If we women can’t have rights, but they are given to our children, yes, we can tolerate, but neither we nor our daughters are regarded as human beings who have rights in these villages where we live. We would like someone like you to speak in our name, to represent us where ‘big authorities’ are to tell them that in villages, there are poor women and girls who need to be heard and educated.”
These women acknowledged that they bear the negative brunt of traditions, as they are often victims of male domestic abuse and war violence (here, rape and related costs); discrimination is directed to them at all levels. They pointed to different contexts of biases, but especially, education.
The members said that women are not really represented in DRC’s various decision-making situations nor are they involved with decision-implementing. They concluded that these factors are responsible for their poverty as they cause the woman and her daughter to be without voice in society.
“We are human beings like him (pointing at a boy sitting close to her). But it is strange that we women and our daughters are never allowed to enjoy our rights here and I think this is a general case, because on the radio, we hear women and girls suffering a lot. Our families – yes, they are ours, but some husbands do not let their wives say what they feel and think.”
“COFAPI is our mountain on which we are standing for the moment; we have a big voice, but it has been silenced.
We are living endless wars that are not our initiative, but men’s. We have force to develop our country if we are given the floor to show our expertise, if we are allowed to say what we think about building peace.
We are shouting from this mountain because we are tired of carrying the horrible brunt of the cyclic wars [by which] we are being imposed upon.
We are orphaned, widowed, and killed in different and awful ways. We are forced to flee our cradle land to hide in forests where we die of hunger and diseases, we are raped and contaminated with HIV and other STDs, we are refused to go to school, to eat some food, and we are voiceless and powerless today.
The killers’ arms are louder than our voices combined.
If those fighters could give us one war helicopter and one box of bullets, we could sell them and help the helpless raped women and girls of the DRC, we could send them to school for a better future.
Tell those fighters in the bush to come out and join us to rebuild our nation.”
Cibalonza Francine, COFAPRI member.
DR Congo is located in Central Africa; it is the capital of rape to women and girls. It is the 19th most heavily populated nation in the world, the 4th most crowded nation in Africa, as well as the most populous, officially French-speaking country.
The DRC – formerly called Zaire, covers an area of 2,345 410 square kilometers of central Africa region with a population of over 71,000,000 (UN, 2003) – of which 55 percent is female.
“Look around us: the majority of us here are women and girls. We are a small group, but this is the situation in the whole country.
Women and girls are the majority of the population but they are discriminated; they are abused, they can’t read or write, they can’t work in offices and they have a lot of problems that are never heard by leaders. They should be equally represented like men and boys in every instance, which can give them power. Normally, if power can be equally distributed to both men and women in our country, we can a woman in every office, but this is not the case.
This shows that females are not represented at different national, provincial, and social levels of decision-making, which makes them have no voice in society since no one defends their rights.’
Alphonse Bahizire, COFAPRI coordinator and primary school teacher.
COFAPRI regrets the DRC is an extremely male-dominated country.
This is an awful situation that has negatively affected all levels of society, from the highest to the lowest, from the presidency to the household. There are only men at the highest levels of decision-making, from the president, the premier, all governors, all ambassadors, and high-ranking soldier. Most soldiers and police units are men, heads of villages and households, pastors, too.
Even in education, most teachers are also men, at the primary, secondary, and university levels, except for nurseries, where they accept women and girls because men and boys are perceived to be unable to handle babies and they are not well paid. Note also that most of the people who are involved in corruption are men, those who rape and batter women and girls are men, thieves and bandits as well are men. These factors highlight that the DRC is a strongly male-dominated society.
“Patriarchy hinders women and girls’ development by making their voice unheard and so they lag behind men who are decision-makers. This is a country in which gender imbalances and inequalities are fostered via exaggerated cultures fostered by patriarchal powers.”
DRC females have always been victims of discrimination and violence, but the situation has worsened since Dictator Mobutu was toppled in 1996 by Laurent Désiré Kabila, who was backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
Since then, endless wars have occurred in the country and women have been the victims; they have been repeatedly raped and others gruesomely killed after being raped, sometimes in the eyes of their parents, friends, neighbors, and relatives.
There have been different peace talks initiated to address the issue. Yet despite the efforts of women at the Inter Congolese Dialogue (ICD) process, women are still under-represented at different levels of decision-making in the DRC.
IDRC women are far from reaching 30% representation in decision-making bodies of the government. According to the Integrated Regional Information Network, at the moment there are just 9 women among the 61 ministers and vice ministers in the transitional government, and only 60 women sit in the two chambers of the 620-member parliament. In addition, UNICEF reports that among the 49% of Congolese girls who attend school, very few hardly complete the secondary school. Women occupy less than 9% seats of the DRC government.
This imbalance shows clearly that although women are the majority in the country, they are the least represented.
“This situation means there is gender inequalities in this society because injustice to women and girls remain highly prevalent at the level of decision-making in the DRC. Here, we also often see that sexual violence against women is rampant in the different provinces of the country.”
This is the reason why women are the only breadwinners of the households in times of crisis provoked by men’s warfare.
Women are also victims of various abuses, particularly, sexual violence. Moreover, during reconciliation procedures, the most neglected mistreatments and exploitations are the ones women and girls have endured.
COFAPRI urges the appropriate authorities to look into this issue, document it, and handle it satisfactorily; i.e the government must combat females’ abuses until their last causes are neutralized. Damages for pervasive physical and psychological trauma, economic loss, and the destruction of property also need to be dealt with vigorously.
“We do all jobs in the home, all family members depend on our sweat; if we are sick they suffer, Oh, I remember that people say that ‘ a woman is never sick’. We suffer in different ways, our sisters have said everything on this – but we need to be considered as full partners in families and why not in the country?
We can help resolve national conflicts like finding solutions to wars and building the economy, but no one asks us to do that.”
This situation can easily be changed if concerted efforts are put together with the same aim and commitment.
In fact, if there is committed political will to lift women and involve them into development, changing the situation cannot take long.
COFAPRI is committed to changing this; it is not understandable to us how the women who represent more than the half of the national population are rejected in the name of gender disparities.
The more that women are discarded from decision-making levels, the more the country will move towards deep underdevelopment.
The DRC is a questionable place for human rights, particularly women and girls’ rights. Their non-representation in the government and decision-making instances explains why they are being raped, and the rapists, though known, are never taken to justice – and the very few who are prosecuted, are released soon.
The DRC is located in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLR). In the last 10 to 15 years, some countries – Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda – in the region have dramatically increased the number of women in their parliaments and other decision- making institutions.
All these countries decided to give 30 seats to women in their respective decision- making instances; however, only Rwanda has reached this satisfactorily and has even done more as a way of involving and increasing gender-based participation in development.
Furthermore, women have been motivated to become involved in politics and actively act in public places to display their power that had been hindered by men in the past. This has actually generated encouraging results in these countries, but the DRC still infringes on women's rights, preventing them from raising their voices from the ground.
The positive side of this is that these countries have motivated women to become involved in the region’s political transitions and peace processes, which has had a positive impact on their countries’ development and peace achievement.
I explained to the audience:
“Women and girls in our country are lagging behind compared to women in the countries in the region. In our neighbouring countries, women are at decision-making levels; they are ministers, governors, work in banks and even preach the word of God, but here you can’t see that.
Our country has been experiencing male-instigated cyclic wars and different processes have always been conducted in attempts to end war and find sustainable peace – but up to now, no woman or girl who has ever been involved in the processes, yet we are the most victims; we are being raped, mutilated, widowed, and ridiculed in different ways.
Being the sufferers of war atrocities, we would like also to be part of peaceful negotiations though we never prompt any war – but men do.
We hate wars because they kill us in different ways.”
Women and girls can make their political contribution in the angle of a peace-seeking process as a gendered process. This actually challenges women, since they attempt unsuccessfully due to lack of institutional and social supports.
Accordingly, COFAPRI is encouraging women and girls to get involved in peaceful means that can lead toward change in institutions, economic and political structures that are the motors of people’s daily life.
Although these bodies are mainly in the hands of men who have made them look like naturally masculine institutions, we believe that they can still be changed and shared between men and women for durable, impartial, and gender-based development.
We are doing this by teaching women and girls about their rights and their role in boosting sustainable development and peace, starting from their own homes to higher institutions.
In the DRC, different actors are still waging wars from different corners. This current situation affects the economic, health, political and security atmospheres in the country.
This cannot help to implement women’s effective contribution either in political or public environment. However, if there is political will, that is, the writing of texts regarding women’s promotion and their fair and prompt implementation, there can be hope.
The DRC constitution and its Family Code contains good paragraphs that give rights to women and girls, but they are never implemented. This will always be an obstacle to the successful womens involvement in political and public life.
“We can see that wars are not ok; injustice to women and girls is underdevelopment. So, I think I can ascribe the impediments in applying the policies of gender parity to the lack of political will.
I can say that our leaders and the institutions they lead have no will to take decisions and implement them fairly in order to favour and promote women and girls here.
I want to say that we are working hard to change the situation. We want to confirm with facts at hand that if our daughters and ourselves are put in different instances where decisions are made, this can imply that policies of gender balance have been respected.
I am sure this can ultimately improve our socio-economic status and that of our daughters in our country and at all steps of society, including the family.”
Lungwenda Hortense, COFAPRI member.
The attitude of Lungwenda Hortense is right.
In own my life, what I have always experienced and denounced is the regrettable economic underdevelopment of our country, as we often see around us that there is the country’s vital neglect of women’s emancipation. Non-improvement in females’ values and presence in society remains a strong indicator that our beloved country is not wholly and fairly served with optimal satisfaction.
In every instance of our country, we women and girls are lagging behind – and in most cases, we seem non-existent social creatures.
This lack of political will is an understandable explanation for women’s extreme poverty in remote villages, which continues to be an outstanding issue requring national attention. This situation is so alarming it that it conveys the country is not aware of the long and hard journey required in order to attain satisfactory success in bettering women’s status, particularly in remote villages.
The situation of women’s development infers that their majority remains stuck in a cycle of poverty, obstructed from stability and basic human rights, including domestic abuse and rape due to cyclic wars.
Among the rural, financially-depleted population, women and children find themselves in the unfortunate majority. Most women and girls live below the poverty line; they are deprived of and vulnerable to discrimination and traditional men’s gender-based attitudes and beliefs.
A vicious cycle of women and girls’ inadequate health care, scant education, and unawareness of legal rights derives from financial instability. COFAPRI thinks it becomes therefore obligatory to pull these women from the quagmire of poverty, and make them the focus of village, provincial, and national economic discussions.
The impoverished living environment that women endure is a direct consequence of the government neglect to promote women – and is also due to the violence that is directed to them during war.
This fully explains how DRC females are the majority of those who suffer from rural poverty and isolated suffering: the horror left over from wars – and in the eyes of the government which does nothing to change the situation – millions of raped women and girls, women who fled their homes due to war, many others widowed and deliberately infected with HIV/AIDS, are the key reasons these women to lack confidence in themselves.
“Due to warfare, we found ourselves alone unmarried, widowed, or wives of fighters. This situation left us and our families in villages, without land to cultivate, no place where to do small business, which leave us in total poverty and despair.
Our mental and emotional health crumbled beneath the severe trauma and violence due to the culture of rape. Today, many of us and our daughters believe the suffering will never end as the country is doing nothing to empower us, particularly here in villages; I don’t know if it is doing something in cities.
But what I am sure of is that, and you can even see that the country neglects the responsibility to provide its people, especially us women in the village, with the necessary therapy and medical resources to recover.”
Aganze Alice, COFAPRI member.
Poverty and gender imbalance are closely and strongly interconnected; the DRC government has never successfully addressed this connection and this is the reason why it has not included gender parity into its five pillars, commonly called the ‘five building sites’.
The government should recognize and address the two issues concurrently in order to successfully pull women and girls from their alarming economic status.
If the nation prioritizes the improvement of women from poverty, the national financial well-being of the entire country will also improve in a satisfactory way. Since the government seems to neglect gender disparity and poverty, it becomes important that local and international organizations working on women empowerment unite in their efforts and courageously strive with the aim of pulling these women from the shadows of impoverishment.
They should set up development programs that notably target women, because in countries like the DRC, women and girls are the most vulnerable and socially excluded.
COFAPRI considers that women can be provided with the resources and tools that can allow them to discover and access their natural capabilities, which will certainly foster their full development.
These women not only have experienced a lot of suffering due to cyclic wars, but also suffer from rape and infections of STDs and HIV, and thus, of a lot of trauma and isolation.
These are oftentimes imposed on them, making them lose their self-assurance and incentive. These reasons give us pleasure to give power to these women, particularly in the village, and allow them regain their powerful and striving selves in order to get their real place in society, and so make their voices be heard.
COFAPRI aims to educate women in development and human rights by eventually providing them with non-violent elementary tools to overcome discrimination and underdevelopment.
Education remains the main way to help women and girls as a way of practicing a healthy lifestyle. Second, teaching women the ways of becoming responsible in making decisions in their households is a starting point.
Later on, they can easily get involved in national decision-making strategies by becoming leaders. This cannot be achieved if females continue being discarded from education; education is a good way of making women and girls overcome fear and speak out against the many kinds of ridicule, discrimination, and scorn they suffer in households, society, and in the country.
By gaining confidence to voice their views freely in both society and within their families, they will have forged a way toward a better future.
"We women are poor people and gender disparities in poverty hinder us from getting the exposure, education, and health services necessary for our full development. Programs, like this one you have set up here, are much needed for us.
You told our team about COFAPRI and other groups of women like Safe World for Women and many others. These groups are crucial as they seek to lift us from ignorance.
We understand they target us and our daughters by providing us with necessary tools such as knowledge and education for our hopeful future. This is a good example our country should follow in order to fight ignorance and fear among women. This can help us express our opinions; we, as women can decide to seek and manage our income.
If you look at our financial resources and our pervading view of being considered as objects or second class people, for instance, you will understand that your presence here is always needed and we would like you to be among us every month because you are opening our minds.
Sometimes, we women are considered as possessions of our families (families of origins and the husbands’), untimely and forced marriage together with illiteracy infer that our rights and even our opinions are hardly given value…”
The DRC is called the rape capital of the world because of the high number of females who have been raped and are still being raped, as war has never completely ended. This is the key reason why the post-war peace accords in the DRC were particularly fundamental for the women and the girls of this country.
However, they were practically inexistent during the peace talks – because they were not invited.
Women were, and are not considered human beings who can contribute effectively and positively to ending the war; yet history tells us that women are naturally non-violent, compared to men, and are leaders.
Such discrimination based on gender is what we at COFAPRI are strongly addressing; people should equally share the same rights, which is a way of giving females, to whom no one listens, a voice.
COFAPRI recognises that not acknowledging and involving DRC women and girls as victims of warfare in peace agreements processes will never reach any sustainable peace; this is why females’ claims will always keep increasing.
Congolese women play a crucial role in the household economy; from purchasing food commodities to buying things for their families, they should be appreciated as everything lies in their hands.
Unfortunately, the same women who struggle for their families’ survival are the ones whose rights are infringed because they are not culturally allowed to keep or manage the money that they earn – not even that of their husbands.
This lack of pecuniary resources is completed by the prevailing view of women as the property of their families or husbands; marriage at a young age and illiteracy correctly portrays how females’ views and rights are hardly ever respected.
Most Congolese women living in remote villages are home keepers; they assure food security for the entire household. They remain the prime persons dealing with the daily acquisition of their households’ needs as a way of supporting their survival.
In rural areas, women are often burdened with the bulk of agricultural work, firewood gathering, water hauling, and child care at the same time.
In addition, they have generally seen an increase in their labour burdens as the economy has deteriorated. However, some men are also involved in the cultivation of some food crops, but this does not really nutritionally profit the family.
Food required for family utilization is habitually sold for cash – money needed to pay for daily necessities, clothes, school fees, taxes, and so on.
Higher-priced and nutritionally superior food crops such as sorghum are habitually sold by cultivators who eat only their cheaper, less nutritious food crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes.
“The lack of rich food has generated the propagation of malnutrition among children and making them suffer from severe diseases. We are women, but we are sure that if we are given more power, this situation can easily be addressed in a positive way and the whole family can still find rich and necessary food security.
I hope being a woman does not hinder us from being taught how to have more say in determining what crop is necessary for our families to grow, but also in what must be consumed for better health. You see, in our villages for example, there are some cultures that are very harsh regarding food consumption.
This has generated food taboos that refuse us and our daughters to eat certain foods, usually the most enviable, since ‘we are second class people, thus not equal to our husbands, brothers, fathers and sons regarding rights. Accordingly, we are never allowed to eat in the presence of males, but we are only permitted to eat our fathers' or husbands' leftovers.”
Kahindo Pascaline, COFAPRI member.
In some cultures of the DRC, the most pervasive prototype is for the men to be served the best food first. This infers that the remainder will be eaten by women and children, but this is again gender-based food discrimination. In order to overcome this, conscientious women should think how to set aside choice food items and sauces for their own and their children's consumption before feeding the men their food.
COFAPRI is very much concerned with empowering women and the members discuss it whenever they meet so that they can find a non-violent way of addressing it.
As this is a process, we have started discussing it with women and girls members of our organisation, which prepares them how to introduce it within households, and so that we can move to wider areas with the aim of finding appropriate therapy to these discriminatory traditions and make sure we are promoting women and girls constructively.
Currently, the organisation is pushing for the recognition of the rights of the females; to allow both women and girls to get involved, to pursue and complete their education, to oppose strongly untimely (before 16 as stated in the DRC Family Code) and forced marriages, and share the management of their households’ finances.
Congolese women and girls do have not enough financial means to run their own publicity campaigns if they want to be among the decision-makers. This is due to women’s powerlessness to liberally run their personal funds, which is a remarkably significant factor concerning their lack of representation in national or provincial government.
Organising a successful political campaign in such situations seems to be financially consuming – and in a country where women are never trusted, this remains an insurmountable obstacle. Since women do not have enough monetary resources that are required for running a position in politics, those who were candidates were doomed to failure.
Women are not given any considerable support from the government, which even and often disheartens those who could try.
COFAPRI is very determined to give DRC women and girls a voice from their households to the political arena in a collaborative way. This is a sure way of addressing poverty and boost sustainable development, regardless of gender. If both women and men join hands for working together, the outcome can be very satisfactory; the only way to do this is to invest in women and girls’ education.
Education will open their eyes and minds and so they will be sure to contribute adequately to the development of their families, societies, and the country in general.