Village Women and Girls Exploited in the Name of the Catholic Church

When Religious Duty Becomes Slave Labour

By Bahati Valerie, Co-Founder, COFAPRI

Priests Exploit Women and Girls

Religious beliefs have a strong impact, negative or positive on a person.

Karl Marx said that religion is the opium of the people. In the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), this has proved to be very real – though it has been changed into exploitation in the name of religious faith.

DRC priests in rural areas behave as if they were small God representatives there; they exploit women and girls in the name of God.

These unfortunate and illiterate village women and girls have crammed the instructions that were given by Holy Fathers during colonization into their minds.

This negative inheritance stipulated that people have to come to the parish for a number of days a week to work for the parish, as a 'good' way to book one’s place in heaven when they die. This belief remains ingrained in the minds of all the people up to today,

And village women have well applied and maybe blindly understood this prescription, which they unfailingly trust.

Such a belief sometimes causes a violent reaction by their husbands because the women believe and trust the priest more than their husbands. Some have even gone further by divorcing. In their conviction that they are working for God, they strongly oppose their husbands.

Of course, a community mindset towards assisting one’s parish is not in itself a bad thing, but it should not be used as an excuse for exploitation.

Village Women Ignore Their Rights

These village women, as they totally ignore their rights, can’t refuse what the “man of God” has dictated to them. 

These priests teach them that Jesus said that if any of his disciples go to preach somewhere they will not lack food because everything is there, provided by the hosts. In the case of the DRC villlagers, this is taken to mean that they must provide everything for free for the Priests.

Priests get salaries and most of them are involved in well-paying businesses – but despite this, they 'can’t afford' to pay someone to work for them.

Sexual Abuse by Priests

Some village girls are told to make the bed for some young priest, which, in the long run, leads to sexual abuse – and then the girls often become pregnant.

Once this has been discovered, the parish immediately shifts the priest who was responsible for the pregnancy so he will be displaced from that parish and sent elsewhere –  and all charges fall on the girl’s parents shoulders, who are sometimes very destitute to even support delivery expenses.

Marriages are costly.

When a village girls wants to get married, both the girl and the boy are obliged to bring eggs and chickens, a cock for the groom and a hen for the bride. Failing to comply with this, often means that the wedding cannot go ahead.

In addition to this, both the families of the boy and the girl must bring a cassava flour to the parish as their offer to the parish. Cassava flour a white powder that is derived from manioc (a plant that is commonly cultivated in the DRC and whose roots-manioc- are often pounded in a mortar or mill by women and girls -there are no mills in DRC villages) in order to get the white flour that they use to make ugali, a kind of bread from cassava flour, that is daily food for most DRC families.

Children's Nutrition and Education Takes Second Place

Often, these families work to do all they are worth to get all these things, which they never eat or use in their homes, but get them for the priest.

These village women also feel as they are obliged to give alms made of food and animals to the parish.

They may be incurring such expenses while their children are being expelled from school by lack of school fees or lack of shoes  –  or even school items like pens, pencils, note books, etc.

Therefore the gifts to the parish may result in the loss of education for their children.

The ultimate belief is that they will get reward in heaven when they die.

I do not disagree with this but I believe it is unfair to feed the priest while one’s family is starving and one's children are going without education.

Spiritual Abuse by Priests

This depicts how priests, who are considered here as spiritual abusers, may also want to subdue their women believers’ spiritual beliefs and practices.

Such abuse can be classified as spiritual abuse, as the abuser impedes some family members to be useful by manipulating them to their profit and gain.

This means that the priest - who is the abuser, through the different activities he gives to women and girls without payment, - would like all the members of the woman's family to come to the parish and work for the priests.

COFAPRI considers this as exploitation of the purely blind beliefs of these women.

These women strongly believe that a priest cannot harm them because he is a man who was chosen by God to serve them and these priests know this, which they use to abuse these DRC illiterate women and girls in remote villages.

This is due to lack of education.

In South Kivu, for instance, the priest in the village often hinders women particularly from being useful to their family members, which hinders their rights - and causes them to lose the respect of their children.

Ex-communication as a Punishment

In addition, these priests attempt to make these villagers believe they should practice a religious attitude that is not described in the Holy Bible. They even go further to ex-communicate a parent whose child got pregnant or the person who impregnated the girl.

If a girl is impregnated, then the parish is informed –  thanks to their puppet believers who check on every family about what is wrong there and inform the priest, or the parish.

The parents are excomunicated because their daughter got impregnated outside religious celebration. The one who got pregnant –  or impregnated a girl, is also ousted from the church. This may seem like a revenge of the priest as he won't get chickens, hens, goats, etc., for the missed wedding.

It may also be to terrorize families so that they remain 'true' Catholic believers.

Ex-communication also occurs if parents attend the wedding of their daughter or son who married someone from a different church. It is the parents who are ex-communicated  –  and not not the child - in this case.

The parent is told that he or she can’t allow such children to have a church wedding until they apologise for the “untimely eating of the forbidden fruit”. I understand this is a way of educating people not to marry out of order (sex before marriage), but this is not the way it should be done.

Slave Labour as a Punishment

Often the parents are given the punishment of coming to the parish to work some days for the parish.

Does this cleanse the offense of pregnancy?

Educate People, Don't Punish Them

People move with the world; long ago, pregnancies were not en vogue, but today they are.

They should rather educate these people on how to avoid HIV/AIDS by avoiding untimely and unprotected sex, for instance, but not punish the parents because their children got pregnant, or had sexual relations.

Marriage to a non-Catholic - a Punishable 'Offence'

When a Catholic girls marries a non-Catholic, the same punishment applies to parents as if it is them who told their children to do so.

This is truly built on lack of education, a lack of information regarding one’s rights.

This is done in an organised way that people will always believe these women and girls are true believers and not abused  –  and if you ask these women and girls whether they are being abused, they tell you that that is not exploitation but that they are working for God.

This is matter of education; lack of it can plunge people and the whole society into obscurity, leading to exploitation.

In a clever and well-organized way, Catholic priests often compel their church’s believers to work for them without being paid, telling them they will be rewarded in heaven by God.

A Common Occurence in Rural DR Congo

This does not only apply to one remote village, but to the whole society. 

Besides, this is an apparent make-believe trick that lies to the world that the priests in the Catholic church work for their believers –  and that the latter support their church.

The Catholic priests do not exploit village women and girls blindly; they always advance good reasons for it such as 'God our Father sees the good things you are doing for the Church' –  and that Christians should help preachers as Jesus was when he was preaching; he did not bring food or cloth with him, but everything was given to him by the people to whom he was preaching.

Such exploitation seems to be rooted in village women and girls’ religious convictions.

It could easily be assumed that some priests are vividly convinced that women are second-class people who must be exploited in one way or another, and that these priests know that because the women are uneducated, there is a good opportunity to exploit them.

Such a religious attitude is so powerful and widespread in the remote villages of the DRC that it inspires some priests’ views regarding human exploitation.

Actually, religious beliefs impact church believers, particularly women and girls.

Women are ready to accept and trust immediately what they are told from a spiritual leader, but this is not so much the case with men.

If we correctly apply the Holy Scriptures, God created a woman because he knew she was necessary to Adam.

Thus, exploiting her, in anyway may it be, would not please God at all –  and worse is exploiting women and girls in the name of God.

Religious people who like to abuse women should know that - as man was created in the image of God - he bears his image; therefore, making human beings suffer implies causing God to suffer.

Priests should help women and girls to have their rights respected and not infringed upon by the church.