A Voice for a United Congo
I was born in a very remote village of South Kivu Province in Eastern Congo. I remember those early years of community, when each family was part of every family around them. We lived and worked together and in support of one another, as if we were all close relatives. Due to the richness of the land and our relationship to one another, we wanted for nothing. Even as the virus of racial separation injected by our colonizers began to infect our remote setting, we still lived above that ideology.
But after the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide fled to my province in 1994, bringing an utter hatred of my ethnicity and a demand for our annihilation with them, a very different world emerged. I was immediately whisked off to university in another country for safety. And when I was able to return a few years later, it seemed that every tribe now saw itself as separate from another. Division had arisen and the family tie of our nation was broken.
I have lived in this conflict zone and seen horrible atrocities. My own daughter was beaten by police forces for no reason. But I have a vision for my country that compels me. It is a big shift, but I have learned that making the impossible possible simply requires a different set of rules.
I have joined a chorus of Maman Shujaa—Hero Women in Swahili—and in harmony we’re raising our voices with all our might. As the women of Liberia stood together and made their wishes known before their government and the world, so are the women of Congo making our wishes known. Abraham Lincoln fought for the rights of those who had been given no rights. We too are tired of being enslaved by the brutal and unbridled passions of unprincipled men and nations.
We need the world to unite with us for Peace’s sake, for all of Congo’s sake, and for the sake of the entire world with which we are One.
A Voice Against Violence
My homeland is the Democratic Republic of Congo—the second largest African country, found at the center of this great continent. We share a border with Zambia, Angola, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and the Republic of Congo.
The beauty of DRC is due to a rich fauna and flora that attracts many international tourists. The east of our country is engorged with vegetation, minerals, and animals like the okapi, mountain gorillas, and hippopotamuses. This is why the East of Congo is of interest to so many in the world, with many wishing to exploit us. Sometimes it feels like violence and war is inevitable as long as our country has all of this richness and beauty.
In DRC, we are victims of war and we are handicapped by profound poverty. As a mother of six (two boys and 4 girls) and an educator—even with my own financial difficulties—the effects of sexual violence on the women of my community has always been my preoccupation. The military and other negative forces, such as the ex-Rwandan army, regularly violate the bodies of women. Women are forced to accept this violence as part of life, or pay with their lives. Women are not only shell-shocked from these violent acts, but also contract sexually transmitted diseases, which causes their husbands to reject them. In fact, a woman who has been raped no longer merits the love of her husband and is treated as unworthy in society.
Impunity is in full effect in DRC, yet those who commit these acts walk along in good health and the government takes no responsibility—especially for victims of sexual violence. It is necessary that women survivors receive assistance from local and international organizations. These women require not just physical care but also moral, educational, and psychological support.
A Voice for Girls Education
In my homeland, the powerful nature of women is not recognized. From a very young age, we are dismissed as less than. The birth of a son is announced with two joyful shouts, while the birth of a daughter elicits only one shout. Even our naming structure reflects gender inequality. Boys are called Nahano, Cubaka, Ntunga, meaning Owner, Builder, Pillar, while girls are called by names like Nabintu, Ziraje, Nankanfu—all denoting investments, as daughters bring dowries and monetary gain.
As such, many women are not formally educated, since families don’t see the importance of sending a daughter to school. This cycle continues when that daughter becomes a mother, and she in turn does not send her daughter to school. The mother is the child’s first teacher, and we know that if you educate a woman you educate a whole village!
There is radical potential for my country if education for women is prioritized. Lack of education contributes to rampant violence against women in my country, especially in the rural areas. Remember that without education the economic power of women is weak. This is a dangerous combination and men take advantage of it to harass and scorn us.
Let us raise a cry to people of good will so that they will support literacy and access to schools. Let us awaken society’s conscience to ban outdated customs. Let us encourage churches to invest more in education and instruction to loyal patrons. Let us cry out to those who are able to give scholarships for the strengthening of female leadership.
And let us raise a cry of warning to the international community so that lasting peace comes to Congo. As women, let us unite and hold hands for a common cause so that one-day the flags in the hands of women can cry victory.
A Voice Exposing Atrocities
I am a 26-year-old woman living in war-torn Eastern DRC, and every day I learn of new atrocities committed against my sisters. This is a war that plays out on the bodies of women; we have become the battlefield.
Recently, I heard of a woman who was cut into pieces, disassembled as if she were a radio put together with screws. Firstly, they destroyed her reproductive organs then they killed her.
Our parents are surprised at what is happening in the land of our ancestors. They tell us they have never before experienced such things: a girl is raped in front of her parents; a mother is raped in front of her husband and children; a pregnant woman is raped and her baby ripped from her body; 220 people are burned in one province.
How can a human being maltreat another human being to this extent? And why are women always the first victims? Were we not created like the others? It seems that the rebels have decided that it is only on the body of a woman that war can take place.
I ask that the world pray for my country, for it is said that, "It is better to prevent the bleeding than to wait and cure the wound."
A Voice for Women’s Political Leadership
I am a Congolese widow and mother of four boys living in Eastern DRC. I am a fierce advocate for women’s rights in my country, and I am particularly passionate about strengthening women’s leadership so that we might enter politics.
In the legislative elections of November 2011, we saw an awakening of female consciousness, with many women running for office alongside their male counterparts. But barriers exist that make it difficult for women to be taken seriously in their efforts to lead.
Poverty is at the heart of this issue. Women in my community are disproportionately strained when it comes to economics, and this means that female candidates are unable to publicize their political efforts. Often, these women can’t afford transport fares to meet voters, nor can they produce campaign materials to publicize their cause. Without campaign materials, it is difficult to convince voters to vote for a candidate, especially if this candidate is female, given the inequality that exists between the sexes.
Education is also at the heart of this issue. In our country, numerous families are unable to send their children to school due to strained socioeconomic conditions. Girls make up the majority of this uneducated group. Many children drop out of school before finishing the first grade due to the aforementioned poverty.
In the 2011 elections, these factors conspired against courageous women politicians and led to the ruin of all their efforts. But we will not be discouraged! We continue to run as candidates in the provincial, municipal, and local elections.
We must do everything in our power to help women enter into the political sphere. We need financial backing; we need a shift in the culture so that women may be seen as equals; and we need solidarity among all women to support those who strive to enter leadership positions. Only then will we see the peaceful Congo we dream about.
A Voice Against Domestic Violence
Like many in DRC, I grew up in a quarrelsome, violent family.
My father loved to fight. He would fight in the district where he worked, and he would beat my mother and us children. I recall one very bad night when he came home very drunk. He beat me until I was knocked out. The injuries were so bad that I spent time in hospital. After two days, I finally regained consciousness, and found my father in front of me crying, begging for my forgiveness. He promised he would never do it again. We made peace and went home where he refused to drink. From that day on my father never drank again and the violence was reduced in my home. What a miracle!
But many in DRC are not so lucky. Ongoing conflict, lack of resources, and customs that seek to neglect women, make life very difficult here.
Domestic violence like what I experienced in my own home is widespread. I recall the horrible story of the fate of a child in my community. When a mother went to get water—which is an arduous task here in DRC—the father raped his 9-month-old child and then ran away. The mother returned to find her child crying and full of blood.
One day I sent my 17-year-old girl to fetch water 5km away. I told her to take the short path, but there she met three men who asked to follow her because they were also seeking water. But these were not good men, and they used this opportunity to rape her. She fell unconscious and was found the next morning by passersby who took her to the hospital. Later she found out she was pregnant and all her hopes fell away.
It pains my heart to see how women are continually raped from day to day—even as infants. I ask that you spread awareness of these atrocities in order to end these abuses against the Congolese women.
I also believe that access to education for girls, so that they should know their rights, would be a great advantage for my country. Girls are not allowed to go into higher education; instead, they are prepared for their wedding. If girls were allowed to go to school, their leadership could change things for DRC.
You will often hear “Mwasi atonga ka mboka te,” meaning a woman can never build a country, but I know otherwise. I believe that we, as women, can bring about great change in DRC; we have already begun.