Boosting Gender via Education: Empowering DR Congo women victims of war rape
Since 1996, the DR Congo has been experiencing unending wars. The warfare has been nurtured by minerals that are exploited illegally by fighters. As warfare is blind, it has so affected the population and the ecosystem as well. As for the population, women and girls have been victimized as they have always been the main target of the fighters. Women as well as girls have been dehumanized through shameful and repeated rape, and other forms of sexual abuse. This is a war on women, using rape as a cheap arm for their physical and moral destruction. The women who were raped contaminated HIV; others got unwanted pregnancies that delivered fatherless children. These children, together with their mothers suffer enormously in the villages as they are discriminated and abandoned to themselves because they have been raped or born of rape. This is victimizing the victim who is already suffering moral and physical wounds.
This comes to worsen women’s situation in the rural DR Congo that is already alarming due to traditions and culture that stipulate that the woman and her daughter are meant to keep the house and the kitchen and not get school education. The traditions deprive women and girls of their basic rights, such as education. This has meant that gender in the DR Congo is never valued.
Building on the above statements, the Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development (COFAPRI) strongly demonstrates that gender equality is crucial to women, families, community and nation’s economic development as well as their inclusive local and community security. When women participate in education, this can certainly boost economies at all social levels, starting with the family. This in fact can hugely decrease poverty as domestic production has increased.
COFAPRI was initiated in 2009, taking into account the way the women and girls victims of war rape have been neglected. The organization is located in South Province of the DR Congo and is now working to promote women and girls’ development and rights in this part of the country. Our goal is to move women from getting out of fear of not telling the world what they have endured as rape and other sexual abuses as well as discriminatory traditions. We also help them to remake their lives, via some activities and counseling, after all the hardship they have been in their homes and in the community as outcome of rape. The women are involved in income-generating activities that we hope, in both short and long term, will help them overcome the trauma inflicted upon them. We strongly believe in the power of education; thus, the children born of raped mothers are provided with school equipment and fees.
COFAPRI believes that women’s empowerment and children’s education, mostly girls in rural areas of the DR Congo, is a strong tool that can help them remake their lives by building on self confidence and mutual support. It is in this way that the organization encourages women to become actively involved in income-generating activities, such as small business, sewing, beading and knitting projects, and the rearing of livestock. These endeavors remain a great adventure, requiring clear vision.
In this vein, the organization hopes to scale down, if not remove, the cycle of violence in DR Congo directed to the woman and her daughter, and the stigma and silence associated with it. The aim here is nothing else than to see all women and girls, mostly in villages, empowered through education toward human rights and developmental skills. This will prepare them to defend those rights and help develop the Eastern DR Congo, the country, and the Great Lakes Region (GLR).
This has moved COFAPRI to the different ways of empowering these rural women and children of war, rape, and domestic violence. The aim of this endeavor is to help these victims remake their lives in a peaceful and successful way, for a better future.
COFAPRI is a grassroots organization operating in rural, Eastern DR Congo. It works with women who are often victims of local discriminatory traditions. The situation of these women worsened with the advent of unending warfare since 1996, adding to their natural, cultural plights. They have been raped, sometimes in the presence of their relatives, children, husbands, friends and neighbors. Rape directed toward these women and girls is a cheap weapon of war that rapists use. This is a kind of sexual terrorism mainly directed toward women and girls of all ages and statuses, with the main objective of dehumanizing them and reducing them to nothing – detaching them from their families; therefore, weakening the victim, her family, and her community by causing her unbearable shame and moral death. Some of the women have been contaminated with HIV and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases); many others became pregnant, giving birth to fatherless children.
COFAPRI is now involving these victims in income-generating activities such as sewing, animal rearing, knitting, beading and small business. They perform these activities in teams, where they share different issues regarding their lives. In these teams, everyone is both a student and a teacher, aiming to promote the rights of women and children, as well as supporting them in their new life, overcoming trauma and poverty.
No way to speak of the woman and leave the child. In this context, the children born of rape also suffer discrimination within their families. Because they are fatherless, they are considered to be a social outcast. COFAPRI thinks that this situation has no reason to exist. It must be stopped and if not, the boys may choose to seek revenge by joining the militia and repeating the actions of their unknown fathers and the girls may be pushed into untimely sexuality, which can cause them attract STDs and HIV/AIDS and even get unwanted pregnancies that can deliver fatherless children as they too have been. This situation in both cases, for boys and girls, must be addressed; otherwise this can become a social burden that ultimately may culminate into social insecurity or more warfare. This is why we are helping them to get school education by paying them fees and school materials.
The organization is also committed to educate the population at large about scaling down the effects of traditional, discriminatory rules that have negatively affected women and children in these areas. It focuses on building their confidence, and remaking their lives after the violence of warfare endured within themselves, their homes, their families, and in the wider community. Through education, we believe a new horizon can be sought. The power of education can rebuild broken hearts by making women and children pillars of their families, communities, and the nation in the future.
However, the organization is facing a lot of challenges and one of them is a sense of insecurity felt by the women and their children because the area is still inhabited by perpetrators of violence. The other threat is the increasing number of victims, which reaches beyond our expectations, therefore, creating difficulty in assisting all of those in need. We are getting more and more women and children coming to seek assistance with us but since our means are not enough, we cannot satisfy them all. But our aim is to see all these women, girls and children victims of rape and domestic violence get educated and remake their future lives in a satisfactory way.
The culture and traditions of the DR Congo also present a challenge. Women here continue to internalize feelings of inferiority to men and do not feel free to speak in public, mostly about sexual issues for fear of being repudiated. We are working towards scaling down such beliefs and attitudes. It is a long process, but we are determined to reach our goal.
For more details or contact
Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile, COFAPRI Founder and Executive Director
Tel +250 7884 82308