The Democratic Republic of the Congo DRC is a big country located in central Africa. It is a strongly paternalistic country where it is worse to be a woman. The country is also called the World Capital of Rape for women. The situation of women is appalling in most villages where their rights are infringed and they are greatly discriminated against and have no word in families or in public. Upon accessing its independence from Belgium in 1960, the country has never been stable or peaceful. In 1996, there broke a liberation war that ousted Dictator Mobutu that generated cyclic wars.
These unending wars have been succeeding one another since 1996 until today, which has made the women most victims. They have been massively raped and gang raped, in public and sometimes in the eyes of their children, relatives and friends. This situation occurred because women are never valued in their communities; they are considered as second class people. This caused their lives to exacerbate as they are uneducated and the society disvalues them. They have been raped, and some got rape pregnancies that delivered fatherless children. Because of awful discriminatory traditions toward women and girls in the villages, such women were expelled from their homes and villages, both the mother and the child became social shame and cast at the same time. This lead the woman and her child to be ostracized. Being an uneducated woman who fully depends on her husband and with no job, being expelled from the family with one’s child will cause them live in severe hardship.
In order to empower and help these women to regain their confidence, become financially self-reliant and build their hope, Congolese Females Action for Promoting Rights and Development-COFAPRI https://www.cofapri.org was set in 2009. This organization was set up by the team of husband-wife Mugisho Theophile and Bahati Valerie. This is a village grassroots organization that is involving women in income generating activities (sewing, small business, animal rearing and crop cultivation), and their children via school education by helping them enroll in various local schools and from there the organization brings them school materials and pays them school fees.
Among the many income generating activities COFAPRI initiated to empower the women, there is sewing activity. This activity started in 2015, with only three women. The following year, we were able to train our first cohort of 56 women for a period of six months in sewing. They all were awarded their certificates in a public ceremony where all local leaders were invited. The leaders gave a trophy to COFAPRI for having empowered such a big number of women free of charge. Today, our sewing center was well equipped with 12 sewing machines. The organization has also already trained 110 women and 73% of them are successfully supporting their families and themselves thanks to the skills they gained in the same center.
In the night of Saturday-Sunday, July 7-8, 2018, thieves got into the sewing center and stole all the 12 machines, leaving the room empty and all the 21 women who had been learning the program for only one month severely heartbroken. These women got morally hurt, making them recall their rape wounds and how the community does not support their empowerment. However, this theft does not totally discourage them, as one of them confided:
" We are heartbroken today but we are not dead. As long as we are alive and healthy, we will work as we have always been doing and we will remake it, even better than before. We all remain vividly convinced we will move on and nothing will fully discourage us since we have already tasted how good is to learn such a helpful life changing skill. COFAPRI was created, it is there and it will be there for us and our families."
Many people are against women’s development in this strongly paternalistic country, that is the DR Congo. Neema Cecille, one of the women who were learning the sewing revealed:
“Despite the challenges we often meet in this country where women are never valued, we will always make a way for our future and that of our children. We had done an amazing step ahead and some our leaders were happy with what we are doing. See where we came from and where we had been. It was really great and we had been seeing an excellent future at the horizon. We had been able to support ourselves and our families. These people who stole our machines have stolen our hope, killed our lives and plunged our future into darkness. We truly feel heartbroken; we did not want our learning to be forcibly interrupted this way. This is shame to our people and our leaders who are failing to restore peace in our areas. But we hope these development killers will be discovered and sanctioned. The persons who stole our machines are but mere heartless killers. They want us to die financially depending on men and our families to sink into extreme poverty. We want die, we say no to being reduced to useless women; what we are learning is not only helpful for us but also for the wives, the children and friends of those thieves. Despite this theft, we still have hope our friends will help us as they have always done to lift us from this quagmire of deception. We are committed though.”
Helping these women get some sewing machines will help them mend their hearts that the theft has broken. This will also help them continue with their program uninterruptedly, which helps them a lot in regaining their confidence and patch up their moral wounds.