By Mugisho N. Theophile, Founder/Exec. Director, COFAPRI
Uniting in Solidarity on International Women's Day in Rural DR Congo
Every year, on March 8, the world celebrates International Women's Day (IWD).
COFAPRI members also gathered on the same occasion in order to discuss issues pertaining to this great day. Throughout the country, there were ceremonies and marches on the occasion. For COFAPRI members, this was a good opportunity to sit and discuss ways they can develop and address the violence that is often imposed on them in their homes and in society at large.
COFAPRI Members Share Views on Collaboration
"Safe World for Women is uniting various women from different organisations and now the world knows us.... COFAPRI is showing us the way forward." Sifa Chantal
For these women, marching, wearing new clothes (called bitenge), chanting songs along the road, moving with calicos that depict their plights and hurdles to development and rights of women are wonderful initiatives. No matter where women met, in village or in city, they needed to unite hands and brains and hearts through collaboration and unity to better address all forms of injustice, violence, and discrimination they endure in homes, society and country.
“Women live in different areas; some are in the city and others in the village. We who live the village – we support our sisters who are in the city in their efforts to lift women and girls.
But we do not behave or think the same way.
The way violence is applied in the city differs from the way it is done in the village; so, different ways of finding solution to it. This is why we decided to sit here today and exchange on our unity and how we can address domestic violence, rape, and discrimination committed upon our children, particularly the girls, and our children born from rape during the war”.
Though living in remote areas of the DRC, they would like to meet city women for support, but they faced real and understandable obstacles. By meeting, women can learn a lot from others and give heart to one another; as Eliza said:
“Meeting women and girls on this day is necessary.
We exchange ideas and opinions on the different problems we and our daughters face from day to day. Look, for instance, to move from here to Bukavu, the capital city of our province; to meet other women there is not easy. We have a lot of jobs in the home because we do everything.
Moreover, we can’t find transport fares for all the hundreds members of COFAPRI here”
“By meeting, we exchange on how we suffer, what we do to resist violent men and different ways we can use to overcome violence.
At our level, this is not enough because we need to be protected by laws; so the government is needed to help us. Some of us suffer trauma as we have been raped and have children born to rape; those children are suffering from hunger, HIV, and other problems because they have no father.
This makes them die while living; by meeting here, we can also help such women and girls to endure their situation, but this is not really easy and it not all they need; they need more moral healing.”
Daily Obstacles Prevent Meeting Together
Among other reasons they discussed which prevent their development is road infrastructure.
They said that roads are not in a good state and it is not even easy to get a car or bus going to Bukavu from their areas. Besides, their husbands would not allow them to go to Bukavu because they may miss a return car and spend the night there, which may cause contention in their respective families.
“We understand the importance of this day of day of women. But if we can get a car to Bukavu, we are not sure we can find another to return back home the same day.
In case some of us fail to return back home the same day, their husbands may beat them when they return and so COFAPRI will be given a bad name. So, it is ok as we are here; we discuss and exchange and then we return home to carry out our daily duties in the family. We should not be provocative or fueling conflicts in our homes because of this day.
I think it is better that this day be a positive way to show our husbands we are obedient and love them so that they can consider it too. We are united here and we must be united in our homes.”
COFAPRI is One Big Family
They agreed that there is collaboration and unity in their teams, but that this must be reinforced.
Collaborating via unity makes them learn and do a lot as without these, nothing sustainable will ever be achieved. In addition, their views were that unity and collaboration should be first reinforced in their homes and so it can be cemented among themselves here at COFAPRI.
“Unity at home is necessary because if we are united with our husbands, people will take us as a model. In this way, we can help others here to be united also.
Some of us have a lot and serious problems in our homes; they come here so that we can help them find solutions. If we don’t have peace in our homes, will we help others to find it?
So, our unity is necessary for helping our children and our sisters here.”
“Unity and collaboration are already in our villages thanks to COFAPRI.
Take for instance the way we love one another in our team; we share the community work to help our mothers and sisters who have no force, we help our members whose children want to marry. We share food and we assist our members who are old, sick or weak.
We do all this through collaboration, because we love them and we belong to one united family, ie COFAPRI.”
Through unity, we collaborate and also exchange ideas on the different problems we face in life, how to lift ourselves from poverty, how to address violence in our homes nonviolently, etc.”
"Love Must be Fostered"
Togetherness among women and girls in the village and in the city is necessary.
Women learn a lot from one another. This was also the view of most of participants.
“Unity, collaboration, and love must be fostered in our villages, in our province, and the country. If all women and girls are united there is a lot we can gain. It will be easy to denounce violence, discrimination and rights infringement.
If one of us is sick, it will be easy to attend on her and even the information will pass around quickly. If one has a problem, we all come and help.
Yes, this is a good thing we must support and not neglect”.
The Courage to Speak Out
For others, unity is force and they want the whole world – men and women, to unite for the common cause of helping women gain freedom, development and education.
“We like to be one: togetherness and solidarity among women and girls and men and boys can also help us and this can give us more power and motivation.
We must not discriminate against men as they do to us. We have to show them that COFAPRI and Safe World for Women are helping us to change.
We need to think how to unite and communicate for our peace and development.”
By uniting and collaborating, women and girls can find solutions to their problems.
“Union is force and mutual help. If we are united, it is possible to find solutions to our problems.
We will know the causes and consequences of violence and so we can see together how to avoid violence. If this begins in villages and gets to cities, the whole country can understand that we women are committed to change.
Sometimes, we are abused because abusers know we are not united, we will not talk about it, but if we talk about it as we are doing here now, I think this is good, for we will become strong and we can choose some other women or men who are on our side to represent us at the national level.”
The Importance of Being Heard
Ideas were flowing as the discussions were going on. These members also said that unity and collaboration go step by step, from homes to COFAPRI and Safe World for Women and to the whole world.
Views were constructive:
“As my sister has said, everything begins in our households then COFAPRI comes to strengthen what is in us by giving us directions to follow.
When you take turns coming here, you or your wife, to visit us, this means a lot to us. It shows how much you want our development because you have other things you could be doing, but because you want us to be united, you come and discuss with us; this is nice collaboration.
Your presence in our villages shows that you do collaborate with us; you want us to be united in order to become stronger in our fight. And Safe World for Women is uniting various women from different organisations and now the world knows us.
Let’s unite, collaborate for the same objective as COFAPRI is showing us the way forward.”
On the same occasion, but when I was back from the village, I also discussed the same issues with my students and their views were not different from those of COFAPRI members.
They argued unity is necessary – not because they are women, but because they share the same plights, though they come from different areas.
Women need to collaborate and make wider networks here and there throughout the world. Emotions, ideas and sufferings can be shared in their different circles. They can learn from one another’s experience, may it be good or bad. And this can help them be emotionally strong and know how to live as survivors and help end the cycle of violence.
They argued that discrimination to women and their daughters has no place in this world: it must be rooted out. Discrimination and violence against women and their daughters should be banned from families, societies and this with the help of the government.
Such destructive practice should be non-existent in our world today; there is no place for it in our generation.
“Our sisters and mothers need not to be isolated, discriminated or disregarded in society for they are human beings like anyone else. They have had enough and this must stop now; our indignation and expectation remain that these social illnesses, ie unfairness and violence must end.
We women are sure that change is possible and it is on the way coming to us, to our society to the future generations of our country.”
"Change is at our Doors"
On the 2013 International Women’s Day, COFAPRI met its members for a specific and sound objective: that we must unite and collaborate for our rights and development.
We must be sure that every woman and girl believes in the possibility of this change we are fighting for with our whole heart and courage; we will never tire of fighting for this noble cause until change has occurred.
COFAPRI totally supports and encourages the principle of the United Nations of “promoting equality of men and women without discrimination.”
‘The women of the world are united today; all around, countries, continents, and villages like us here are meeting because we understand the reason of this.
We are united to show our existence, to tell the world we need peace, we need our rights to be respected.
Today our voices are bigger, they are rising high with the aim of breaking up, stopping silence to our suffering; we need to halt the indifference we suffer. We want to see discrimination, abuse, rape, injustice, and all other forms of abuse we experience massively removed from our area, the country and the world; such bad behavior of ill treatment of women must decline – be rooted out from societies.
And we are sure this is happening in the near future; change is at our doors.”
Change through unity and collaboration is coming.
Here and there, women and other peaceful people are demonstrating their anger and dislike for violence against women and girls. This shows that there is unity and collaboration between women and their daughters.
The fathers and their sons who oppose violence, old and young people from all corners of the world are saying no to discrimination, injustice, and violence to women and girls.
“Everyone without discrimination is required to address violence.
It is high time for revolution. Unity and collaboration will trigger this change.
Change is happening as every woman or girl from different countries needs freedom, peace and justice. Change is happening when everyone in the world declares solidarity, unity and collaboration for the common cause, ie. eradicate violence and injustice and discrimination to women and girls.”
"The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow"
On this great day, International Women’s Day, COFAPRI wanted to spread the message of collaborating in unity in order to nurture hope and commitment for denouncing outrage.
There is hope that by raising awareness and action toward violence to women, COFAPRI defends those rights with the rising conviction that women have had enough and that it is high time to stop violence and other forms of abuse to women.
“I was always feeling outraged because we, as women and our daughters, suffer on daily basis the abuse and violence imposed on us by men.
This has caused an increase of levels of us being treated unfairly, violently, and with exclusion in our homes and in society.
Customarily, we are always blamed and shame is imposed due to the violence we experience, and we often do dream and search for justice and consideration of our rights, but in vain. Despite all this, we are convinced that with COFAPRI, we are getting on the right way and the solution will come sooner or later.
We have to be sure the sun will rise tomorrow and that our motivation is another way out.
We must unite and stand as one strong team to say no to violence to women and girls here and everywhere in the world.”
Governments Must Protect All Citizens
Women's Day was long and busy, but full of joy. The women and girls of COFAPRI were happy because on this International Women’s Day, they understood why they were gathered together.
It was for one straightforward main reason; that is, to tell our abusers and the government that we have had enough of violence; enough is enough.
The abusers, parents, husbands, friends, fighters and leaders are in it for a reason or another.
Violence and discrimination against women and girls has no place in the generation of this century.
All governments of the world should remember they must protect all citizens without discrimination based on gender, age, origin, or whatever. In other words, they have to keep their promises by defending the rights of their people in order to comply with the international conventions and agreements that they publicly signed and accepted to apply equally.
They must be sure to give what they promised the women in order to be reliable. A promise stated must be a factual one and not doing so is what is fuelling violence to women throughout the world.
“Today, women and girls all over the world are singing, dancing and crying for freedom. They want their rights to valued, they want to go to school, they want not to be raped, not to be battered in their homes, etc.
They are happy on this day because it is their day as they understand why they meet around the world.
Women want violence and discrimination against them to end totally, and this will not be achieved if governments do not help. Women want the governments to respect their promise of eradicating violence and discrimination to women.
It is on this day that women remind the leaders about what they accepted to offer to women; ie peace, freedom, education, medical care, etc.”
Collaborating and Speaking Out for Others
When we set up COFAPRI three years ago, our top objectives were to help women and girls in villages to be aware of their rights, help them carry out some income-generating activities, and resolve their home and community conflicts peacefully.
COFAPRI is strongly convinced that this is a long strategy that requires changing people’s attitudes and making headway towards equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal participation, especially in decision-making at home, in communities, and why not at national level?
Women and girls need to enjoy their rights.
This will enable them to live free of violence in their environment. However, this depends on how well society protects women and their daughters and whether the laws in the area favour them.
If laws on violence and related abuses are enacted and well implemented, there will be fewer cases of gender-based violence in society. The law will be strongly applied if there is political will of collaborating with the whole society in order to know how to make and apply those laws.
“This day is for us a special one. We are meeting here and unite in collaboration. We are saying that we the women and our daughters together with the leaders must sit together and discuss different ways out of violence; otherwise no peace will be given to us and our daughters.
Where we cannot reach, you are there to do it for us. This is what I can call unity for a common cause. We tell you so that you can speak for us to the leaders.
We, being the victims of different forms of violence, will comprise local and international associations that fight for our rights all over the world. This is the sound reason why it is of paramount necessity to work together for sustaining respect of women and girls’ rights, dignity and for real execution of related laws.”
Leaders Need to Show the Way
COFAPRI wants the leaders to defend the rights of women and their daughters and protect women and girls against violence.
This can be done jointly, in consultation with the concerned people; that is, women and girls and local organisations and leaders – in order to find together ways out and how to get involved for achievement.
In this way, there will be positive achievement provided that work and follow up is done in unity and clear collaboration. Unity and collaboration are forces and fundamental elements that can easily boost change, development of women and girls’ dignity.
These are necessary activities that must be promoted for the sake of encouraging and giving heart to the women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence.
Long live International Women's Day.