This story is part of World Pulse’s Democratic Republic of Congo Regional Focus Campaign to End Violence Against Women. These testimonies, along with hundreds of others, were delivered to the 2013 African Union Summit.
World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Signaling Change in DRC: Survey Shows Women Ready to Lead
We polled 1,000 women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo via text message to learn about the challenges and opportunities for women’s leadership. Here’s what they had to say.
A woman in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo receives a text message from an unrecognized number. It is asking for her message of peace. Maybe she pauses for a moment to weigh her answer. Perhaps she is surprised by the question. She understands she is participating in a survey, but she doesn’t know who is on the other end reading these words. She taps out her plea: To all the different countries of the world, open your eyes and ears so you can see and hear the women of the Congo.
In June, World Pulse used Mobile Accord’s GeoPoll service to anonymously survey 1,000 women via SMS across the four provinces of eastern DRC. Among them was this woman, imploring the world to listen to her voice.
Her country has been dubbed the rape capital of the world by UN officials. It has been called the worst place on Earth to be a woman. The New York Times recently named the conflict in eastern Congo the ‘world’s worst war,’ and the word ‘hell’ features prominently in news reports about the region. For years we have relied on these perverse superlatives to tell the story a population traumatized by violence. There are numbers too: 16 years of war. Over 6 million people killed. There were 48 women raped every hour during one period of the conflict, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public health.
And then there is this number: 83.5%. This is the percentage of women in our survey—women in the most conflict-affected regions of the Congo—who say they are interested in leadership training. This number represents the aspiration gap between roles Congolese women currently occupy in their society and the roles they envision for themselves. And it speaks to the potential for radical transformation, another of Congo’s many stories. “We want women to take responsibility,” says grassroots leader Neema Namadamu, “to take our future. Not to be victims only, but to be leaders.”
Namadamu is helping realize that vision by giving local women in her city of Bukavu in the South Kivu province of DRC a space where they can speak their minds. She has helped 200 women connect to the Internet, provided coveted computer access and training, and enabled women who have never had an email account to share their ideas with the world. They call themselves the Maman Shujaa, or ‘Hero Women’ and their voices are already making waves. The group authored a joint statement that was delivered to the African Union this week, and they launched an online petition headed to the the White House that has garnered well over 100,000 signatures.
They contributed to World Pulse’s global digital action campaign on ending violence against women despite facing some of the steepest barriers to participation. The very challenges women in DRC are speaking out against—women’s exclusion from public life, low literacy, and the poverty, lack of infrastructure, and insecurity of their country—limit opportunities for their messages to be heard. Only 1.2% of the population are Internet users, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
In contrast, the proportion of DRC’s population with mobile phone subscriptions is at 23% and sharply climbing. World Pulse seized on this opportunity to bring more women’s voices into the global conversation on violence against women and the issues that affect women’s lives in the Congo. . . .