Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Maman Shujaa Hero Women of Congo have emerged to put the voices of Congo women on the map, make their dreams and struggles known, and work together across differences to drive international policy. Today the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most active regions in our global network, and the women of DRC are a rising force in the world.
Woman to Watch: Passy Mubalama
Meet Goma's own champion for the rights of women and children.
Congolese human rights defender and World Pulse Correspondent Passy Mubalama is the eldest of twelve children and the only one of her family to finish high school and college. She grew up witnessing the abuse of women in her family and community and felt powerless to stop it. Despite the prejudice against women who study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in spite of the difficult conditions in which she lived, she was determined to complete her studies so that she might go on to help women learn and stand up for their rights.
Q&A With Passy Mubalama
Passy Mubalama: I am 29 years old and the founder of Action and Development Initiatives to Protect Women and Children (AIDPROFEN Association), a nonprofit organization based in Goma in eastern DRC. With AIDPROFEN Association I campaign to promote Congolese women's rights in the province of North Kivu, where I have been working as a human rights defender for four years.
Since 1994 the DRC has been politically unstable and embroiled in ethnic conflict fueled by several armed rebel groups in the country, some local and some foreign. Since April 2012 clashes between the M23 rebel group and the military, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), have rocked North Kivu.
Many war crimes are committed by the rebels, and as the statistics show, the consequences of war have been devastating to the region. Every day in eastern DRC the number of people dying, injured, or displaced increases. North Kivu now has a total 967,050 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Unfortunately the majority of the displaced are women and children living in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
How did you know that advocating for the rights of women and children was what you wanted to do with your life?
As a 10-year-old in 1994, when Rwandan refugees fleeing genocide flooded North Kivu, I witnessed things a child my age could not bear – killings, people starving, domestic violence, as well as many cases of sexual and gender-based violence in my family and community. It was very difficult for me to grow up in such conditions. I felt continually stressed. Still today human rights violations in the DRC are too numerous to count, especially acts of violence against women.
I grew up seeing how women were abused by their husbands but were condemned by customs and traditions to keep silent. It is disturbing to me to find that still today the Congolese community holds a lot of prejudice against women and believes they are weak. Many people in the DRC are still convinced that women cannot occupy decision-making positions like that of national or provincial deputy, school director, or university professor.
In addition to the cultural challenges women face, wars and armed conflicts have continued to destabilize the region and greatly impact women and children.
Displaced women and children live in camps without food, without clothes, and are vulnerable to sexual violence, sexual slavery by armed groups, abduction, murder, torture, and other atrocities. This entire situation shocks me every day. I decided to work hard all my life to see if and how I could do something to change it. I made the choice to advocate for women’s and children’s rights all my life!
What are successes you have witnessed?
The successes are many. Through AIDPROFEN Association I have installed local Women's Committees where women gather and discuss their rights. In these committees, we also talk about how we can contribute to the establishment of peace in eastern DRC. I have also organized many conferences and awareness sessions with young students on the topic of women's rights. We have discussed issues such as women’s financial rights and their right to work. Today more women are informed about their rights and able to monitor and report any violations of them. This is a great success for us. Before, that was impossible. Women were not previously reporting violations against their rights as they were condemned by customs and traditions to keep silent.
By way of example I will share the following story of a woman previously silenced by abuse later empowered by the AIDPROFEN women’s committee to fight for her rights: Esperance* is a mother of five children. For several years she has been subjected to domestic and sexual violence by her husband, but always suffered in silence. Her children also suffered and were kept out of school because her husband did not give her money to support them. . . .