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
When Esperance began attending the local women’s committee AIDPROFEN, she started to learn about her rights. After a year of education, she explained her problem to the group. With AIDPROFEN’s counseling and legal support, Esperance resolved to go to court to claim her rights for her sake and the sake of her children.
The judge ruled in her favor, requiring her husband to stop beating her and to give her money to buy food for the children. For the time being Esperance and her children are happy. In AIDPROFEN we continue to teach her about her rights and also provide her with some work. This helps her take care of herself and fortify her independence.
What do you see as the greatest challenge to securing the rights of women and children in the DRC?
The biggest challenge today is the continued armed conflict and wars that characterize the region of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where we live. Working as an advocate for human rights in general and being a women's rights defender in particular in such a situation is not easy. In addition to my being a survivor of various forms of violence and discrimination in my society simply because I am a woman, the political and security situation in the DRC does not let me as a human rights defender work in peace. Very often I am the target of armed groups and politicians who do not want their violations of human rights reported.
Another significant challenge to women and children’s rights is the Congolese legal system. Legislation that advocates for their equal rights is not implemented. The judicial system in the DRC is corrupt and thus impunity reigns. Even if perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice, they may be released immediately after their arrests and move freely in the community. This greatly threatens survivors’ security.
How has the current situation in Goma impacted women and children in your community and your work?
In Goma we live in insecurity and constant anxiety. We can no longer travel in the city after 6 pm because the only form of transport, the motorcycle taxi, was banned to prevent murder. To stay safe women and children make sure they are home by 6 pm, but still live in perpetual fear.
Children simply lose hope of living. They see their future destroyed; some have lost their parents, some are forced to integrate with the armed forces or rebel groups, and others are out on the streets because they have nowhere to go.
The security situation affects all aspects of my life including my work. Often I see friends, brothers and sisters, and other family members die and leave behind orphans who are themselves victims of violence. Sometimes gunfire and the sound of bombs going off prevent me from going to the office or meeting with survivors of abuse.
It has also been difficult for me to sleep well when I know that there are many other women and children like me who are suffering. They don’t have food or clothes and they sleep outside. Every day we are stressed, but I am still convinced that I can help women and children to live their lives in a better way.
What advice do you have for young future women leaders?
I ask other young women who might be future leaders in the world to be brave, to be courageous, and to make the campaign for women and children's rights their priority. This needs to be our first mission – to work hard together to help women in our communities know their rights and claim them. Ultimately we want to ensure that women's rights are respected in all countries.
*Name has been changed.