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Fighting Evil from Inside Hell

U.N. Special Representative Margot Wallstrom has nominated our homeland, The Democratic Republic of Congo, as the “rape capital of the world.” It is reported that 48 women are raped every hour in Eastern Congo. In this day and age, you might expect there to be a powerful uprising of militant women activists, denouncing with vehemence such animalistic behaviors, and demanding with a deafening force that a REAL war be engaged to immediately end the violence done to their sisters, mothers, and daughters. But when one is trying to fight evil from the inside of hell itself, you’ve got to be smart and learn how and when and just how much pressure you can apply before you find hell’s flames set to engulf you.

Enter the Gloria Steinem of Congo, one of our World Pulse sisters, Chouchou Namegabe (pronounced shoo-shoo), a 2009 VOF Applicant. As a radio journalist in DRC, Chouchou has been as actively engaged in this fight as any woman can be; ‘on the air’ as it were, since before these things began; an activist before anyone in this country knew what an activist was. She said: “I remember in 1999 when the reports began to come in that these militias were raping women, and we didn’t have a word for rape in Swahili.” Such things were culturally taboo to speak about, so no such words had crept into our common language. She said they came across a word in the Swahili spoken in Tanzania – ubakaji – that has of course become commonplace in our local language now.

Chouchou grew up in a typical household in Eastern Congo, where the radio was off limits for the women of the house. And as one seemingly born to make a way where there is no way, Chouchou started her radio broadcast career at only 17 years of age. Two years later the war broke out, and before long the station was shut down by rebel factions. In 2001 the station reopened, and Chouchou, by now an appalled, horrified, and sickened young journalist, determined to use her skills to engage in the fight. Her idea was to give a voice to the victims; enabling them to give anonymous accounts of their otherwise unspeakably savage treatment as involuntary weapons of war. With this goal in mind, she sought her first interview. Now some 10 years later, her weekly programs are being broadcast by 19 radio stations. And with over 400 interviews recorded through the years, she’s been able to make personal to every listener the fact that the pages of this sadistic chronicle, affecting every family in every territory, are still being written.

You can imagine this commitment is met daily with heartache. One of Chouchou’s more painful interviews was with a 5 to 7 year-old girl who had been raped and then further abused with sticks from thorn bushes. When Chouchou met with her in the hospital, the little girl’s female organs had been removed and she was incontinent. She looked at Chouchou and asked, “Will I ever be a woman?” Chouchou could only cry in response.

In 2003, Chouchou co-founded South Kivu Women’s Media Association (AFEM), which is the banner over the brisk and very full offices in which we met. They immediately began training women in an effort to create a force of female journalists to promote women’s rights. They taught them how to approach victims in order to win their confidence so their stories could be told. The association also created its own production studio to develop the weekly radio programs to be broadcast over the airwaves of the various partner stations.

In 2006, AFEM was able to get a sponsor to provide radios that they could distribute to women in seven of South Kivu’s eight territories. With that, AFEM started The Listeners’ Club. As their focus is the rural areas, they used the radios to gather the women and train them in the necessity and art of sharing their stories with one another. Every woman trained becomes a trainer/facilitator, who then takes The Listeners’ Club to her village, with or without a radio. As a result, the Listeners’ Clubs have continued to proliferate. Women who were brought up to never speak about such things are now sensitized to the idea of opening up to one another.

In September of this year, with the national election two months away, AFEM invited 15 of our government’s leading authorities to a conference to answer how they were engaging in the fight – what they had done, what they were doing, and what they planned to do if re-elected. The invitees included the governor, the vice governor, the president of Parliament and others, and they all RSVP’d. But on the day of the conference, not a single Authority was represented. Chouchou made a number of calls to those invited, and unbelievably ALL said they were traveling and not even in the capital. The media on the other hand, had shown up in great force and so the event became a press conference, with Chouchou behind the microphones. She opened with, “This is another case of gender-based violence, this time by our government! They didn’t even delegate someone from their staffs to attend.”

Yes, Chouchou is very bold, but it is focused; always on point. After testifying before the U.S. Senate in 2009 she was asked, “Are you sure you want to go back to Congo?” She said yes. They said, “You are sure? You are not afraid?” Her response was, “Congo is where I must be.”

When asked if Chouchou would ever want to be in politics, she said, “No, I am working to support other women in that area.” This year, in preparation for the national and upcoming local elections, AFEM held awareness seminars through the rural areas to get the women involved in the process, and interviewed all the female candidates on their radio programs. “I believe in women,” she said. “I believe women will transform this country. And I’m into revolution!”

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Strength of a Woman

As a Kiswahili speaking person ,I am laughing at the seriousness search for the word rape in Congolese Swahili,but am glad you found it sister!
Congratulation to sho sho,Congo is known to the East Africans as a place of fear for women to live in.Rape takes away the dignity of women.
I say good command of English language despite coming from a Francophone country.This well done of a journalist who came home.I know majority of people in our African countries get an opportunity to go out,it is very few you will be willing to come back.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

BlueSky's picture

Strength of a Woman

Chouchou is indeed a remarkable woman. She lives a life of sacrifice in ways that I could not get to in the short space allowed. She is a wonderful example of one whose life is wrapped around hope and inside that, intention. Her life is ordered toward her hope that the enlightenment of women in Congo will not only mean their individual and collective empowerment, but will also mean the emancipation of the nation from its darkened state.

Thank you Lucia for sharing your thoughts.

MaDube's picture

Naming and shaming the

Naming and shaming the politicians is the way to go; sometimes because the people who are committing these atrocities are doing it for the big-wigs who wield the power yet they have the nerve to ignore calls to address the problems affecting ordinary women. Chou chou is a brave woman and I admire how she she is confronting the politicians. Thank you BlueSky for her story which you wrote so well.

BlueSky's picture

Naming and Shaming

Naming and shaming the politicians here seems to have little impact on their behavior. They continue on ignoring or dismissing such things as just the meaningless noise of a no-account segment of their populace. However, what IS seeming to make a difference is our impact at the polls this last election. Although the Results have not been officially published, it appears the Governor and therefore his staff of Ministers have lost their place, and are really dumbfounded by the whole turn of events. I'm sure they are only scratching their heads at this point but it is undeniable that it was the women voting NOT for him, but for his opponents that caused him to lose his seat.

The women carried the day thanks to Activists like Chouchou who invested of themselves into the thought-processes of their sisters, producing this surprising outcome. Many women were disillusioned after the last election (which was our first election) because those elected so blatantly abused the trust given. It took quite a bit of rallying around the idea of holding them and future officials accountable to get the women back to the polls and wielding the power they hold.

We will continue to watch as things unfold MaDube, but this has been an enlightening moment for Congolese women in our Province.

Ruth Beedle's picture

You tell a powerful story of

You tell a powerful story of an amazing woman who has been working her whole life to give women of the Congo a voice and a dignity not afforded them even by the leaders of a country. I am thankful to you for finding this woman and learning her story so that you can tell it here. I pray that Chouchou will find your story and share her thoughts.

I am so glad to know that Chouchou found a home here and now has found even a larger audience through you, her sister.

Thank you, BlueSky, for telling this story. Thank you for your patience and perseverance and passion.

Excellent, EXCELLENT, first assignment!

BlueSky's picture

You Tell a Powerful Story

Thank you Ruth. I am indeed proud to know Chouchou and will be sending her the link to the Post so she can comment if she likes. I do hope she is encouraged and strengthened by our support of her YEARS of diligent and uncompromising commitment to this significant work done on behalf of her sisters whose opportunity for LIFE has been suffocated.

Highlighting such exemplary women is more than a pleasure, it is a privilege.

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Wow!

What an amazing woman you have highlighted in your story! These are the stories that must be told, so that women are not just seen as victims, but are seen as the powerful, intelligent, insightful fighters that they are! I am so inspired by the stand Chouchou has taken and the work she has done, and the work you have done as well by bringing this story to us. Thank you!

Leslie Stoupas

BlueSky's picture

Wow!

Yes indeed Leslie, the stories of these unsung heroes of our gender across the globe need to be told as they encourage and strengthen and educate and enlighten us all, leading us as ALREADY empowered to join in the struggle they've so confidently and artfully and successfully waged, adding the gifts inherent in us to the mix, creating a tsunami wave of hope for the future we all envision.

Thank you for expressing your encouragement and support.

Maddy M.'s picture

Powerful!!! I like the

Powerful!!! I like the powerful words you use to describe the horror women and girls are living in Congo. I'm truly amazed and inspired by Chouchou's courageous spirit. She's a brave and compassionate healer.

In solidarity,
Madeline

BlueSky's picture

Powerful!!!

Thank you Maddy. Of course it was her story that inspired the words. Chouchou is indeed and IN-couraging sister of ours; brave and dedicated to the healing and spirit-revival of the women and girls who continue to be horribly oppressed and victimized in this region. If there is any fear in her, it is completely overpowered by her passionate resolve for her sisters' deliverance, and restoration.

Absolutely, in solidarity.

valerie.bagley's picture

This account is beautiful,

This account is beautiful, heartfelt, passionate, and well-written. The time you took to tell Chouchou's story is already worth it for those who have read it and felt inspired by your words, including me! Thank you, BlueSky, for your hard work and perseverance. And congratulations on a beautiful first assignment!

Valerie

BlueSky's picture

This account is beautiful

And thank you Valerie for your continual encouragement and effort to draw out of me the elements to properly convey Chouchou's story. Hers is a significant story and important to tell, and I am thankful to have had your expert counsel to ensure the snapshot we gave was as vibrant and clear as possible in the short space allotted.

Celine's picture

Thank you dear sister for

Thank you dear sister for telling the story of another brave woman from DRC. Your account is heartbreaking and inspiring! Through the VOF exercise, I am learning of so many women activists the world over. The collection is a strong tale of outstanding works, which are never reported by front line media.

Love you lots and keep up the zeal and inspiring hard work.

Celine.

BlueSky's picture

Thank you dear sister

Yes my sister-friend, the footprints of those who have been walking this way for awhile are certainly daunting, especially when considering the mountainous challenges that caused their stories to cross our path. We've just got to remember that they did it one step at a time and had no idea that one day, they'd be inspiring women around the world. May the light of their fire cause the torches we carry to burn with that much more intensity.

Together.

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Wow

I was blown away by your story and brought to tears. Chouchou's work is so incredibly important. Thank you for sharing her story, and thank you for choosing a woman from our World Pulse community! It is a great asset to be able to tap into the resources and knowledge of our incredible community.

Sincerely,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

BlueSky's picture

Wow

Thank you Rachel for pointing out that this is not just her story, but her ongoing work. As you say, it is so incredibly important to the situation here. Hopefully with a new governing body coming on the scene over the next few months and the women becoming more aware of their power and as well, an increasing willingness to test it, Chouchou's work will begin to reap the long-term yield she's been persevering to experience. Thanks to the continual heralding of her voice and the others in solidarity here, hope continues to abound even in the still darkness of this pre-dawn moment.

Stay tuned for more on this story!

And as you say, we are one another's assets. I had gone to the WP Directory a few months ago to see who else in Congo had joined our network so when this assignment was given, didn't have to look far for a Profile candidate. And when I looked again to review my candidate list, was pleased to see that many more had joined in the last few months. Our voice is increasing here, as it is in the rest of the world!

noreens's picture

You have written a strong

You have written a strong story about a strong lady. 48 women raped each hour.......that is terrible. It's so good there is a lady like her there. You did a great job on this first assignment, CongoLeeza! I love the title!!

Noreen

BlueSky's picture

You have written a strong

'48 women raped each hour' is just one of those statistics that is difficult to comprehend. It is a blight on all humanity that this travesty is allowed to continue. And Chouchou's work is so important as every week it gives fresh testimony against humanities conscience.

Thank you for taking a moment to offer comment, and encouragement Noreen.

laurabstull's picture

Beautifully Done!

I've so enjoyed reading your first assignment! You grabbed my attention immediately with such a powerful and provocative title as "Fighting Evil from Inside Hell" (LOVE IT!).

I found your piece to be deftly and expressively written, and while reading of all the struggle and suffering that Chouchou and the women of your country have had to face, I felt that the plight of Congolese women became relevant to all women worldwide, myself included. I also love that you chose a fellow WorldPulse contributor and former VOF applicant!

From reading your first article, it's clear not only that you are passionate about and motivated to inciting change and empowering women but also that you have the strength, will, and clarity of voice to be effectual in bringing it about. I wish you the best of luck through this program and look forward to reading more from you!

Hope this finds you well,
Laura

BlueSky's picture

Beautifully Done!

If the title worked, it's because it is a metaphor that accurately depicts the scene of the account given. And perhaps we’re becoming more expressive because there’s a horrifying sense that something diabolical is taking place, and with all the international coverage, it’s taking place right under the world’s nose. But the world appears to have no sense of smell for this evil. It’s akin to genocide in that it is a systematic annihilation of the sentient female. But it’s not just an assault against the spiritual, mental, and physical life of women, but a proliferation of marginalization that could be likened to Nazism. It’s a social religion of convenience whose doctrine is that women only exist for the sport and service of men. There is no conscience against any form of violation, including torture, mutilation, and even murder. In that 67 of every 1000 women and girls are raped at least once in the North Kivu Province of Eastern Congo, it is obvious that a psychological gendercide is taking place in the minds of men. Women have become a lesser race in their minds; a race of no consequence. And the world, let alone our own government, carries on as if these 1152 women each day – 400,000 women each year - were simply stubbing a toe on their way to fetch water.

The fact that Congo’s sexual violence pandemic is no longer limited to armed-conflict zones, is revealed in the study presented in the American Journal of Public Health. It states an alarming statistic that “the outlier Equateur Province showed rates higher than the conflict-affected South Kivu and Orientale provinces (65 in Equateur to 44 and 38 [out of every 1000] respectively). This is a new and highly significant finding.” [end quote].

The reason for alarm is that this gendercide is something taking place in the male psyche. It’s an uncontained un-natural disaster that is running unchecked, and therefore out of control.

A World War is called for; something on the scale that is set against HIV/AIDS. Military action is needed, yes, but militant action as well against the desensitization of men toward the very gender that brought them into the world.

Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH, the Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative said that “the message is important and clear: Rape in the DRC has metastasized amid a climate of impunity, and has emerged as one of the great human crises of our time.”

You mention relevance Laura and as you indicate, this story is only relevant if WE make it that. Thank YOU Laura for seeing the plight of women in DRC, as relevant to all women worldwide.

PauletteNYC's picture

Thank you ...

I had the opportunity to read and review this wonderful piece for the VOF program. Thank you for delivering the difficult message of rape and violence against women in the Congo with such power, clarity, passion and inspiration. I also appreciated the creativity you demonstarted by profiling a fellow World Pulse activist.

Really nice job for a first assignment!

Paulette

BlueSky's picture

Thank you ...

Thank you Paulette. Your perception in-courages me. Truly. May the power of inspiration abound to effect a complete change in the state of things in my beloved country - Congo.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Brave, courageous work

Very, very well done! This is a remarkable profile. I am so impressed by the work that Chouchou is doing to raise awareness and build a new leadership base in your country. Through the acts of speaking and listening we can do so much to make a better world.

Thank you for sharing this story, and keep up the great work!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

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