Marie Dz’venga (33) is from the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area where local custom forbids women from speaking publicly in front of an assembly. With no formal education, Marie accepted women’s status and did not question it.
That was before she received training aimed at encouraging women to speak up. Marie joined a local participatory governance training and soon found her eyes opened and her confidence increased.
She was soon nominated by her community to become a member of Noyau Pacifiste des Mamans (NPM), a women’s group working for peace. She has participated in several trainings on human rights, community mobilisation, advocacy and participatory local governance from the Forum des Mamans de l’Ituri, one of the programme’s partners.
She has learned that all human beings have the right to participate in peaceful meetings and to express themselves freely, and that women and men have the same rights and are equal.
“I was unable to stand in front of people and express myself freely,” she said. “These different trainings have awakened and freed me from fear. At present, I am no longer afraid to express myself in front of people, even in a large assembly.”
Deep rooted inequality in the DRC
DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, currently experiencing a serious outbreak of the Ebola virus. Gender inequality is a serious issue for the country. Women hold only 8% of seats in parliament. Only 37% of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education. This is compared with 66% for men.
Furthermore, the DRC has experienced ongoing conflict since the late 1990s, which has caused an estimated 5.4 million deaths, half of which were children under five years of age. Rape has been in widespread use as a weapon of war amongst armed groups in the DRC.
Gender inequality remains a deep-rooted issue. Women are disempowered by discriminatory customs, male-dominated control of resources, high female illiteracy, and boy’s schooling being prioritised over girls. When women challenge these norms, gender based violence is used as a tactic against them.
Trócaire works to tackle these issues through empowering women like Marie to speak up and have a voice. Marie and other NPM members then sensitise their fellow community members about their rights and responsibilities, identify women’s priority needs and advocate for solutions to address these needs.
DRC faces many challenges, but women like Marie are bringing change to this country, one step at a time.