Travelling to the DRC where there are high levels of violence against women, I met a courageous young man who is taking action for gender equality
In this country – plagued by years of conflict, high levels of gender inequality, and now a serious ebola outbreak – hearing Willyam’s story gave me hope.
Willyam is 24 years old, and he’s committed to working on gender equality in his country. Working closely with female colleagues, he’s willing to challenge the social norms that perpetuate sexual and gender based violence.
Willyam is from the Ituri Province of DRC, which has seen some of the worst human rights abuses of Congo’s long running conflicts. This included large-scale massacres and widespread sexual violence. The most intense period of conflict was from 1999 to 2007, but in recent months hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced due to an upsurge in violence.
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.
Trying to take on these issues and make DRC a more equal place is not easy. “When I challenge other men, they often get angry with me” says Willyam. Yet Willyam decided to dedicate himself to this work, as he witnessed the extent of violence in his community and wanted to do something about it.
Willyam moved to the town of Kilima Mwenza a number of years ago and was motivated and inspired to support sexual and gender based violence survivors. He has been trained as a psycho-social assistant by Trόcaire’s local partner organisation ‘Femmes Congolaises pour le Développement’ (FECONDE) - a women’s organisation providing support to survivors of gender based violence.
He has attended trainings on different forms of sexual violence and the impact this violence has on survivors, as well as the broader community. FECONDE has taught Willyam to provide initial psychological support to survivors and he is aware of the utmost importance of medical support for survivors. This is particularly within the first 72 hours following any abuse in order to prevent HIV transmission.
Given Kilima Mwenza is remote and there is a long distance to travel to get medical care, Willyam accompanies survivors to get to medical care if necessary. He provides important referrals to the police and professional counselling through FECONDE.
This work is not easy, and can take its toll on the carers too. As such, Willyam and his colleagues receive ongoing support and supervision from FECONDE for their work so that they can continue to support survivors in a meaningful way.
Willyam is very aware that sexual violence against women and girls is more often than not perpetuated by men. He is therefore aware that some female survivors may not be comfortable talking to him and getting support from him.
As such, Willyam works closely with a female psycho-social Assistant who has also been trained by FECONDE in the same community. She raises awareness of the causes and impacts of violence with women in the community and Willyam links in with her if a survivor is not comfortable talking with him.
Willyam has challenged violence in his community, particularly those who facilitate acts of violence. On one occasion, he became aware of a group of men who were providing a room for men who wanted to abuse women.
He challenged these men himself and linked in closely with a ‘Protection Committee’ established by FECONDE in the community and with government authorities. As a result the room was shut down.
Willyam has also learnt how to increase awareness on the wider impact of violence within the community. He uses opportunities throughout his daily activities to discuss and challenge norms that perpetuate violence within the community.
Through Willyam’s important actions, he is challenging power in his local community and with the strong work of his female counterparts, he is helping to create a safer environment for women and girls in DRC.
We need more men like Willyam in this world.
Carol Wrenn is Women's Empowerment Advisor with Trócaire.