International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity to reflect upon the challenges holding women back globally and identify areas where progress is desperately needed.
Sexual and gender-based violence is one of the most widespread but least recognised human rights abuses in the world, and is at the heart of women’s and girl’s marginalisation. CARE is committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence through our programs. In 2012 over 260 CARE projects, in 50 countries, worked to address sexual and gender-based violence.
By Sarah Zingg, CARE Democratic Republic of the Congo
Hands clap and fingers snap as a group of women and men watch CARE staffer Rose Vive Lobo and respond to her questions.
‘What does sexual violence mean? Do you know different forms of such violence? What are women’s and men’s rights and obligations?’
To prevent sexual and gender-based violence and care for survivors, CARE trains community educators, both men and women. Twenty people have been selected in each of the three displacement camps in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They’ll share their knowledge within the communities to help break the taboo and stigma this type of violence brings upon survivors and their families.
Husbands, families and communities often marginalise and discriminate against survivors because of the shame they are believed to bring. As a result, survivors seldom dare to speak about their experience and hardly ever reach out for help. CARE works with women and men to change attitudes and views, and break the cycle of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
The topic isn’t new to the group – they’ve all either experienced some kind of sexual or gender-based violence, or know someone who has. This is as much a problem in the camps as it is in the villages people have fled. Women and girls face the threat of being raped when they venture away from the camp or village to look for firewood, but domestic rape is common as well.
Violence and discrimination come in many shapes and sizes
CARE trainer Rose explains that privileging sons over daughters when it comes to education and heritage is not fair. The group first reacts with consternation, but as the discussion takes off, more and more agree that it hinders women’s economic success.
One woman stands up and explains sadly that when her daughters asked her why their brothers had been educated and they had not, she had no words.
An elderly woman says, ‘I took the decision to educate my daughters because it is through them that their own children will benefit as well.’ But she lacked the money to send them beyond the first years of primary school.
As the group takes a break, 32-year-old Patrick tells us, ‘I have learnt a lot during the last two days and I will share it with everyone in the camp. In my family, my sisters didn’t inherit anything. I know now that this is also a sort of violence against women.’
Nineteen-year-old Aline, mother of two, says ‘I want to use what I have learnt here today to tell people how to protect themselves from violence. And if ever I am in a situation of being attacked, I would try to make sure that the perpetrator is arrested.’
With these powerful role models, sexual and gender-based violence will, over time, hopefully become less acceptable and women more respected. Survivors of rape will also have more confidence to talk about their experience and reach out for help, which will allow them to receive the necessary medical and psychological care. Change takes time, but it starts with community educators such as these 20 women and men who are determined to share their knowledge and lead the way.
If you are moved to take action this IWD to tackle injustice and help empower women and girls to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty, start change with a single step. Sign up for CARE’s Walk In Her Shoes Challenge. Walk 10,000 steps a day for a week and raise funds for vital CARE projects which help women, girls and their community overcome poverty.