By Frédérique Lehoux, Global Humanitarian Partnership Coordinator.
How good to be back on the shores of Lake Kivu! It’s been 15 years since I worked in the Kivu provinces of the DR Congo. This is a tumultuous zone. In 1994, it saw millions spill over the border from Rwanda as they escaped the genocide. Today, it continues to be the site of endless conflict between local militias. Violence against women is so rife, it has grown to pandemic proportions.
As Humanitarian Partnership Coordinator for CARE, I am in Goma to support our team in the country to make the most of its partnerships with Congolese civil society organizations. CARE DRC’s work is intimately linked to local efforts to fight violence against women.
Inspiring brown bag lunch discussion with Claudine Tsongo, DRC lawyer and activist fighting gender-based violence, and Frederique Lehoux on how localisation is responding to GBV and how INGOs can support them
One of CARE’s strategic partners is Dynamique des Femmes Juristes (DFJ), a network of women lawyers established 12 years ago. Claudine Tsongo is the formidable woman behind DFJ. “In DFJ, we think justice should be done and victims of gender-based violence deserve protection. We have a mission to protect them and bring perpetrators to justice. This is where we put all our efforts.”
Local organizations like Claudine’s are on the frontline of assisting survivors of sexual violence. Most are women and girls caught in a cycle of poverty, violence, and impunity. Some reported they were working in their fields when soldiers raped them. Others were attacked while fleeing their village trying to reach safety. Others were kidnapped and used as sex slaves by armed groups.
My mouth drops every time Claudine describes a case DJF has treated. It is heartbreaking to listen to such stories. At the same time, their courage and efforts are inspiring.
Bringing perpetrators to justice is no small task in the Congo. There is interference and intimidation to keep perpetrators at bay. “At first, some accused us of stirring trouble but we didn’t give up until justice prevailed” says Claudine. “This is important for us because with every case we win, women regain dignity and a new system of justice takes root.”
Local organizations like Claudine’s are critical to saving the lives of women who survived violence and to promote their rights and empowerment. “Violence against women often starts at the community level. With our work, we raise awareness of women’s rights where it is most foundational, at community level. We believe that every woman is an agent of change and every man should participate in that change.”
By collaborating with local women’s organizations, such as DFJ and by linking local to global action, CARE contributes to this wave of change. After my visit, Claudine flew to Brussels at CARE’s invitation to speak at the Global Call to Action about protection from gender-based violence in emergencies. Along with other women civil society leaders, she conveyed the pivotal role of women’s organizations: “There is no one who could better relay what we are enduring than the local women themselves. It is us who need to speak about what we’re living through; for us to be at the heart of change and to take our destiny into our hands. As women’s organizations, we look at things differently, we speak with our heart and focus on things that really matter to women, things that can make a real difference in their lives.”
When all of us – international and local organizations – collaborate from a position of strength, we make the world a better place for women and girls.
For more about DFJ, watch this short video.
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