Overcoming Violence

Stories of Gender Based Violence

Mariette Mwesha Neema

Activist

Mariette Mwesha Neema

Female volunteers have their own radio making programs concerning other women who are in danger of being victims of gender based violence and oppression, and those who experience not getting the inheritance they are entitled to by law. These programs lead to results - and to threats.

-Through the women’s radio we are informed about our rights, rights we have according to the law. Before we had lots of conflicts, and we were not heard. Through the radio people are mobilized to take responsibility for women’s rights to be implemented also in the countryside, we are told by the women we meet in Kalehe, some hours´ drive from Bukavu east in The Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sexualized violence in Congo

The war in The Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo) was officially over in 2003. Still the conflict is there, and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises is taking place. Gender-based and sexualized violence is a big problem and is used as a military strategy in order to humiliate, frighten and control the counterpart. Each year thousands of women and girls are raped and mutilated. Official soldiers as well as rebels, police and civil men are guilty of the abuses.

- Great changes from below

The women who run the radio often work with claims they receive, like accusations of violence. They then research the facts regarding the case, make interview with the victim and often with the leaders in the village, in order to hear what they will do.

-We are ordinary women at work in the radio, but through us great changes take place, from “below”. As an example, before no woman were allowed to participate here in our meetings. The women neither cooperated nor talked with one another, because that’s when they could be punished by their husbands. It is not like this anymore. Now we meet! Great changes are on their way, tells Graciane M’Shawagi and Xaverine M’Katwany.

Violence is a severe threat for many Congolese women. Women have few opportunities to participate in society on the same level as men, and women are more vulnerable to abuse. For many women armed groups are a deadly threat in their daily life.

Mariette Mwesha Neema works for L`Association des Femmes des Médias (AFEM)
Mariette Mwesha Neema works for L`Association des Femmes des Médias (AFEM)

Journalism changes life

One of the driving forces behind Radio AFEM is Mariette Mwesha Neema. She is educated in social sciences and is one of the few among the employees whose responsibility it is to teach the volunteers.

-We started in 2006 with training women in simple radio-journalism. At the same time they got information about the laws and the political processes. The cells we establish become both district editorials and groups of women who give support and advice. We have here some very strong women who pushed borders through the radio, Mariette tells.

She emphasizes one example of a woman who recently lost her husband. The man’s family claimed the farm and all her belongings. The radio made an interview with her and showed how the law secured her rights to inheritance. The reportage was one of the reasons the leaders of the village helped her keep the farm, and with it also her independence.

Threats

It is not easy to fight for women’s rights in Eastern Congo:

-Some times we are threatened, and some of the threats have turned into realities. Some women have been kidnapped. Then we fight to get them back. We are determined that the abusers should not make us scared.

-Do you see the hills around here? They are convenient hiding-places for criminals. As a woman you are always vulnerable; you can imagine how it is for those who stick their heads out and fight for women’s rights. However, we will no t let them stop us, even though some men are against us and say that we make men out of women. Even the police cannot be trusted. They may arrest women randomly and on groundless accusations. Then we talk on their behalf and keep their case warm through the radio. And we don’t give up until they are out of prison and free, tells Xaverine M’Katwany.

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