Empower a Girl in the Congo

Sep 9, 2014

Empowering Women in DRC through International Medical Corps' Women in Leadership project

WiLead project participant
WiLead project participant

International Medical Corps’ Women in Leadership (WiLead) project began in August 2012 with the goal of strengthening existing and creating new women leadership roles and promoting an environment that supports and encourages future women leaders in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This project was designed to train women in organizational development and management skills, empowering them to become more effective leaders; increase the understanding of women’s leadership roles in their communities; and teach communities the importance and benefits of establishing women-friendly leadership structures.

The WiLead project partnered with 434 religious, traditional and political leaders (159 of which were women) and challenged them through training sessions, workshops, discussions and debates, to change traditional laws that discriminate against women and girls and create space for women’s participation in leadership positions.  After the program, and with the support of local women’s associations, women experienced tangible gains in their communities: 21 women were nominated in the council of elders in Kalonge; religious leaders offered a piece of land for women to construct a small hut for meetings instead of meeting at the river or farms where they are at risk of attack by armed groups; one women was nominated to the tribal council in both Bukavu and Bunyakiri; and women representatives are now attending security briefing meeting held each week at the Bunyakiri Administration office.

To further nurture future women leaders and educate adolescents on gender equality, International Medical Corps supported the creation of adolescent clubs where mentors worked to develop a positive perception of women and girls in their community. In total, 28 adolescent clubs were created and educated participants through open discussions between boys and girls on gender issues, good citizenship, peaceful coexistence, and positive ambitions. Girls-only sessions helped young women develop positive ambitions and draw on female leaders from their communities as role models. A total of 672 adolescents (332 girls) participated in the adolescent club activities.

Below is a story from a female participant in an International Medical Corps-supported adolescent club:

I am a 16 year old student at Cholobera institute, and I started participating in adolescent club discussions in August, 2014. It was the first time that I participated in a discussion where everyone was expected to express their own point of view. At the beginning, it was difficult for me and all the girls to speak before the boys and give a different opinion, because it is against our culture to disagree with boys in front of other boys. Little by little, the facilitator encouraged us to express ourselves, and I started gaining enough confidence to do so without feeling shame or fear. We continued having discussion sessions, and as we went along, I realized the sessions were helping me recognize my potential as a leader instead of simply helping me express myself in front of others.

Before joining the club, I had no ambitions and lacked knowledge regarding many things. I never knew what rights men and women had, nor did I know that there were special laws that protected children. I was also never taught about hygiene; sexually transmitted infections; the consequences of unwanted pregnancies; or even the menstrual cycle, because these subjects are not taught in school. The mentors at the adolescent club taught me about these legal and health subjects, which empowered me to take ownership of my future and become an active participant in my community. If I had not joined the adolescent club, I may have taken a very different path.   

When I was 14 years old, I thought about dropping out of school to get married just as my older sisters had done. Fortunately, the Women in Leadership project started and I realized that it was not the time to think about marriage, because there were more important things to do. After participating in the program, I decided to get my certificate and then go to university in Bukavu. I started taking my studies more seriously and I became the second best student in my class. My parents noticed a change in my behavior and achievements, and are now giving me the same responsibility as my older brothers. My father wants my sisters to join the adolescent club, and he is encouraging me to avoid relationships with boys so that I can focus on my dreams. When I am done with university, I plan on coming back to shape the future of Kalonge.

I believe that I can truly make a difference in my community, because International Medical Corps already helped us deliver a project rehabilitating water sources in Kalonge. Access to clean water represents one of the biggest needs in Kalonge, and through this project, we were able to show the community that young people had an important role to play in its development while helping resolve a problem that even adults had not been able to solve.

With the support of Kalonge women leaders, our club decided to expand into the neighboring village to continue safe-guarding our leadership ambitions, and to give a similar chance to young women in other communities.”

May 22, 2014

Elevating Women by Changing Attitudes

Training Session for Men to Change Their Attitudes
Training Session for Men to Change Their Attitudes

In addition to reducing violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, International Medical Corps’ works to change attitudes so women are empowered to claim their rights in their communities; as women are empowered and seen as equals, the communities’ acceptance of gender-based violence also changes, helping to reduce violence against women. One way International Medical Corps accomplishes this goal is by working with 13 community coalitions composed of influential community members in North and South Kivu.  These coalitions educate community members on the causes and consequences of sexual and gender-based. They conduct outreach education in the markets and other public places during International Women’s Day celebrations. As a result of the sessions, community members are more likely to report cases of violence to the coalitions, helping to raise awareness.  Survivors are assisted in seeking services, including medical, economic, legal and psychosocial support. Below is an example of how a community coalition member was able to stand up for a local woman:

In Kalonge, Cifunzi, a mother of 5 girls, has been a widow for 3 months. After the death of her husband, her husband’s family decided to hand over her property, including land and livestock, to his brothers because she did not have sons. Being overwhelmed by the circumstances and left with nothing, she went and talked to a community coalition member who is also a relative of her husband’s family.

At the second family meeting, the thirty year- old man got up and told other family members that is not right to disinherit a widow. ‘She has children with our brother and even if they are girls, they have the right to access their father’s inheritance. I insist that we give the inheritance to her and her children. I am not in agreement that we give all the property to her brothers-in-law. It is against the law to deny women inheritance’, he told the participants of the meeting. Following the statements of the member of the community coalition, the meeting did not continue due to disagreements over his views.

After twenty days, the head of the family along with three men came to the widow and said that they will make their final decision at the end of the 40-day mourning period. When the date arrived, the woman was surprised to hear the head of the family inform all the family members that the children (girls) will inherit their father’s property as he handed over the title deed of the land to their mother.

Cifunzi is very grateful for the intervention of the member of the community coalition. She said that she had seen firsthand the change that the coalition members can bring to prevent violence against women in their community. ‘Without the intervention of the coalition member, I would have been out in the cold with my children,’ she said.



International Medical Corps’ holistic approach to empowering women and reducing gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo works by supporting the health and well-being of survivors and their families and, through community outreach and education, changes attitudes and behaviors to prevent violence in the future. International Medical Corps’ programs helps both women and men change their attitudes and behaviors to reduce violence.  Here is one man’s story about how he became a stronger family leader and changed his own attitudes to benefit his family: 

“It has been almost a month since have been involved with International Medical Corps. After being selected to attend training, I thought it was yet an opportunity for me to gain knowledge educate my community because I am a member of the community leadership.  But, from the first day, the facilitator informed us that the training will not be just a matter of acquiring knowledge about violence against women and girls. Rather, it would be discussions and reflections on this issues, and each participant will be required to make a commitment to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors towards women and girls.”

“During the first week of training, the facilitator asked us to take a break and reflect on positive actions we can initiate in our home after each session. As I followed the training, the sessions on reflection began to change my perception on what it means to be a man and to be called the head of household.  Putting the changes into practice was not easy because I thought that I would lose the respect in my home as a man. However, I started by greeting my wife and children, something I never used to do before; I expect them to greet me since I was the head of the household.”

“I have been married for 14 years ago and I am a father of six children (3 girls and 3 boys). My wife Bora never had the space to make decisions on any of the issues of our home, especially financial management. I saw myself as master and the only decision maker in our home. I single handedly managed money and ended up wasting all of it without thinking of well-being of my children and my wife. The reflections sessions during the training helped me to become transparent with my wife. For the first time since we got married, I gave her all the money that was given to me as per diem to cover the family needs. Surprised by my actions, my wife did not use the money; she thought that it was a trap because she had never obtained that amount of money from me without a quarrel. The most amazing thing to me is that my children laughed and said to her, ‘you know that dad can never give you this amount, just be ready for quarrels as usual.’”

“My children do not know that I was no longer the same father that they knew before the training. Four days after consultations with my wife, we decided to buy clothes for our children. I saw my children jumping with joy as new clothes came only during the holiday season. I was very touched and I realized that I was spending a lot of money without thinking about my family’s needs. I thank International Medical Corps for this approach to engage men. Now, my wife and children can express their view without being intimidated.  This is my new found male pride. I will do my best to ensure the success of men engagement activities in my community and continue to carry out reflections on my own life to keep the change in myself, change that I want others to embrace.”

Feb 24, 2014

Modifying Community Behavior to Empower Girls in the Congo

International Medical Corps has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1999, providing health care, nutrition, food security, gender-based violence prevention and treatment, and water and sanitation services. In a 12 month period alone (Oct 2012 – September 2013), a total of 1,422 cases of sexual violence were reported at health facilities in eastern DRC supported by International Medical Corps and received appropriate health care and treatment.

Our holistic approach works to support the health and well-being of survivors and their families and, through community outreach and education, aims to change attitudes and behaviors to prevent violence in the future.  International Medical Corps provides medical care, psychosocial support, legal services and livelihood development – so survivors can overcome the devastating effect of violence and rebuild their lives.  We train doctors, nurses and frontline healthcare workers and through our collaboration with Panzi Hospital, educate doctors in remote areas so they can repair fistulas, helping the community better meet the needs of survivors.  And, using popular music, local theater, youth events, radio soap operas, sports and sporting events, public service announcements and other community-based outreach, International Medical Corps works with young men and women to change attitudes and behaviors – helping to build a safer, healthier community for women and girls.

In this instance, International Medical Corps’ behavior modification partner in Goma was able to influence a man that was patronizing an establishment that offered young girls for prostitution.  Behavior modification lessons to the community empower women by changing the attitudes of their abusers, because very often, many abusive practices are seen as the norm in DRC and can be carried out without the abuser being stigmatized or punished.

I am a sand digger and a member of the group Friends of Sand Diggers in Green Lake, Goma. I used my income to pay for prostitutes, a norm among other group members. In my community, there are many drinking places with rooms available to engage in sexual activity with young girls. There is no stigma attached to prostitution and the practice is common and accepted.” 

“My opinion on prostitution changed in October 2012. I went to one of the drinking places with a girl under the age of 18. A couple of days later, I went to the same drinking place and I was approached by a community mobilizer who was conducting outreach for the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. He discussed with me the consequences of having sexual relations with underage girls. When I learned that I could be arrested and imprisoned for 5-20 years, I became fearful and remorseful. I thought to myself, “I am still young and I cannot ruin my future by continuing this practice.” I am now working to deter fellow group members and friends from engaging in sexual activity with prostitutes.”

“I am grateful for the information and advice that I received from the members of the SGBV Community Coalition, because without it I may have ended up in jail.”

- 26-year-old man from Mugunga, Goma


Nov 11, 2013

Restoring Self-Sufficiency Through Community Resource Centers

weaving baskets at the Community Resource Center
weaving baskets at the Community Resource Center

Walikale, in The Democratic Republic of Congo, is an active military operation zone that sees frequent clashes between government forces and a multitude of other armed groups in the region. Because of this continuous conflict, thousands of people have fled their homes for the relative safety of larger towns. Being displaced from one’s home because of conflict is very disruptive to a family’s livelihood, and the loss of the ability to support themselves can cause depression and rifts between family members, as well as, with members of their new community.

Through our Community Resource Centers, International Medical Corps offers skill-building and educational opportunities to vulnerable men and women, including survivors of gender based violence and people displaced because of armed conflict. These learning opportunities are empowering for survivors and aid in their recovery. New skills and knowledge learned in the Community Resource Centers can also increase their opportunities to earn income and become self-sufficient again. This is the story of Nicia* who benefitted from International Medical Corps supported livelihood programming in Walikale:

Nicia came to Walikale in August of 2011 to escape intense fighting between two armed groups in Ntoto. She walked for over 60 miles with her husband and five children, and was housed by generous residents in Walikale. While they had found a much safer place to live by fleeing to Walikale, Nicia’s husband had great difficulty supporting the family because he did not have a job or land to cultivate. In December, he decided to go work in the nearby mines. Nicia told us that:

After a few months, he came back and took all our belongings from the shelter where we were staying and all the money I had. He declared a divorce and left. I felt angry and disappointed. I started worrying about how I would pay the rent; and how I would feed my children and take them to school. Where would I get the money to pay for medicine if they got sick? The more these questions crossed my mind, the angrier I became with myself for having left Ntoto and allowing my husband to walk away. I kept thinking that I could have stopped him from leaving me alone to raise five children. I had to rely on handouts for food and my children did not go to school. I prayed to God each day to protect my children from all forms of illness because I knew I did not have any money to care for their medical bills.  At night, sleep was replaced with more worries."

After her husband left, Nicia began noticing a group of women that walked past her residence every day. She asked her landlord about them and she said they were going to a center that taught women how to support themselves financially by learning new skills and producing goods to sell in town. The next morning, Nicia followed the group of women to the International Medical Corps Community Resource Center. When she arrived, she was referred to a woman that helped her understand that her current situation was not her fault and encouraged her to participate in the center’s activities.

In June, Nicia began participating in some of the economic activities that take place at the center, including: embroidery, knitting and bread making. While there, she met other women who had also been abandoned by their husbands, but were now able to take care of their families. The success of the women in similar situations gave her hope, but as Nicia said “I was still worried about the future of my children although I was now able to earn some little money from the sale of the things I had made at the center, but I remembered my soap making business and I asked if I could receive some money to restart it”.

Nicia was referred to a man at the center that helped her learn about starting a business and she also took a business skills training course. In November, Nicia received the materials she would need to start making soap again, thus restarting her business. “I was overjoyed! I could now start earning money to buy food and pay for school fees for my children.”

In order to sell her soap, Nicia would travel up to 6 miles a day to different areas of Walikale. She used the early profits from her business to purchase more raw materials to make soap, and eventually began saving money to buy a plot of land for her family. After saving $500, she bought a plot of land that she will build a house on once she can afford to buy the required building materials.  

“My life has changed thanks to the support I got from the International Medical Corps. My eldest child is now in his 5th year of primary school, and all of my other children are continuing with school. They are healthier now because I am able to feed well. I no longer worry because I am able to work for myself.”

*(Nicia’s name has been changed for privacy purposes)

these goods offer an opportunity for self-reliance
these goods offer an opportunity for self-reliance
Aug 12, 2013

International Medical Corps Inspires Young Women on International African Child Day

Adolescents Club members posing with Madam Pauline
Adolescents Club members posing with Madam Pauline

International Medical Corps inspires young women on International African Child Day:

 On International African Child Day (June 16th), International Medical Corps’ Women in Leadership team (WiLEAD) organized an awareness session with girls in Kadutu, located in the Bukavu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). WiLEAD is a group of women that work to promote female leadership in the DRC by partnering with local women’s organizations and schools. During this particular promotional event, the young women were asked to list the people who inspired them.

Most of the girls identified their own mother as their inspiration; they recognized the challenges their mothers face while raising a large family, a commonality in the region. Few of the girls were able to identify an inspiration outside of their own family. Spurred by this, the Women in Leadership team invited local female leaders to speak with the adolescent girls to show them the types of leadership roles they could aspire to hold. Meeting these women leaders also provided an alternative positive female role model the girls could identify with and emulate. 

Opportunities for women to express themselves:

But it isn’t only adolescent females that have a problem being seen as community leaders – seasoned female leaders still have difficulty being heard in Congo as well. Women’s groups have been unable to celebrate International Women’s Day due to lack of financial support, which limits their ability to raise awareness or carry out activities to promote women as leaders.

This year, however, International Medical Corps organized a separate event and invited government officials to meet with women’s associations and local groups in order to hear their questions and concerns. Government officials were educated on the issues female leaders face, and these officials promised to work further with the women’s groups in the future.  Ms. Vanantie Bimwa, Executive Secretary of the Women’s Association for Development and Peace had this to say about the meeting:

“On this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day, the women of South Kivu, including those from the grassroots level association, got a real opportunity to talk, thanks the support of International Medical Corps which brought women association together. Usually, when we attend ceremonies, we cannot say what we think or ask the government about the progress for women’s development in our province.  This time, we had our own activity supported by International Medical Corps where local government representatives were invited to listen to us and answer some of our questions. As a result of this activity, we have several working sessions planned with the Governor of the province of South Kivu to discuss the issue of the development for women.”

We thank you for your continued support in the Democratic Republic of Congo – with your help, we make a difference!

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Project Leader

Chessa Latifi

Resource Development Officer
Santa Monica, CA Afghanistan

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