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.”
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Resource Development Officer